Writing

October 15, 1964

October 15, 1964

Dueling teachers

Hmmm, “Stage-struck.” Based on the sizzling synopsis, I’m baffled it failed to become an international sensation. Unfortunately, the title – the characters – and the story-line – are all too typical of what I generously considered “creative” writing at thirteen. My oeuvre was stories about junior high girls, one popular and one brainy, frequently involving show biz.

Sandy and I could make almost anything fun - or funny.
Sandy and I could make almost anything fun – or funny.

Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers although I was a nervous wreck in his room, I was so desperate to impress him. Mr. Call, our Spanish teacher, was great too, as evidenced by their musical duel. The innocence of these times seems unreal from the perspective of 2017 yet I can unequivocally swear life actually was this innocent, this simple – at least at Jefferson Jr. High.

My family circa 1964
My family circa 1964

At thirteen, it never crossed my mind to rebel against a teachers or authority figure – and to the best of my knowledge, none of my classmates did either. Maybe Jefferson got lucky and employed teachers with big personalities who loved teaching.

This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character - the unpopular brainy girl.
This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character – the unpopular brainy girl.

Full disclaimer – far from being anything close to a radical dissident trouble-maker, I was a kiss-up sycophant who idolized my teachers. I made it my mission to be teacher’s pet (not exactly a fast track to popularity, in case you’re wondering). More often than not I succeeded, not because I was so special or brilliant (although I liked to think so) – I just tried harder.

My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.
My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.

Looking back, I regret how eager I was to be free of our Friday family nights. Little did I know that once gone, those nights could never be recaptured in quite the same way. I should have treasured and prolonged every last minute.

Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.
Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.

October 7, 1971

October 7, 1971_edited-1

Marjorie Arnold A

I don’t recall how I came across Marjorie’s ad for a roommate but we clicked instantly. As the photos show, Marjorie was beautiful – she was frequently compared to a young Natalie Wood. Someone so pretty might have intimidated me – put me off –  if Marjorie hadn’t been so refreshingly candid, unpretentious and down to earth. Since the age of 16, she supported herself. When we met, she worked weekends clerking at the Med Center.

Marjorie Arnold B

We had a lot in common, since both of us were in the Theater Arts department. Luckily, she was an actress and I was a writer so competition wasn’t an issue. At the time, she was dating a moody Scottish playwright who’d won the Eugene O’Neill award. He proved it was possible for somebody with no Hollywood connections whatsoever to succeed as a writer.

Marjorie Arnold CMarjorie and I shared apartments for two years and our lives ran on parallel tracks for a while. We married within a year of each other (she to a doctor, me to a law student) and had our first children within months of each other. Her daughter, Jenny, stole the spotlight from my son, CD, when the two of them were extras in the day-care scene of “Nine to Five”. (Sterling Hayden picked up Jenny, because clever Marjorie armed Jenny with an attention-getting near-lifesize doll – an actress trick that would never occur to a writer, at least not this one.)

9 to 5 Daycare Scene - Jenny being held, CD to the far left
9 to 5 Daycare Scene – Jenny being held, CD to the far left
Marjorie and I together
Marjorie and I together

 

September 20, 2016

September 20, 2016

I felt terrible about being tardy on the very first day of a nine-month class and the panicked rush to minimize the damage made me even more nervous than I would have been anyway (which is pretty darn anxious). A fight-or-flight surge of adrenalin takes over when I have to speak in front of a group of strangers and unless I’m very careful, I talk at supersonic speed. I felt like I was making a terrible impression on this new group of kids which flustered me even more. There’s an obvious solution – think less about how I’m coming across and more about the kids I’m here to teach. Gradually I leveled out. I took some admittedly poor photos of my class that first day.

They weren't being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me - to help me me learn their names.
They weren’t being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me – to help me me learn their names.

This was the first day of my second year teaching Screen Writing Symposium at Columbia and I couldn’t imagine ever liking a class as much as I liked my first class. I kept up with them (as much as you can with occasonal updates on Facebook) but I actively missed our Thursday afternoons in Room E.  I struggled to remember the names of my new students. I thought, it will never be the same.

Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny
Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny

I was right; it wasn’t, in the same way my second child isn’t the same as my first and my third is quite different from both siblings. Inevitably, every class – especially one that meets four hours a week for nine months – develops it’s own unique identity. Comparing them is futile, they’re both special – irreplaceable – in their own way. Just like I miss the kids in my first class on Thursdays, I miss the kids in my second class (except, I taught them on Tuesdays, Fridays, and finally Mondays, so I didn’t associate them with a day).

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank

I hope to keep up with them as they traverse the real post-college world, probably via Facebook.  I’d like to see all of them again too.  I fantasize that if and when I retire, I’ll host a party at my house for all my former students and the ones that show up will regale me with the highs and lows of their careers. Hopefully, their wins will far outpace their losses.

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.

September 17, 1979

September 17, 1979A

My career had yet to begin. I was closing in on a paying gig as a writer but it hadn’t happened yet. If you’re in my situation – no prior job, no WGA membership, no credits – you need to do what I did. Seek out fellow young, hungry producers or directors, work out stories with them as a team, pitch them to anyone who will listen.

Typing

I was fortunate to find a friend and champion in David Bombyk, a smart, ambitious, charming guy from Michigan. He was a year younger than me. We laughed a lot when we got together to gossip or break stories. I can’t remember who slipped my spec script to David – Martha Coolidge? Kip Ohman?  David and I partnered on several spec pitches and a couple of bona-fide (paying!) development deals but – alas – none of our joint efforts survived to see the light of day.

David made it big without me when he found, developed and co-produced “Witness” in 1985. The same year he produced “Explorers” and in 1986 he produced “The Hitcher” with his friend Kip Ohman.

David Bombyk, Producer

Kip succumbed to AIDS in 1987 at age 41. I met David for lunch a few months later. He looked haunted and thin; he talked about how hard it was sorting through and dispersing Kip’s belongings after he was gone.

David Bombyk 1952 - 1989

It was the last time I saw or spoke to David. He died on January 20, 1989, age 36.  His mother got in touch with me shortly after the funeral and sent me a beautiful ceramic vase David wanted me to have. He collected them.

Green Vase_edited-1

She was charged with the excruciating task of sorting through and dispersing her son’s possessions. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been.

LA Times - David Bombyk

AIDS took a lot of good people, especially in the 80s. For me, David Bombyk was one of the great ones. Unfailingly kind, loyal to his friends and brilliant when it came to developing scripts. Witness has long been a staple in screenwriting classes to illustrate a near-perfect script. I see David’s fingerprints on it. I don’t know if I’d have a writing career at all if David hadn’t believed in me before anyone else did. I’ll always be grateful; I’ll miss him and his laughter forever.

Of Mere Being

 

September 10, 1996

September 10, 1996

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.

8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.
8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.

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.

NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday - year and everything) when they visited us in California.
NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday – year and everything) when they visited us in California.

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.

Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.
Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.

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.

NBC Dropped the ball on this one..........
Did anybody drop the ball, who knows?

 

September 5, 1981

September 5, 1981

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.

In Telluride with Holly Palance

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.

Holly in Telluride

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.

Hanging out at The Senate

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.

Young Holly about to shake hands with George Harrison.
Young Holly about to shake hands with George Harrison.

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.

Kathleen & Holly

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….

 

Borrowed “Unexpected Wisdom”

I recently read a blog by Dan Sapone that resonated with me – and I think it might have the same effect on some of my fellow Boomers. It’s about where we were and where we are, the need to balance security and risk, and whether parents have the courage to risk allowing their children to choose paths other than those chosen by the parents.  Here’s a link if you want to check it out. https://convivio-online.net/unexpected-wisdom/

Unexpected Wisdom

May 25, 1968

May 25, 1968

 Proms have become a trope in teen-age movies, which would have one believe that attending (or not attending) the prom defines high school existence (Pretty in Pink springs immediately to mind although there are plenty of others). This wasn’t my experience.

Wilcox Senior Ball with Tal Pomeroy

I went to several proms – all in the same lace-encrusted blue dress – and while they were all memorable in their own way, they were not the apex of my teen-age years. I doubt I’m not alone in this. I’ve never met one single person who claims their prom was the defining moment of their high school life.

Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party
Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party

In real life, I don’t think who got crowned king and queen of the prom was of matter of life and death (Carrie).  I was never in the running so I didn’t really care. My parents, however, were the King and Queen of their high school prom

My parents as King and Queen in 1943
My parents as King and Queen in 1943

Our Prom Party sent up the movie-fantasy stereotype of a high school prom, it didn’t have much to do with the real thing. One of my Columbia students, Holden Weitz, wrote a hilarious teen movie that parodies this trope. That’s the movie I want to see made!

 

 

 

May 23, 1981

May 23, 1981

J, myself and CD - not really rocking the Renaissance look.
J, myself and CD – not really rocking the Renaissance look.

To this day, I think this is the only time John and I experienced Ren Faire so it’s kind of interesting (to me, anyway) how Ren Faire wove through my life anyway. Long after we broke up, my college boyfriend Luke became a weekend Ren Faire entrepreneur selling costumes and period weapons. I had no idea he was such a Renaissance buff.

Arriving, taking it all in. Now that I look again, we were hardly the only ones who couldn't cough up a costume.
Arriving, taking it all in. Now that I look again, we were hardly the only ones who couldn’t cough up a costume.

It left a huge imprint on the four-year-old brain of our son, CD. For years, he and his girlfriend (and future wife) Serena spent every weekend with their network of friends at Ren Faire. (He’s a lot better at roughing it than I am.)

CD loved the area they set up for the kids to create art.
CD loved the area they set up for the kids to create art.

Later still, my screenwriter pal Art Everett and I collaborated on a spec script for the Practice (my sister Janet worked there at the time) which featured a comedic Ren Faire “B” story. Sadly, the Practice ended its run about the time we finished and our spec ended up in a desk drawer.

J enjoyed this one more than I did.
J enjoyed this one more than I did.
Instant karma strikes! Dad tweaks Mom's nose - Son tweaks Dad's nose and pokes eye for good measure.
Instant karma strikes! Dad tweaks Mom’s nose – Son tweaks Dad’s nose and pokes eye for good measure.

If I were going to do it again – and I’d like to, it’s only been 35 years since our last visit I’d spent a little more time and money (both of which I probably have more of now than we did then) and invest in an appropriate period costume, throw my inhibitions to the wind and enjoy a day of real-time role-play. Oddly enough, I think it’s also becoming easier to let loose and play as I get older.

When will the codpiece come back into fashion?
When will the codpiece come back into fashion?

If anyone’s up for an LA Ren Faire excursion soon, call me. Let’s meet up.

Gorgeous family
Gorgeous family

 

 

May 21, 2005

May 21, 2005

Our treehouse

 I was in charge of planning our cross-country road trip and booking our lodgings. Most of my selections came straight out of the pages of Eccentric America, a terrific resource.  The Out ‘n’ About Treesort in Oregon and Ravenwood Castle in Ohio (exactly like it sounds like it should be – a replica of a Celtic castle) were the two most interesting places we stayed. I wanted to book a night at Sod House, so we could experience how early American settlers lived, but John drew the line at sleeping on sod.

The Oregon Vortex

There was a bag swing and rope ladders at the treehouse. I chided Sam and Alex when they were unable to climb up the rope and offered to demonstrate how easy it was. To my horror, apparently I’ve lost ALL of my upper arm strength over the decades – I couldn’t make an inch of progress.  To explain my failure, I shouted “I have Fuchs!”  and they responded with hysterical laughter. I do have a tendency to blame Fuchs (genetic cornea disintegration, basically – link to blog 9/4?/04) for everything, even though realistically it has no effect on anything but my corneas. This episode was videotaped but, alas, we lost the camera and all of the film well before anybody could post my humiliation on YouTube.

Sam on the swing
Sam on the swing

As one would expect, there was no television and no internet service in the treehouses so we spent an old-fashioned evening playing hearts and spades.  I regret not taking more photos since each treehouse was unique.  Ours had an upper adult unit connected to a smaller kid’s room by a swinging bridge. The only downside was showers, sinks and toilets were on ground level, about 75 feet away.


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