May 20, 2020
Like all of us, I miss mixing with people… so it bolsters my spirits to connect with all of you every now and then.
In these isolating times, it’s nice to have friends you can reach out to over the magical internet.
I hope you’re managing to resist anxiety as much as possible.
Please, in these tense and fearful times, try to LAUGH now and then.
It really helps.
My Latvian-born Mother had a plaque on her kitchen wall that said, “Laughter is the weapon of the angels.”
None of us are angels, but in days like these, we can all use a good weapon.
Watch a funny movie. Play an old comedy album that used to crack you up. (You may cringe at what you once thought was funny!)
Read a book by Art Buchwald or a strip of Doonesbury (although Trudeau isn’t very funny these days).
There’s one positive thing about this crisis. It’s prompted me to get in touch with old friends. I just re-connected with a former pal from way back at West Hollywood Elementary.
That’s good stuff.
Try reaching out to a friend you haven’t talked with for too long.
It really helps fend off the quarantined blues.
We’re social animals and need to stay connected.
In the midst of all our angst, I feel selfish bothering you with my own news.
But good things are happening with my book.
I plan to get it to a (potential) publisher by the end of next week – after over three years.
Then I start the process of picking the right publishing outlet, editors, cover art, sorting out 1,000’s of photos, etc.
Thanks to all of you who continue to encourage and inspire me.
It’s really motivating to know there are some people out there ready to check out what I’ve put together.
I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you like my newsletters, you should enjoy the book.
Sadly, once again the passing of a colleague is another reason for getting in touch.
This week, we lost another gifted and gentle funnyman… Fred Willard.
At the end of “My Adventures with the ICONS, IDOLS and IDIOTS of HOLLYWOOD,” I’ll include a brief Addendum updating what happens to each of the Four Preps after we disband in 1969, which is when this first book actually ends.
It just so happens that in a brief summation of my own subsequent career, I mention working at NBC.
And, it just so happens that it was with a unique and genuinely gifted man named Fred Willard.
Here’s an excerpt from the book’s addendum:
I become heavily involved in creating college-oriented radio and TV campaigns for clients like Coca Cola, United Airlines, Volkswagen, and McDonald's.
One hectic week, I’m at the NBC Studios in Burbank directing a series of comedic TV commercials I’d written for Chevrolet.
They had wanted something off-beat to attract younger, hip people to their brand.
I was a huge fan of the groundbreaking comedy of Stan Freberg at the time. So I put together a bunch of off-the-wall spots in which outrageous sales pitches for Chevrolet are delivered by Lady Godiva, General Custer, Napoleon, and Attila the Hun.
(You can’t beat good old Attila for laughs!)
The Chevrolet people loved the idea and we get the green light to shoot the spots.
I’d gotten lucky and cast a hot new comedy group called the Ace Trucking Company to play the various roles.
The Ace troupe consists of: Billy Saluga, who will go on to comedy fame with his “you doesn’t have to call me R.J.” routine; George Memmoli, who ultimately becomes one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite character actors; Patty Deutsch, easily one of the best comedy actresses around.
(She plays an apparently naked Lady Godiva on top of a ratty stuffed horse.)
And then there’s Fred Willard.
From the first shot, Fred’s coming up with suggestions… in the nicest possible way, with an affable innocence that’s totally beguiling.
The man just thinks funny.
Christopher Guest once said about his first exposure to Willard’s free-wheeling style, “I knew something was off when Fred started doing lines that weren’t actually in the play to me. I didn’t know what to make of it. I said to myself, ‘you’re different.’”
After having lunch with Fred in the commissary on the first day, I knew I couldn’t do that again.
I mean, I need my nourishment and with Fred at the table we were all too busy laughing to eat.
In his solo turn, He delivers a hilarious sales pitch for Chevy as Napoleon.
Then he trips and falls backwards over a balcony… his idea, not mine.
His was a fertile… and fearless comedy mind.
Fred would go on to become one of hip America’s comedy heroes for his roles in some very cool movies. Particularly those of Christopher Guest like “Spinal Tap” (one of my all-time favorite films).
He was endlessly inventive and clever.
Just a few years ago, he would not only survive a potentially career-ending scandal, he turned it into comedy gold. He got busted for – of all things – attending an X-rated movie at an adult theater.
When news of his arrest hit the press, he quickly issued a statement kidding himself about the whole thing.
Then he wrote a hilarious review of the movie itself, ending with “Lousy film. The theater would make a good racquetball court.”
The public sided with him and he was ultimately fully exonerated.
Over the years, Fred and I would cross paths occasionally. Having a conversation with him was challenging because he always seemed to be three steps ahead of everyone else in the room.
In addition to the classic Guest films, he did endless madcap appearances on TV talk shows (Jimmy Kimmel) and in several long-running series including “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Modern Family.”
He lost Mary, his wife of over 50 years, in 2017.
He continued to work with his usual affable and inventive energy until just recently when he fell ill.
And here’s the lovely thing about Fred’s comedy, which is a real testimony to his gentle and genial nature.
He never made someone else the butt of his jokes. HE was always the well-intentioned buffoon… played by a genius.
(END OF EXCERPT)
Christopher Guest’s wife, Jamie Lee Curtis, put it beautifully in the L.A. Times obit, “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gift.”
How lucky I was to work with him and enjoy his company.
Hmm – there’s that word “lucky” again.
Funny how it keeps cropping up whenever I write about my adventures.
My biggest stroke of luck is having all of you out there to “talk” to.
Thanks for being there.
That’s all for now.
Above all, stay well and try to laugh whenever you can.
And most importantly, take good care of yourself and each other.
Because I love you.
(There – I said it and I’m glad!)