What could be better than a Saturday night Diana Ross concert at the Hollywood Bowl, a venue that holds a special place in my heart? Those of you who don’t live in LA might not know that during the off season or when no performances are scheduled, the Hollywood Bowl is open to the public. There are no guards, no gates, no admission fees. Anybody can slip inside, stand on the stage and gaze upon 17,500 empty seats.
If you’re interested in Hollywood Bowl history (I am), there’s a museum on site. The iconic look of its shell hasn’t changed much over the decades. From 1953 until 1972, those heady days when the Beatles and the Doors headlined, a six-feet deep decorative reflecting pool fronted the stage.
My sisters and I are long-time Diana Ross fans – witness our super-8 homage to the Supremes (see photo below and my September 23, 1972 blog about our record act). To perfect an intricate act such as ours, we listened to their records a thousand times – a pleasure, with Miss Ross on vocals.
And Halle Berry? I’ve never seen a woman more staggeringly effortlessly gorgeous.
Given how much fun this outing was, why haven’t we gotten together to do something similar since then? How did we all get so busy? A question for another day.
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.
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.
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.
I assume “HW” refers to the title of a screenplay project. In my diaries, I almost always refer to projects by the initials in their titles which means – after all these years – I’ve forgotten far too many, especially those that failed to come to fruition. “HW” was one of those.
I have no idea what Colleen Camp or Joyce Hyser was like in high school – I never got to know either one of them that well (Hyser not at all, really). I do know that in 1982 Colleen and Joyce were indisputable royalty in Hollywood’s cool crowd. Confident gorgeous girls like them awed me – still do,
I’ve crossed paths with Colleen many times since then. She’s always delightful, bubbly and friendly, even though – at best – I’m on the outer periphery of people she knows. Colleen was and is a social whirlwind. She knows everyone in the industry and is renowned for her major parties. (I’m not on the guest list but that’s what I hear.)
Based on her intel about the Outsiders, it was shooting in Tulsa (I was out of the loop – see November 15, 1980). I admired Coppola’s savvy solution – the unequal per diems – to incite tension between actors which successfully translated to the screen.
Matthew Patrick was the young director of a movie I wrote for the USA network called “Tainted Blood”. As the title suggests, it wasn’t nominated for any Emmys but it was an entertaining psychological thriller (which adopted girl is the psycho-killer?)
Cast against type, Raquel Welch did a good job as an investigative journalist. Given her fame and beauty, I expected a cold bitch and was pleasantly surprised she was warm and friendly – not to mention every bit as stunning in person as she was on-screen.
I never felt like I “belonged” at Hollywood parties so they were stressful. In this case, most of the guests knew each other from weeks on the same set. I never went to the set and didn’t know anyone but the host.
I’m not sure what Sam and Alex were doing at a cast party. To the best of my recollection, Matthew met them when we tweaked the final draft of the script at my house. I wouldn’t have brought them if he hadn’t invited them. His affinity for children impressed me. I thought Laurie Frank was great too (so did Sam) but our paths never crossed again.
Actually, everyone I encountered at the party was likable. I’m the one who erected barriers. No one laughed at my faux pas or dissed my ugly shoes; the only one paying any attention to my insecurities was me. When I stopped thinking about myself and turned my gaze on the other guests, I discovered open unpretentious smart and talented people. Too bad I didn’t figure this out till my thirties; high school would’ve been a lot easier.
I’ve written about my admittedly terrible work ethic Terrible Work Ethic. This job was different for several reasons. I was hired as a writer for a half hour interview show called SUCCESS. There were several hosts – Tom Bosley and Mariette Hartley are the two I remember. Lirol’s goal was to shoot as many shows as possible by the end of the year. We all knew the show wasn’t destined for primetime TV. On the contrary, I think it was some sort of tax shelter. (I know nothing about tax law. This is merely my uninformed opinion.)
On the plus side, I earned more money than ever before – $500 a week was a fortune after $2 or $3 an hour. Better still, “Written by Kathleen Rowell” scrolled over the opening of every episode. So what if it only aired at 3 AM in Siri Lanka? I got chills the first time I saw my name on a TV screen. Not for the first time, I mistakenly believed “This is it! I’ve arrived!”
From the start, it was a short-time gig. SUCCESS had to wrap by the end of the fiscal year, less than two months’ away. Since my previous employment record peaked at three months, it worked for me.
Predictably, I was miserable the first week. Every ten minutes I peeked at my watch, expecting it to be hours later. A funny thing happened the second or third week, though. I started to enjoy it.
I’d never been involved with theater in high school or college, but I suspect my experience at Lirol was similar to an amateur play production – long days spent with people my age, striving for the same goal, over a relatively short time. Without any effort on my part, bonding took place. Friendships formed that still exist today. (I’m talking to you, Art Everett and Mo Keller.)
In late December it was over. I felt genuine loss and sorrow; I didn’t want it to end. I took it harder than anyone else on the production. They were career free-lancers; transitioning from one show to the next without looking back.
SUCCESS wasn’t the big break I wanted but it was a breakthrough for me and maybe that’s more important. It taught me what it feels like to be part of a tight group, working together. I wish it could’ve lasted longer but maybe its bittersweet quality came from its brevity.
I’d spoken to Griffin and Amy on the phone, but this was our first face-to-face. I was slightly awed by both of them. Long before I fell in love with Griffin’s performance in the sensational film After Hours, I enjoyed his father Dominick’s books starting with The Users. As for Amy, I was a huge fan of Baby, It’s You, an indie film she produced. The fact it was based, in part, on her high school and college life made her that much more fascinating. Not only were they a hot young producing duo, they were classy and smart with superlative taste in literature. They fell in love with the same obscure novel I did. They intended to option the book and produce the movie. I would adapt it for the screen.
The Moonflower Vine, Jetta Carleton’s first and only novel, became an overnight sensation upon publication in 1962. I don’t recall how it wound up in my hands in high school. It didn’t look like the kind of book I gravitated toward. To be blunt, it looked boring – like a plotless description-heavy feel-good tale of a rural family. It looked like hundreds of similar books I failed to finish after a quick perusal of the first and last chapter. (Yes, I read the end of most books as soon as I finish the beginning. I have my reasons.)
The Moonflower Vine wasn’t one of those books. I was so engrossed I read to the last page without peeking. It blew me away. Critics raved about the grace and beauty of her writing. While exquisite language is far from the first thing I seek in a novel, it doesn’t hurt. Equally if not more important than the prose, Carleton’s characters were full-bodied and three-dimensional, bursting with life and the weight of their secrets.
Despite four months on the New York’s Times best-seller list and its selection by major book clubs, the book fell out of print. The lack of a follow-up didn’t help. Aside from two paperback reissues in the 70s and 80s, it was all but forgotten.
A couple factors led to its recent renaissance. It was featured on the “Neglected Books” website which included an endorsement by Jane Smiley. Smiley cited The Moonflower Vine in her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. Perhaps most important of all, voracious fans like myself read and re-read it, and recommended it to others.
I, for instance, persuaded my sisters they had to read it. They did and they fell in love too. Since the book tells the stories of a Missouri family with three living daughters, it’s not so surprising an Iowa family with three daughters related rather strongly. Jetta’s fictional family bore enough similarities to her real family that her two older sisters felt tainted and infuriated. Was that part of the reason she didn’t write another book? They forgave her before she died in 1999.
Carleton left a draft of another novel – Claire de Lune – behind which was published posthumously. Meanwhile – in part because so many fans consider it unforgettable – The Moonflower Vine was republished to some fanfare in 2009 by HarperCollins.
I know, it looks a little dull, but it’s not. It ranks high on my personal list of “Books that Mattered” and I highly recommend it.
I met Gene Simmons for the first time in Gary Lucchesi’s TriStar office. Gene was wearing leopard boots, a multi-strand choker with colored glass beads or gems and some sort of mesh bracelet. I’m pretty sure I looked like a PTA president by comparison in my dress and pantyhose. (What was I thinking???) He liked my spec script and wanted me to write his movie project about groupies.
His plan was for me to attend a lot of rock concerts, go backstage, and soak up the scene. For those who read yesterday’s blog, Simon and Garfunkel’s empty dressing room at the San Jose Civic in ’67 was as close as I’d come to getting up close and personal with a rock star. (Not actually true. I met some heavyweights with Cindy Williams in 80 – but that was more of an “Industry” event, not a groupie scene).
I love rock music and I’m fascinated by the “secret society” that surrounds it – the novel I’m working on right now, in 2016, is set in the rock world. The prospect of safely immersing myself in that world was enormously appealing – but so was my hope of adapting the Moonflower Vine, a novel by Jetta Carleton I’d loved since I read it in the sixties.
It seems as if good things (such as opportunities, rewards, and kudos) as well as bad things (failure, rejection, and financial stress) tend to come in clusters. Either there are two or three projects I want to write or I can’t get arrested. Two guys ask me out or I’m home alone on a Saturday night. I’ve always assumed it’s the same way for everybody (“buses always come in threes”) but I’ve never asked. Is it?
Don’t bother looking up either of these projects on the internet. Another party already purchased all rights to the Moonflower Vine – forever – so there was no hope of optioning the underlying material. I wrote a draft of the groupies’ project for Gene and TriStar at which time it died, never to be resurrected (at least not with me as the writer). In this case, these days of indecision – ripe with intoxicating possibilities – were as good as it gets.
These photos were taken a couple years later – at her baby or wedding shower – but they’re the only ones I can find of us together. It’s surprisingly awkward to ask someone famous to have their picture taken with you, even if you know them – especially if you know them, actually – because you’re supposed to treat them like just another average person. However, when they’re at the peak of their fame and people gawk, it’s hard to ignore the fact you’re hanging out with a star. It’s equally hard not to be aware that you belong on the other side of the red velvet rope, with all the fans and nameless people that don’t get “seen about town” in Variety. I’m not complaining – far from it. It’s exciting to orbit a star. I loved it.
Living in LA, it’s not unusual to see stars going about their daily lives. I ran into Dick Van Dyke at a play and got to tell him how brilliant he was in a TV movie called The Morning After. I passed Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Beverly Hills restaurant. He’s much shorter than you’d think. My most memorable celebrity spotting, though, maybe because it was the first, was eating lunch at a table very close to where Cindy Williams and one of her co-stars from American Graffiti dined. I didn’t interrupt them, ask for an autograph or gape openly – it was enough of a thrill just to spot a celluloid heroine eating like a regular human being. Given this memorable (on my end) early sighting, the working relationship and friendship we developed later felt fated – in a six-degrees-of-separation way. We met because Cindy was looking for a writer. A mutual friend recommended me, for which I am forever grateful.
Don’t bother looking for Little Miracles, the project we met about on May 13, 1980. The network shelved it. Luckily, our friendship survived.