He wasn’t even my favorite Beatle. That would be McCartney, by far. Lennon’s death erased any lingering hope the Beatles might play together again, as unlikely as that hope might have been. I stayed up all night, poring over my collection of Beatles memorabilia – old magazines, biographies. I didn’t want to let him go.
What interests me about crime (murder) isn’t the gore or mechanics – it’s the motivation and in this case, that was sad and senseless. Jared Leto gave a brilliant performance as the assassin in a small film called “Chapter 27” about the oh-so-ordinary but deranged kid who killed him. It doesn’t glorify the killer (who doesn’t deserve to be named) – it dramatizes his essential emptiness, which gave me a queasy feeling. While I didn’t identify with him, there weren’t as many miles between us as I might’ve hoped. I do know how it feels to be an obsessed fan, with no hope of breathing in my idol’s rarified air. I just didn’t take it to that love/hate dichotomy the guy doing time in the Wende Correctional Facility did.
This was the first and only time I traveled to the set of one of the MOW’s I wrote (other than shows that shot in LA, in which case I might drive ten miles – to Occidental, for instance, where they shot “She Cried No”). I’m not complaining – it’s boring on set unless you’ve got a job (and maybe even then, just saying). I was excited about a trip to Minnesota, especially with Joe Maurer, Brad Wigor and Felice Gordon, three producers who became friends. The fact they issued the invitation to me at all speaks volumes about how well they treated their writers.
In Minnesota, I sat through a table reading of the script – an extremely high-tension exercise for me. It’s mortifying when a line I wrote – especially a line intended to be funny – dies in front of the full cast and crew. There’s no ambivalence; it’s not a judgment call. Lines work or not and the thud is deafening when they don’t. I say nothing, draw a skull beside the clunker in the script, and slink down further in my folding chair. If I don’t die of humiliation, I’m expected to fix what I failed to get right the first time – fast. This close to production, every wasteful delay bleeds money.
After the reading, I accompanied Joe, Brad and the director – Bill Corcoran – on a location scout. By sheer coincidence (or cosmic design, you decide), we drove past Bethesda Lutheran, the hospital where I was born. In honor of this karmic connection, Corcoran insisted I leap out of the van and pose for a historic photograph (see below).
I sat by Felice on the return trip to LA and – along with other fascinating facts – discovered Felice was Jean Shrimpton’s manager when Jean was the ultimate supermodel girls like me longed to look like.
As if this wasn’t enough excitement, my youngest hit double-digits and turned ten. Too much was happening, too fast. And I loved every minute of it.
I wish I’d known this was the one and only time I’d set foot in the historic Ambassador Hotel – let alone that the Ambassador would cease to exist in 2005. I’ve bemoaned the changes to the Santa Clara I used to know – what about my Los Angeles? Much like how it’s hard to observe my aging process when I look in the mirror, LA’s changes frequently slip under my radar because the landscape is so familiar.
Objectively, a lot has changed since I moved to LA in 1969. Almost all of the iconic clubs and restaurants of the 60s and 70s are gone. Chasen’s – once so trendy, their chili was flown to Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra – closed in 1995. Today it’s a Bristol Farms. Scandia’s been gone since 1989. The Brown Derby that used to stand on Vine is now a parking lot. The Cock’nBull is now a Jaguar dealership and alas, the Formosa Café – down the street from one of my first apartments – recently closed although I’ve heard it’s been purchased by someone with plans to reopen it. Musso and Frank’s remains alive and well (I think).
Most rock’n’roll clubs from the sixties or seventies have disappeared or changed hands. It’s Boss became Kaleidoscope which became Acquarius (where I saw “Hair” in 1969) which became Art Laboe Oldies Goodies and later became a headquarters building for Nickelodeon. Ciro’s was a West Hollywood nightclub that opened in the 40’s and that location is now The Comedy Store.
Gazzarri’s was demolished in 1995. Two venues that stood the test of time are the Troubadour and the Whisky-A-Go-Go.
Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset – where legend has it Lana Turner was discovered – closed in 1983. Today it’s part of a shopping complex anchored by Virgin Records. Rexall Drugs at Beverly and La Cienega is now Beverly Connection. Bullocks Wilshire, built in 1929, once an iconic department store, declined as high-end retail trended west. Today, it houses Southwestern Law School but the original 1929 building has been restored. The famous Max Factor building, where I once bought fake blood for Roger Corman’s New World Films, is now the Hollywood Museum. Even Tower Records on Sunset went bust.
In the past few weeks, the Writer’s Store closed; I was especially sorry to see that one go. Because the changes have been gradual, though, it still feels like my city – at least for a little while longer.
If you are interested in the history of LA’s clubs and restaurants, please check out the research section of my website (Sixties Venues/Clubs). A lot of information is collected in one place!
This was an exciting, productive time in my writing career. Maybe a few lucky screen and television writers enjoy steady careers uninterrupted by unemployment; I suspect the majority, like myself, are either overbooked or out of work and terrified their career is over. My specialty, which kept me employed – mostly by NBC – during this period was my speed. I could deliver a Movie of the Week (MOW) ready for production in two weeks. It might not win any Emmys or Humanitas awards, but no one needed to use a pseudonym or hang their heads in shame.
I felt the pressure but didn’t mind it; I thrived on the crazy deadlines. I enjoyed and respected the creative people I worked with. I loved how MOWs (especially green-lit ones!) went into production minutes after I handed in a script. None of the months and years of development that went into film assignments only to wind up abandoned when the studio regime changed.
Another perk – television writers exert considerably more control over their work than feature writers; this is far truer for staff series writers than MOW writers. Either way, you are far less likely to be rewritten in television than features. That said, I did my fair share of MOW rewrites as well as originals; my name doesn’t appear on some of them because, unless it’s a page-one rewrite, it’s difficult for second or third writers to get credit and it always involves a WGA arbitration.
Kanan Road – which became Malibu Shores – has a special place in my heart because it was a backdoor pilot for a series which was ordered into production early in ’97. It turned out to be short-lived (being scheduled at 8 PM on Saturday nights – what some people called “the Tower of London” because that’s where NBC shows awaited execution – didn’t help. Especially since the target demographic was teens). That said, I learned a lot and appreciated every minute of it. I’m grateful to everyone who made it possible.
I met Holly Palance at Francis Coppola’s house. She was there with Fred Roos and I was there to see some test footage of “The Outsiders” shot by another director. There wasn’t any chance to talk to her nor anything in particular we needed to talk about. Fred encouraged both of us to go to the upcoming Telluride Film Festival – and both of us took him up on it, on the assumption he would be in Telluride too.
Not so fast! Something came up and Fred couldn’t make it to Telluride after all. I was there with my sister Janet and neither of us knew anyone else. Small prestigious boutique film festivals like Telluride can make anyone feel like an outsider. Everyone in town for the festival is somebody in the “Industry” and they all know everyone else as well as the up and coming talent to watch.
Since I was none of the above, I was quarantined on the fringes until I recognized Holly strolling alone down Telluride’s main street. I called hello, not expecting much. She could’ve traveled in whatever circle she so desired but she was kind. It was more fun to be on the fringes with Holly than dead center in the In Crowd.
Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different – Holly, a movie star’s daughter, grew up in Beverly Hills. She actually met the Beatles! Me, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter from Iowa via Santa Clara, a legacy more linked to pig and corn farmers than Hollywood. Holly has exquisite taste; I have no artistic eye. Somehow, we connected, though, and formed a close friendship that lasted for years.
Not long enough. For no apparent reason, by no one’s design, we drifted apart. Reading this and recalling the great times I shared with Holly, I regret not paying enough attention to prevent it from happening. I suspect that’s the root cause when friendships slowly fade away without really ending.
Maybe it’s not too late. I miss Holly and one of these days I hope we’ll meet for lunch and another long conversation. We have a lot of terrain to cover, but coming from such different worlds, we always did – and that much of Holly’s history can’t help but be full of fascinating surprises. One of these days….
Prophetic words. As history has it, that San Francisco concert was the very last performance all four Beatles gave in the USA. For years, I tormented my parents about the injustice of not letting me go – made even more egregious the following year when they did give permission for my sister Janet to go to a Monkees concert. The Monkees, of all bands! When I was not allowed to see the Beatles!
I know I wasn’t the only girl to sincerely believe she’d never love any boy as much as she loved Paul, John, George or Ringo. Some straight boys that I knew – mostly aspiring musicians – loved the Beatles as much as I did (although I suspect our fantasies about them differed).
It’s obvious their music has stood the test of time. People born long after they broke up love them too. But I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t young – meaning, a teen-ager – when they burst upon the rock scene can fully comprehend the sheer magnitude of their effect. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was a revelation next to everything else played on popular AM radio. It still gives me chills when I really pay attention to it. In some mysterious way, it changed everything.
A new Beatles single was an event. Everybody stopped and listened. Girls wanted to be their girlfriend, boys wanted to be them. They came from nowhere, they made it look easy. Maybe it’s not so surprising my parents underestimated their importance, took them for a passing fad instead of an artistic, cultural phenomenon unlikely to be equaled in my lifetime.
Go ahead, argue others are bigger. Make a case for Sinatra, Elvis, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, the Stones. I’m not suggesting they weren’t important, major influences on music. But for my money, none of them come close to the Beatles in terms of song-writing talent, ingenuity, the ability to re-invent themselves and inspire a generation to do the same.
Meeting Paul McCartney in person is #1 on my bucket list. As of now, it’s not looking likely. But if I found out he was at a local bookstore or restaurant, I’d be in my car in a flash if only just to gaze in wonder at my first true love.
It was thrilling to explore a legendary venue like the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, any casual visitor to LA can explore its exterior – the site is neither gated nor guarded. Tourists can park in the lot, stroll up and down the shell, even take the stage if they choose on off-season days when no one is doing a sound-check or performing.
Backstage, of course, is off limits. That and its exclusivity endows it with irresistible mystique, at least to me. I’ve been backstage at a few rock shows (notably Bruce Springsteen, Motley Crue and Kiss) but on those occasions I was so in awe of the performers that specific details about the surroundings were a blur.
The tour Michael arranged was perfect. Our guide, who’d worked there for years,entertained us with anecdotes about the rich and famous and we could take our time. I took a lot of photos, many already in the clubs and venues section of my site, some reprinted here.
Why my interest in the inner workings of the Hollywood Bowl? I’m writing a novel about a defunct rock’n’roll band, famous in the sixties. One member went on to success beyond his wildest dreams. My hero did not. The book – half of which takes place in the 60s – is about their attempt to reunite 25 years later. Will the secrets and betrayals that shattered them in the seventies resurface in 2000? Have any of them really changed?
Living in Los Angeles, it’s not uncommon to run into celebrities. (It’s not exactly “common” either. It’s definitely an “event,” more unusual than not.) Generally speaking, when they’re out with their families doing things normal families do – like going to a play – it’s considered bad form to approach them.
I make an exception in cases like this, in which (a) I have a deep, genuine appreciation for a specific piece of their work and (b) the work in question is relatively obscure. I’m not speaking from experience, obviously, since I can’t say I’ve ever been approached – let alone mobbed – by fans. However, if that was my problem, I suspect I’d be less annoyed – possibly even charmed – if the fan who interrupted my theater experience complimented something I wasn’t used to accepting compliments on.
“The Morning After” deserved a lot of compliments. It was an ABC Movie-of-the-Week that, to the best of my knowledge, aired only once, on February 13, 1974. It’s been released on DVD but is very hard to find and I can’t find more than a snippet of it on YouTube. According to Wikipedia, it’s shown in some treatment centers (for alcoholism). IMHO, it deserves a much wider audience. It moved me deeply when I saw it in 74 – I waited in vain for a rerun. Van Dyke was nominated for an Emmy for his lead performance but lost to Hal Holbrook.
Most likely the reason it didn’t get more attention was its downbeat ending. Van Dyke plays a successful PR man with a family who struggles – unsuccessfully, as it turns out – with alcoholism. The final scene, which I vividly recall, finds him ragged and alone, under a pier on the beach, chugging a bottle. It broke my heart – just like similar real-life scenarios break hearts every day.
In 74, people didn’t talk about alcoholism as freely as they do today. According to Wikipedia, Van Dyke was one of the first celebrities to admit to a problem with alcohol – quite different than today, when sometimes it seems like rehab is a requirement – not an impediment – to celebrity.
I loved the Dick Van Dyke show long before I saw “The Morning After” but “The Morning After” meant more to me. I’m glad I got the opportunity to tell him so.
Unfortunately, this was the first and last cast party for Malibu Shores – eight episodes aired on NBC at 8 PM Saturday nights before we got cancelled. It makes me feel a little bit better (but not much) that our time slot was referred to as the “Tower of London” – where shows were sent to await execution.
This was my only experience on staff at a TV show. At first, it was a huge shock to my system – we were expected to work in the Aaron Spelling offices from 9 AM until midnight or beyond (plus weekends) if necessary. Eventually, I adapted and grew to love it right around the time it ended. The time pressure could be as exhilerating as it was exhausting. It was gratifying to see what we wrote produced as soon as copies could be made instead of enduring the uncertainty of casting-contingent MOWs (also referenced above).
For the millions who never saw a moment of Malibu Shores, Charisma Carpenter was cast as the ultra-bitchy queen bee popular girl. She played the part perfectly – no one came close to her reading in the casting process – which was truly a testament to her talent for acting. In person, she was delightful, friendly and unassuming.
Keri Russell was also terrific in the lead role, which she also nailed with a sensational audition.
I love to watch her brilliant, nuanced performance on The Americans today and remember the beautiful sun-kissed teen she played on Malibu Shores.
It’s exciting when a script goes out for casting. The Helios Movie of the Week, “She Led Two Lives,” ended up starring Connie Selleca. The project I was about to travel to Texas to research didn’t get made. A disproportionate number of research trips took me to small towns in Texas, probably because a lot of stories ripe to be turned into TV movies occur in small Texas towns.
These were heady, exciting times but some of my weaker diary entries. Today’s entry reads like a call sheet. Mentions of J and my family are cursory, I didn’t record any adorable things the kids said or profound observations from my dad. In retrospect, I wish I’d filled these pages with personal anecdotes and quotes from my family instead of tracking blips on the radar of my career.
This leads to a bigger regret – I wish I’d spent more time with my children when they were young instead of obsessing about my next writing assignment. The writing doesn’t matter much now but I’d give anything for a few days with Chris, Sam and Alex when they were thirteen, six and five. (Maybe not thirteen, that was rough.) In my dreams, they’re always five or six.
Before I feel too guilty or too sorry for myself, I should add that I was lucky. I wrote at home, not in an office, and I could make my own schedule. To all intents and purposes, I was a stay-at-home mom who could volunteer at their school or scout troop, pick them up if they got sick in the middle of the day etc. Maybe I took all that time for granted and that’s why I didn’t value those years enough. I hope to do better when and if I have grandchildren.