Thursday, September 25, 2014

QUITTING COSBY - 12 Years a Writer

            We wrote and filmed four episodes before the "Cosby Show” show went on the air.  My writing partner, Korby Siamis, and I were absolutely convinced that “The Cosby Show” was going to be the biggest flop of all time.  Here’s a cartoon she drew and sent to our agent, Bernie Weintraub.  She drew a sinking ship-- “The S.S. Cosby”-- and stick figures labeled Korby and Karyl swimming back to L.A.  Why?  The cast was wonderful; the writing was top notch.  But live in the studio, the audience reaction seemed luke warm.  They didn’t seem like they were loving it.  No question the writers were living in a bubble (true on all shows) but did our bone-weary exhaustion completely color our perception?  The feminist in me thought who was going to believe Claire is an attorney AND cooks a full meal for six in high heels every night, keeps the house clean with no maid, and why is she not completely and totally exhausted like the rest of the moms in America?  Who is going to believe she’s never mad at Cliff, no matter what he does?  Claire’s a mom who's having it all and she’s got a briefcase that looks empty.  So fake!

            Day One of “The Cosby Show” began at lunch on the 65th floor of 30 Rock in an all glass private party room adjoining the famous Rainbow Room.  This was my 12th year a writer and I already knew the First Day is the Best Day on any TV show because nobody knows anybody yet, so nobody hates anybody yet, etc., etc.  It’s downhill after today.  Still, the views from here are fantastic.  Truth be told, that’s why I took this job.  Not to bob and weave for a comedy superstar (been there, done that), certainly not to stay up all night writing joke after joke till I want to KILL THE PERSON WHO IS KEEPING ME AWAKE!  DISCLOSURE:  I took this job for 1.  A free trip to New York, all expenses paid.  2.  To have fun in New York  3. The $$$$.  4.  To get a break from my rebellious teenage son.

            It was a gorgeous July day.  Spectacular views with all of New York at our feet, literally.  We were gathering for a First Table Reading of our script with Bill and cast.  This would be the first day of everybody meeting everybody else.  There were two long tables.  One table had a script set at each place: our script, Korby’s and my perfect script, a script so wonderfully written it would be filmed First.  On the other table was a bar mitzvah- worthy spread of deli delights on silver platters.  There was a silver coffee urn, fine china and pink tablecloths!  A floral centerpiece!  It doesn’t get any nicer!  I love my job (at least so far)!
              
            A few NBC executives were milling around along with the William Morris agents (who had packaged the show), Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey (exec producers), and a reporter from TV Guide.  We met our line producer, Caryn Mandabach, who was around thirty and extremely pregnant.  The child actors and their parents were there.  Gorgeous kids have gorgeous parents.  Phylicia Rashad, who was going to play Bill’s wife, was just charming and went around introducing herself and asking us about ourselves.  She loved our script!  We loved her.  How could you not?  Everybody we met complimented us on our script.  We were the writing stars of the day!  “The Cosby Show” will appreciate my writing.  Yay!  Everyone was mingling and nibbling, and NIBBLING.  An hour goes by and we’re sick of nibbling and smiling at each other.  I was already tired, having arrived at 6 AM on the red-eye.  Everyone’s looking over everyone else’s shoulder and keeping an eye out for the man of the (no-longer-lunch) hour, Bill Cosby.
              
            Suddenly everybody in the room perked up.  That could only mean one thing in show biz: the star is in the building.  Cosby enters with his longtime agent, David Brokaw, over an hour late.  No smiles.  No apologies.  Ouch!

              As Cosby made his way around the room, he could have just stepped from the pages of GQ.  His silk shirt and linen jacket exuded style and star power.  He wears a bulky sterling silver ID bracelet engraved with the words “Camille’s Husband.”  I’m wondering, He needed a reminder?  And why did he have to spoil the picture with the stinky old wet cigar?  What is with men?  Even unlit, don’t they know cigars stink?  Don’t they care they’re driving people away, especially me?  
              
              After Bill sat down, everybody quickly took a seat at the table.  The director, Jay Sandrich, welcomed everyone and went around the table first introducing the actors and then the writers.  It was like the first day of Camp Success and everybody was smiling and happy to be there on full scholarship.

Cosby was reserved to the point of being almost not friendly.  I tried not to take it personally even though I had fantasized he’d immediately get a kick out of me and think I was cool.  When you’re a major star, everyone wants to be your friend and you have to be careful who you welcome into your inner circle.  We also knew Cosby had wanted black writers on the show.  Carsey and Werner hadn’t found a black writer yet, but were still actively looking.  The title of Producer (which should have been my title) was being held in reserve in case a qualified black writer materialized.  For now, the first “Cosby Show” writing staff of four were one hundred percent white, seventy-five percent Jewish, and fifty percent female.  I hoped Cosby wasn’t going to hold that against us.  However, if I had created a show starring a woman about her life as a woman, I’d be mad if they only hired men to write it.  I’d be furious.  

      Jay Sandrich had directed my second “Mary Tyler Moore “episode, “WJM Tries Harder,” and other episodes of mine over the years.  He was very gracious in introducing us and praised our script.  “They perfectly capture the voices…”  blah blah blah.”  The reading began.  Jay read the stage directions aloud and then the actors jumped in.  It was the first time we had heard our script on its feet and it was pretty exciting.  It’s very gratifying to hear the little chuckles and laughs along the way.  Everyone seemed pleased.
              
            Korby and I had lifted the theme of our script, “You’re Not a Mother Night,” from one of Cosby’s most enduring monologues where he gives his long-suffering wife a night out at a fancy restaurant.  Claire automatically cuts Bill/Cliff’s meat out of habit from excessive mothering.  Back home after dinner they wind up dancing romantically together in the bedroom, whereupon Bill says, “Let’s get it on.”  They kiss and we fade out.  End of episode.  
              
            Keshia Knight Pulliam, who was five, sat next to Tom Werner, who was thirty-five.  Like a nice daddy, he shared his script with her and pointed to each word she should read aloud. She was completely adorable.  Everybody loved her.  Malcolm Jamal Warner was perfect and seemed to have already memorized his lines.  All the actors gave it their best with one exception: Bill Cosby.  As the reading went on, Cosby began to mumble his lines into his lap.  He was visibly unhappy and barely projecting his voice.  Obviously Cosby was the only one in the room who hadn’t read the script beforehand.  Everyone exchanged furtive glances of alarm.  The reporter from TV Guide feverishly took notes!  Eventually, just to make sure we picked up on his displeasure; Bill shoved his entire cigar into the side of his cheek so that only a few inches stuck out.  His line readings became indecipherable.  I started getting heart palpitations.  I couldn’t wait for the reading to be over so I could throw myself out the 65th story window onto 50th Street.  By Fade Out, the Wrath of Cosby permeated the room.  There was polite applause, but the director was quick to announce that there were “a few kinks in the script” that needed to be worked out.  "Perfect, but with kinks?" That's a new one. 
              
            When you sign on to staff write a new TV show, you never know if that job will be a dream or a disaster.  For instance, when we signed on to staff writer Tony Randall’s “Love Sidney,” the fired writers from the previous season told me, “Tony Randall's  a maniac and a monster.  There’s constant rewrites, no days OR nights off, so if you’re taking the job just to see New York, forget it.  You’re never leaving the Writer’s Room.”  We took the job anyway.  Tony turned out to be a doll.  I saw New York and had the time of my life.  It turned out the previous season, Tony’s wife had been gravely ill, so Tony can be forgiven for his uptightness.  His anger was temporary.  I realized you never know the pressures that go on in another person’s life that can turn them into a Gila monster and you,  his lunch.     
              
            Like everyone in America, I loved the stand-up Cosby, the “I Spy” Cosby and the irrepressible Jell-O Cosby.  But there was a new Cosby, a late night talk show guest - Cosby who was a snarling preacher.  He was scary.  I told myself maybe Reverend Cosby was grumpy because he needed his own sitcom.  Cosby wasn’t doing “The “Cosby Show” for the money.  He already had all the money in the world.  IMHO Cosby was doing a sitcom because it was the biggest pulpit he could find.  Reverend Cosby had a message and he wanted America to hear it.  I could totally relate because I write for the same reason.  I hoped and prayed, now that Cosby had a sitcom bully pulpit, he’ll morph back into the Jell-O Cosby. 
              
            A private meeting was called post haste with Cosby, Brokow, Carsey, Werner, Sandrich, and our exec producer/head writer whom I’ll call Geeky.  All of us little people were sent out into the hall like schoolchildren while the grown-ups held their secret talks.  If Geeky doesn’t defend our script, Korby and I will go from stars to schmucks in thirty minutes flat.  It was all in the hands of Geeky.  Heaven help us.

The upshot of the private confab is that Bill had “serious problems” with our episode.  He had an idea of how to “fix” our script, but a new set will have to be built.  Karyl and Korby’s script is set aside and a re-write on the next almost written script – will begin.  A script by (surprise, surprise) Geeky.

Bill’s “improvement” on our script?  Instead of a restaurant, Bill takes Claire to a hotel room and the dinner is brought via room service.  That way, Bill reasoned, sex can take place immediately following the meal.  Really?  As a woman and mom, if my husband gave me a night out away from mothering, I hope we wouldn’t spend it hidden away in some hotel room eating notoriously terrible Room Service food just so we can conveniently have sex after dinner.  I would be furious, thinking I hunted  for the perfect dress, got my hair done, and got waxed SO HE COULD HIDE ME IN A HOTEL ROOM?!  This hotel room idea was a man’s fantasy of what a woman/mom wanted, but it was actually what the man wanted.  And the man was my boss.
              
            More bad news for me:   The Cosby Show wasn’t going to be shot at Rockefeller Center because “Saturday Night Live” takes over the studio.  Been there, done that.  We were going to be working out of Brooklyn.  I HATE working in the middle of nowhere.  PROOF: In my previous career as a dress designer, I quit a perfectly good job because I had to leave Manhattan to work in a factory in Long Island City.

              NBC Studios Brooklyn was a decrepit brick building in the heart of a run-down Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.  Midwood, Brooklyn is famous for only one thing:  It is the birthplace of Woody Allen.  Is he still living there?  No, of course not.  He moved away and for good reason: There were no decent restaurants, no fashion boutiques, none of the New York big city sights and sounds I had taken this job for. 
              Like on all new shows, the offices were makeshift and temporary.  There were never any actual offices for us to work in.  Over the years I’ve worked in myriad hellholes including trailers, dressing rooms, hotel rooms, and once in the back of a speeding truck.  Our producer had rented two apartments to use for offices in a pre WWII residential building near NBC.  The groaning elevator took around two years to go up two floors and reeked of Ben Gay and matzo balls.  The tiny dark living room was set up with a card table and steel folding tin chairs: our ad hoc Writer’s Room.  So inspirational, especially the previous tenant’s granny-like wallpaper!  Caryn, Tom and Marcy had the apartment above us along with the secretarial pool and mountainous piles of office supplies.  A fire hazard waiting to happen.

              The desks and typewriters were rented and they looked it.  The secretaries had a new-fangled thing that only one secretary knew how to use and nobody would dare touch -- a computer.  Instead of the Empire State Building and the stunning Manhattan panorama, my view was of Avenue M, the main drag, with its ancient kosher butcher shops, candy stores and low-end baby boutiques.  Instead of spotting fashionable women dashing in and out of Saks Fifth Avenue, I would watch the prudently dressed Orthodox Jewish moms in their wigs and white tights with their enormous broods of children in tow marching to Yeshiva school.  I think: This is the cult branch of my religion and like all religions it’s about the subjugation of women.  These are the thoughts that float through my mind while writing comedy.   

              Tuesday we assembled on the dark, freezing NBC sound stage for a cast reading of the new first Cosby episode.  We writers had worked past two AM writing Geeky’s script in a sub-zero conference room in NBC 30 Rock.  Isn’t a freezing room a form of torture?  This is why I know I wouldn’t last two days at Gitmo.  I hate being cold and I hate being tired and, guess what?  I’m both and I haven’t been on the job one week.

To those former bosses who have accused me of having an "attitude problem,"  I say, Fuck You!  Fuck you for keeping me up all night because you didn’t think the script was funny enough!  I guarantee you I was funnier at eleven than I am at one AM.  Why can’t you make a fuckin’ decision?!  But we don’t get to go home till the executive producer, the King of All Comedy declares the royal script sufficiently funny.  So we’re being punished with sleep deprivation for being not funny enough.  Happens on EVERY show.  Everything is taking twice as long as it should.  My bosses are always the kings and queens of comedy and we, their mere court jesters.  Been there, done that.  The thrill was gone.  Way.

              The “Cosby Show” had arranged for a Town Car to pick the writers up in Manhattan and deliver us to Hell every day.  There was BabyCakes, Geeky, Tom Werner, Korby, me and our driver, Jupee, from India.  We were Jewish sardines in a Crown Victoria.  As we emerged from the Midtown Tunnel I took a wistful last glance at my beloved Statue of Liberty.  I said a silent goodbye to her and to the beauty of Manhattan.  Soon we were at NBC in Brooklyn.  We went from the hot July sun into the dark, dank mildew-y freezing NBC studio.  There were the usual bleachers set up` across from the familiar Huxtable household set.

Our group had grown since yesterday.  Our numbers now included stagehands and wardrobe people.  New York Child Protective Services laws mandate that besides a parent or guardian for each child actor, a social worker and a tutor must be on set at all times. 

              Bill had an entourage of two: A personal chauffeur and valet who held Bill’s cigar for him while he was acting, and Bill’s teenage son, Ennis, who was a “gofer.”  Ennis was a tall skinny kid of sixteen.  He was shy and, like everybody else, seemed a little intimidated by his dad.  It must be difficult if your real dad is everybody’s fantasy dad.  Celebs’ kids are notoriously screwed up and spoiled, but Ennis exuded good upbringing.  He was a lovely kid.  Sadly, ten years later Ennis was murdered in a random robbery on an LA freeway off-ramp.

              The cast reading went well.  Cosby was more engaged than when he was reading our script.  He only swallowed a quarter of his cigar!  Naturally, Geeky was hailed as the show’s savior.  He stood up and took a big exaggerated bow while everyone applauded wildly.  Did Geeky share the credit or acknowledge those of us writers who lost sleep making his good script great?  He did not.  Not a peep.  So now I return the favor by omitting his name.  

              After the reading there was a break before rehearsal.  Bill/Cliff’s doctor’s office set, which didn’t exist in the abbreviated pilot presentation, had been built and the producers wanted to show it to him.  The writers went to see it, too.  Bill was playing a gynecologist, but when he saw the stirrups on the examining table he winced.  Apparently he was only thinking of Cliff being a cute baby-deliverer but neglected to contemplate the yucky lady parts place where babies came from.  He had the prop man remove the stirrups immediately.

              BabyCakes and I were poking around backstage when Bill came by on his way to his dressing room.  “Ah, my writers!  Gotta minute?  Let’s talk about some stories.”  He seemed fairly upbeat.  Maybe yesterday was an anomaly.  I was nervous as we followed Bill backstage in the dark, through a labyrinth of giant black curtains.

              Bill’s dressing room was tiny, old and cold, with exposed brick like a tenement.  Cosby obviously hadn’t personalized it yet.  There were no pictures or telegrams or the typical things you’d find in an actor’s lair.  We sat across from Bill on a threadbare pink satin piano bench that was wedged into an alcove.  I immediately took out my notebook and pen, in case any good story ideas got pitched.  Since I had failed to win Bill over on day one, I was hoping this was my second chance.

              Bill sees my pen and says, “Don’t bother with that – let’s just talk a little and get acquainted.”  I thought, Great.  I put down my pen.  Bill asks, “You’re four- eleven, right?”  Turns out, so was Bill’s mother! Cosby likes short ladies!  I’m IN!  “I’m going to call you ‘Legs’,” he declared.  I took it as a compliment.  

              BabyCakes, unable to let the attention fall on anyone else for too long, launched into his I’m just a first-time writer and humble country boy show.  He says with wide- eyed wonder, “I cannot believe I’m sitting here with Bill Cosby!  I was only in Hollywood for one month!  I’m from Podunk.  If a guy like me wanted to learn about jazz, where would he start?”  Cosby’s love of jazz is well known.  Was it shameless pandering or genuine interest on BabyCakes part?  It didn’t matter. Bill completely perked up at the thought of schooling this goofy-cute and funny young man in the nuances of Dizzy Gillespie et al.  In my mind, I rolled my eyes.  There’s one on every show just like there is in every office and every classroom.  They’re not bad guys.  They’re young, attractive, fun and they have an uncanny talent for getting ahead in this world.  BabyCakes was just the newest! BabyCakes’ greatest desire was to be “SFL”-- meaning, “set for life.”  A man in his late 20s was planning his retirement.

              Cosby turns his attention to me and asks what other shows I’ve written.  Before I can begin BabyCakes interrupts and says, “She knows Richard Pryor.  She wrote a ‘Sanford and Son’ with him! She won an Emmy with Richard for writing on the first two Lily Tomlin specials.”  BabyCakes was telling Cosby that Other black comics liked Karyl and Bill should too… or something.

Whatever BabyCakes intention, it backfired.  Upon hearing the name Richard Pryor, Bill’s attitude completely changed.  Just as he had done the day before at Rockefeller Center, Bill could barely speak.  He stared at his knees and said very softly, “No… like… dir-ty talk. “  Then the unlit wet cigar went all the way into the cheek and I knew I was shit after all.

               BabyCakes, ever the eager beaver, jumps in, “Got any story ideas, sir?”  Cosby was in charge of accepting or rejecting story ideas, so finding a story Bill liked was a big leg up on a script assignment.  “Yes I do,” said Bill, whereupon he put his hands behind his head, looked at the ceiling and rattled off a slew of absolutely fabulous story ideas.  Some ideas were kernels, others more, but all eventually became scripts.  BabyCakes and I were writing as fast as we could, but BabyCakes took dictation like an ace stenographer on speed.  I’d never seen anything like it.  At that moment I realized, if you could write fast enough, you could become the star writer on this show because Cosby himself would tell you what to write.  The best Cosby writer was Bill Cosby. 

               Wednesday afternoon there’s a run-through on the stage so the writers can see what’s working in the script and what isn’t.  Secretaries, interns, parents and guardians of child actors, extras and stand-ins are summoned to take up seats in the bleachers and to laugh where it’s funny.  The writer’s personalized director’s chairs hadn’t come yet so the writers sat in the back row of the stands.

              There was a scene in Geeky’s script where the doorbell rings.  Tempestt Bledsoe/Vanessa runs from the kitchen to the front door yelling, “I’ll get it!” and opens the door.  Malcolm enters.  Suddenly Bill steps out of character and yells, “Cut!  Stop the music!  Everybody hold your places.”  All eyes are on Bill.  I thought it was shocking.  The director is the only person on set ever allowed to call “Cut.”  It was a breach of show business protocol.  I held my breath wondering what would happen.  Was this the tip of the iceberg as far as Cosby’s controlling the show?  Short answer: yes.

              Bill had a serious problem.  “Is this little girl going to open the door without knowing who’s on the other side?  I gulped.  Cosby was so right, but I knew fixing this minor detail meant yet another late night rewrite.  Why?  Because, it’s not going to be simply Vanessa asking, “Who is it?” and Malcolm answering, “It’s Theo.”  That would be too easy and not funny.  It’s got to be something cute like Vanessa saying, “Who is it?”  And Theo saying, “Come on, open the door.  You know who it is.  It’s me!”  And then Vanessa might say something like, “Me who?”  And then Theo would say, “Theo, your brother.”  Then Vanessa would say, sassily, “Oh really?  You got any proof?”  Etcetera.  Add that exchange and the script will be a page too long and we’ll have to cut some lines elsewhere in the script.  With Geeky, THAT could take hours and HOURS.   

               “The WRITERS don’t have a problem with the door?”  Bill booms.

              Geeky mutters to me out of the side of his mouth, “Obviously we didn’t have a problem when we wrote it.  It’s a minor detail.  It’s a dramatic license, for Christ sakes.”  Bill doesn’t want to let it go.  He shades his eyes, squinting up into the dark bleachers.  “Somebody, turn up the lights so I can see who I’m talking to!” he yells.  BLAM!  The houselights come on.  I have a heart attack right then and there.  Geeky whispers to me, “Stand your ground, this is bull.  We’d still got the pilot to finish writing tonight.  I need some sleep.  You gotta help me out. ”   

              It gets worse.  Cosby’s voice bellows, “Will the writers who are parents please stand up.”  I want to die.  Geeky and I stand.  All heads turn to us.  “Do you let your children open the door without knowing who’s on the other side?  What about you, Legs?”  I’m dying.  Cosby already hates me twice, for my script and for Richard Pryor.  Now I’m about to dig myself another hole?  “Legs, do you let your child answer the door without asking?”  

               “Yes,” I peep, unconvincingly.  There was no time to explain that our door had a fan shaped window in the top, so we could see easily who was on the other side.  Of course my son knew not to just open the door for anybody, but Geeky was depending on me to hold the line with him against Cosby.  Cosby is now glaring at me like the bad mom and/or lying writer that I am.  ”And it’s okay with you?” he asks with great disgust.  All I could do was grin and shrug my shoulders sheepishly. 

              Next it was Geeky’s turn.  At last, Geeky will rescue me.  “How about my Executive Pro-Doocer?  Do you let your children answer the door without asking?  ” booms Bill.  Geeky says, “No sir, I don’t let them open the door ever, even to go out.  I pass them through the window, but only to people we know really well, like their grandparents.”  That gets a chuckle from everyone, including Cosby.  That leaves me standing in a steaming pile of bad parent poo.  Thank you Geeky!  “Back to the drawing board, kiddies!”  Bill says pointing at the writers.  We worked on BOTH scripts that night.  At three AM we finally finished the pilot script scenes, which were going to be filmed Friday night along with Geeky’s episode.  

              The Cosby schedule almost never improved.  Since there had been no pre-production time there was no backlog of scripts.  All of the freelance scripts needed complete re-writes.  Our scripts were typewritten which made the entire pre-computer process of assembling a daily script amazingly, fantastically, time consuming!  We could never catch up.  In our spare time, we were tasked with reading from a pile of scripts to find writers worthy of replacing us when we went back to LA after the ninth show.  We often worked all day Sunday too, and only got to quit at 4 PM because that was the deadline for Monday’s script to be typed and duplicated.   

              Wednesday’s breach of parenting ethics lead to the hiring of Dr. Alvin Poussant, Ph.D. Poussant was a psychologist and a longtime crony of Bill’s.  The good head doctor was going to review each script to make sure that it passed psychological muster.  To me the whole arrangement had the stink of censorship and I hate all censorship.  My motto is: stay away from experts or they will SUCK the comedy out of your script.  In my experience there’s no greater comedy-killer than psychologists.  Putting a shrink on the payroll meant we were going to do more than entertain.  It meant we were going to TEACH.  Reverend Cosby wants to sell his code of ethics to as large an audience as possible.  The sitcom is his forum.  

              Bill wanted to show the TV audience THIS is the proper way to live.  If you have these Huxtable morals and standards, you will lead a good, purposeful life.  Cosby was doling out life lessons, just like Garry Marshall did on Happy Days and Tony Randall did on all his shows.  The Cosby pilot was the perfect example:  Cleo and Cliff are in the bedroom.  The son tells the father he plans to drop out of school.  Bill sets Theo straight with a funny money demo.  If that didn’t get the message across, Cliff says, “I brought you into the world and I’ll take you out!”  The father says essentially, “I will kill you if you drop out of school and become a bum.”  That was Bill’s message to youth and I couldn’t agree more. 

              The TV Guide article came out about the first Cosby cast reading.  The writer described Korby and me as the “slack-jawed writers” reacting with shock to Cosby’s trashing our script.  I guess it was some sort of vindication.

              After we got home, Tom and Marcy invited us to the Cosby wrap party at the LA Museum of Science and Industry, to a Cosby Emmy party at the David Geffen Theater, and to a slew of Cosby related events.  Months later I visited the gorgeously remodeled NBC Studios in Brooklyn.  Besides putting in new beautiful offices, they had a professional kitchen with a chef cooking healthy lunches and dinners for the writers.  I finally got to meet one of our replacement writers -- a guy I like to think I had helped discover from a pile of scripts on Marcy’s desk.  I had read his off-Broadway play. With a name like Matt Williams, I was sure Cosby would finally get his wish and have an excellent black writer.  He got an excellent writer, albeit white.  Best of all Bill was more than gracious when he spotted his old friend “Legs.”  He said he didn’t know I was leaving till I was already gone.  I guess that’s an example of the deep separation between Stage and Writer’s Room.  I was relieved Reverend Cosby still had a little Jell-O left in him.   

ADDENDUM:
“The Cosby Show” was a milestone for women in sitcoms.  We had a female executive producer and female line producer, plus two women writers (although technically, as partners, we were only counted as one person).  I felt like women were finally making it in sitcom.  One day on stage I noticed our producer, Caryn Mandabach, was missing.  I asked around and someone told me she had her baby yesterday.  “Oh.”  A little while later I spotted Caryn walking around on stage and she was still big as a house.  “Oh Caryn, you’re here.  Some idiot just told me you had your baby.”  And Caryn said, “I did, yesterday.  He’s up in the stands with his nurse.”  Caryn waved to a smiling toothless black lady in a white uniform.  The lady waved back while holding a teeny, tiny one-day old baby.  ONE DAY!?  ONE DAY?!  And she’s back to work, like she skipped work yesterday in order to get her roots touched up?  What was the world of working women coming to?  
  
              (The day after I gave birth I was still in the hospital, walking bowlegged while straddling an industrial strength sanitary pad the size of a canoe.  My hair was in a point.  I was exhausted, stressed and so overwhelmed it lead to a case of post-partum depression so severe it lasted for eighteen years!  Did I rush back to work?  I did not.  I took six months.) 

              My generation of working women accepted the old Ginger Rodgers dictum that said to get ahead women had to do what men did “backwards and in high heels.”  This was my 12th year in show biz.  Caryn represented a new generation of Hollywood working women.  She couldn’t take a few days off to have a baby?  Now we’re supposed to give birth in the field, tie the umbilical cord with our teeth and go back to picking cotton?  What the hell!  If Caryn set the new standard, I couldn’t compete.  I had neither the stamina nor the ambition, but Caryn did.  Eventually it paid off to the tune of three hundred million dollars when “The Cosby Show” was sold into syndication.  No one can say she didn’t earn it.
***


Saturday, September 06, 2014

Sunday, November 17, 2013

JFK Assassination

I'm reposting this memory piece on the murder of JFK. 

John Kennedy Inaugural , 50 Years Today
by Karyl Miller
1.20.2011

50 years ago today John Kennedy was sworn in as our knight in shining armor. I was in high school, but I would have voted for him if I could have. For those of you not fortunate to have been there suffice to say, Kennedy was the white Obama. We Democrats just loved him. He was young, he was smart. He was a gorgeous man with a gorgeous family. He shared our values. We just loved him.

50 years have gone by and I STILL can’t watch Kennedy videos without getting as lump in my throat. I remember watching Kennedy’s Inaugural speech – we were so thrilled. So much hope, so alive. And then, the opposite. I realize now I will never get over the loss of Kennedy. Every Kennedy image reminds me of what might have been and brings me back to that horrific day when we were hearing the impossible. “The president’s been shot.” I was thinking Not OUR president. They must mean some president from some backwards country where they’re always overthrowing each other. Not here. We don’t shoot presidents in America.

I was a just-out-of-high-school showroom girl at a wholesale hat company in the legendary garment center in New York. The switchboard girl said “The president’s been shot.” I thought that maybe they meant our boss, Mr. Abramson, the president of the hat company - whom I hated, but not that much. Someone hated Mr. Abramson even more than I did? At least that’s what I told myself when they sent me to the bank to make the deposits. 

The garment center was jammed, as it always was back when we still manufactured clothing right there in NYC USA. This was the hub. The joint was jumping. Trucks were honking and double parking and backing in and out of driveways. People are always yelling at each other and flipping each other off. Sidewalks were teaming with Puerto Ricans navigating racks and racks of clothing between the salesmen, the masses,  the 6-foot models all painted up and scurrying to their next job. 

1407 Broadway was the Mecca of it all. There was always a line up of chauffeured black Cadillac limousines circling the building waiting for their owners – the top designers who worked there. As I got closer I realized every chauffeur had his door open and a crowd gathered around, trying to hear the radio. If you accidentally made eye contact with a stranger, you exchanged worried looks. Everyone was wishing Please don’t let it be true. The people closest to the radios passed the info back to us. I heard what sounded like “presidente” in fifty different languages. Then I heard the word “morte,” which I guessed meant the news was very bad indeed.

My heart sank. I had to stop fooling myself about Mr. Abramson. I had to accept the fact that our beloved president John Kennedy was shot and killed. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, they got worse with more and more dying in Vietnam. Then they killed Martin and Bobby – Bam! Bam! Back to back in 60 days.  We boomers and beyond had the optimism beat out of us. That’s what happens when they take away your heroes. It's not just Kennedy I mourn today. 
                                                                          ***

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Filner vs. Weiner

Women Wonder:  What if Mayor Filner sexted us and Weiner Frenched us?  Would that be better?

Today every woman in my Zumba group agreed we would die if our mayor, Bob Filner, stuck his tongue down our throats.  As a Democrat, nothing makes me madder than Democrats behaving badly.  My opinion of Weiner the-wienie-waver?  I‘ve never sexted but certainly wouldn’t do it with a stranger, especially one who called himself Carlos Danger.  How can you say that name without laughing?  Wasn’t the name Weiner funny enough? – Especially when you’re sending photos of same?  Carlos Danger, the world’s most in-teresting dick.

Before they had a word for sexual harassment at work, my generation of women called it “having a job.”  By today’s standards, I‘ve been harassed on almost every job I’ve ever had. In the sixties, being harassed was the price a woman paid for the privilege of being one of the boys (though paid less).  We trained ourselves to ignore the silly little men and their pathetic attempts at flirtation. 

Filner’s excuse for his behavior is: he’s from the Mad Men generation where harassing women was a time-honored business activity.  Oh, yes, I remember it well.  Women had to be good sports or we’d be out of a job. An occasional swat on the butt?  Fine. Rubbing my shoulders?  No big deal.  Telling an occasional dirty joke?  No big whoop.  Forced Frenching?  NOT OKAY!  Never was and still isn’t!

I remember the first time the subject of harassment hit the news.  At first no one was sure know how to pronounce harassment.  Was the accent on the ha or the ass?  It was during the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Anita Hill, an attorney and former Thomas underling (at the EEOC, ironically) came forward and accused Thomas of harassment.  She was forced to recount the most embarrassing details of Thomas' crude and dumb improprieties...live and on television.  Not one woman in America doubted Hill’s story.  It was obvious this refined and serious woman didn’t dream up something about “a pubic hair on a coke can.”  Or a porno movie called “Long Dong Silver.” Thomas was obviously guilty (as far as women were concerned).

The entire country was glued to the hearings.  Men couldn’t believe or understand why Hill didn’t quit. Women couldn’t understand why men couldn’t understand why a woman would just ignore the harassment.  It was a way of life for working women!  More than a few couples broke up arguing over the subject.

Besides Anita Hill, there were five other women waiting in the wings to testify against Thomas, but they weren’t allowed.  If the five other women had testified, would Thomas be a justice on the Supreme Court today?  Would a man who obviously knew he was breaking the rules be rewarded with a lifetime job interpreting the constitution?
                                        
                                                              ***


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rebecca Schaeffer 7/18/89


Rebecca Schaeffer 7/18/89
Actress, gun violence victim, forever 21. 
Remember her tomorrow. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Don't Take Your Daughters to Work Day


Thursday is Take Our Kids To Work Day. Since women are still only making 70 cents to a man's dollar, let's not show up for work at all. Maybe it would benefit women more if we just said no to the gyno dollars and let the whole damn office, restaurant, store, school, hospital and factory fall apart without us. 

After a day spent NOT taking our daughters to work, let's get together in our back yards and light up our barbecues, but instead of cooking dinner, let's re-enact a moment from feminist folklore: Let's burn our bras! Let's toss our foam-filled Victoria's Secrets onto the flames. Let a bonfire of the bras send out a toxic smoke signal that says "We're raising a stink because we want the financial equality we were promised years ago and we want it today!"  

                              ***   
    

Friday, March 08, 2013

International Womens' Day


Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain't I A Woman?
Delivered 1851
Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio 
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pope Resigns

 Protected Roger Mahoney who protected numerous child rapists.  
Only he knows the whole terrible truth.
Good riddance and may he be haunted by his misdeeds.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dear Abby RIP


                                  
If I could be any other writer, I always wanted to be Dear Abby.  Dishing out homespun advice and Jewish wisdom to the confused masses seemed like a dream job.  I was Abby’s biggest fan and one day I got to meet her.  I was writing on a new family sitcom created by Erma Bombeck.  Erma was the Executive Producer of “Maggie” and she was the sweetest and easiest boss I ever had.  Erma knew absolutely everybody. Behind Erma’s desk was hung an enormous patchwork quilt, each square containing a famous person’s autograph embroidered.  The daily parade of luminaries who came to take Erma to lunch was amazing – one day in walked Ann Richards, the governor of Texas.  But toping them all, for me, was when Dear Abby walked in, resplendent in her trademark helmet hair.


Like every woman in America, I have a treasure-trove of yellowing Abby columns on my fridge and I insisted on recounting them to Abby before I would let Abby and Erma leave for their lunch.  Abby was more than gracious while I ticked them off.

          Here are a few of my Abby faves:

1. A poem called FORGIVNESS
The friend who ran off with your wife, Forgive him for his lust, The chum who sold you phony stocks, Forgive his breach of trust; The pal who schemed behind your back, Forgive his evil work; And while you’re done, forgive yourself for being such a jerk.

2. “Regret is the cancer of life.”

3. A story about a teacher who had her students write down one good thing about each person in the class.  The teacher then copied them over and gave each student a list of 30 positive things others had said about them.  An Abby reader died and the list was found in his wallet.  He had carried it for forty years.

4. Letter writer Lois in New York didn’t ask for Abby’s advice but sent some of her own pearls of wisdom about not trusting male nurses because “men are the adulterers, the child molesters of the world…”  I thought Lois that was pretty funny and I guess so did Abby.  Abby will be missed.

Karyl, sad in San Diego 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

White House Lunch

                           Yes it's tasteless and the drawing isn't good, but did U laugh?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown, my hero


When I was in high school sex-before-marriage was forbidden (for girls).  What did we do with our raging hormones?  I don’t get national credit for this but:  I invented the lap dance in the back seat of a ’57 Chevy.  As long as there was some jeans fabric separating your tunnel from his little red wagon, you were okay.

My mother, who was an expert on the rules of the time said, “You’re either a nice girl or a nafka.”  Nafka was Yiddish for prostitute and the word whore was also forbidden.  “If you have sex and the boy brags about it—which he will--your reputation will be ruined, you’ll be damaged goods and you’ll never get a good husband.  The best you’ll get is living in a trailer park with a drunk.  If you get pregnant, you’ll be sent to a home for unwed mothers run by mean nuns and after the baby is born, you’ll have to move to some other state.”

After Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl came out in 1962, (the year I graduated from high school) everything changed.  Brown said if a girl was unmarried and had a career, she could have sex and not think of herself as a whore.  I so agreed, especially since I had already lost my virginity around my 16th birthday (in the back of that same ’57 Chevy).  Coincidentally (and luckily), the Pill came out around the same time--so the timing could not have been better.  Thus began the Sexual Revolution (where I became a foot soldier).  We went from being junior Jackie Kennedys to swimming naked at Woodstock in just a few years’ time.  I thank Helen Gurley Brown for that.

                                                                 ***

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book Four


Book Four of Fifty Shades of Grey should open with Christian Grey holding a dust cloth. That’s a universal turn-on for any woman, isn’t it?  A guy, who without urging, picks up a broom and utters those three little words, “How can I help?”  Now that makes my heart flutter.  The reason working women today are complaining they can’t have it all is because obviously their husbands aren’t doing their half.  

I blame Madison Avenue for brainwashing the American public with their sexist commercials.  In every ad who’s washing the toilet?  The woman.  Who’s having fun washing the car and playing with a hose in the driveway?  The man.  Who’s knocking herself out cleaning and cooking?  The woman.  Who’s playing cowboy in the yard killing weeds with squirter that looks like a gun?  The man.  At the heart of the battle of the sexes is the battle over whose job it is to wash the toilet.
How to Housebreak the Average American Male

1.     Don’t be a little elf, magically cleaning while he’s not there.  ALWAYS vacuum right under his nose.  He’ll feel guilty, appreciate you more and someday ask if he can help.
2.     If he offers to wash the dishes, don’t tell him how to wash the dishes.  Men hate that.  Look away if you have to.  If he breaks the dishwasher, let it go.  Eventually he’ll learn.
3.     Thank him profusely for his help.  Why?  Men unconsciously still think housework is your job and they’re doing you a favor.  Whatever.  Would it kill you to fake it a little?  It won’t be the first time.  Gush.  Gush with all your might, “Honey the floor looks fantastic!  What did you do?  Our rug looks brand-new!  Thank soo much!’’  Works every time.


Got any bright ideas?  Let me know ...

***


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Can a Woman Have it All in Hollywood?



As long as women have kids and careers, the question of whether we can have it all isn’t going to go away anytime soon.  In a recent article in The Atlantic, Why Women StillCan’t Have it All,” Ann-Marie Slaughter mentions the pioneer femi-nazis (not her term) of the previous generation for having to be “like men” to succeed in the bad old Mad Men days.  The next generation (ours) only had to be better than men to get ahead.  We were the first women to run ourselves ragged in the workplace in droves, and we did it voluntarily.  I was a young housewife and mother when the women’s movement came along and said the worst thing you could be was a young housewife and mother.  If a woman wanted respect, if she wanted her own money, she was going to have to earn it.  I decided to become a writer because a woman could do it from home and still be a mom, a maid, a chauffeur and have dinner on the table by six.  If I could squeeze in my writing when nobody was looking, how could my husband object?

Two years and many spec scripts later, I became one of the newly liberated working women writing about one of the newly liberated working women on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  My son was seven and in the second grade.  The first thing I did was run out and buy a Norman Todd pantsuit just like Mary wore on the show.  Once women won the right to wear pants to work, there was no holding us back.  Seriously.

The Women’s Liberation Movement was reaching a feverish pitch when Mary debuted in 1970.  Mary represented the ideal, freshly minted career woman.  Mary was who women aspired to be--more than a secretary (but less than a boss).  Every week we got a soft little lesson in liberation.  You could be thirty and a single woman and not hate your life.  You could have a career with responsibilities and still be feminine.  You could stand up to your boss (as Mary did to Mr. Grant in her job interview) and still get hired.  Mary had spunk.  We all wanted it.

Flashback to 1964.  A funny thing happened to me on the way to my honeymoon.  I was twenty-one.  I had just married a “great catch.”  I could finally relax.  Married life was gonna be great.  Goodbye to first dates and lonely birthdays.  Hello wonderful world of kooky-artistic wife-of-successful musician.  In my fantasies we would be just like Lucy and Ricky, only Jewish.  Just like on I Love Lucy, if I dented the fender, I would have some ‘splaining to do and Hubby would scold me (in a cute way) because it was his car and his money that I was wasting by “driving like a woman.”  And that was just fine because we all thought women stank at driving back then.  Women were considered less good than men at just about everything.

My groom was tall and thin and nerdy-cute, with Clark Kent-ish tortoise-shell glasses.  He wore beautiful sports jackets and always left a trail of that intoxicating (at the time) “Aramis.”  He was smart, he was interesting.  He was a songwriter.  I was awed by his talent.  We both loved music and art.  We had lots of things in common, but the main thing we had in common was our absolute fascination with him. 

So, there we are, my groom and I, about to board our honeymoon plane to Bermuda.  In those days, the husband paid for everything and the wife offered her homemaking and baby raising skills in trade.  That was the default position even for college-educated women.  My mother was proud to say she only went to college to get her “Mrs.” degree.  Back then being a wife and mother was good enough and no higher goals were necessary for a woman to be respected and to respect herself.  Hubby would bring home the bacon, and Wifey would fry it right under her diploma. 

A job was just something a woman did till she landed Mr. Right.  I was an artist, an oil painter who also had a passion for fashion.  I was brainwashed by my mother at a very young age with her lecture “What a Woman Is and What a Woman Does to Attain the Happy Life 101.”  I’ll never forget her sweet admonishments, uttered in her Midwestern monotone, “You don’t like school, so college is out and being a teacher is out.  You think nursing is too ‘yucky,’ so that’s out.  You’re too short to be a stewardess.  You flunked typing twice on account of uncontrollable giggling, so you can’t be a secretary.  So what are you good at?  Art.  You’re very good at art, no one would deny that.  You say you want to be an ‘artist’ and ‘paint pictures all day.’  That’s nice.  Let me ask you something Miss Picasso: who is going to pay for the paint?  I’m asking you!  Don’t roll your eyes at me, little Missy.  Answer me this:  How do you eat between the time you finish your masterpiece and the day you finally sell it?  Can you last a month?  What if it takes a year?  How will you support yourself?  Okay that’s a trick question so I’ll answer it:  You don’t support yourself.  You find a good husband and HE supports you.  You let HIM pay for the paint.  Next question:  How are you going to get a good husband IF YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO SET A TABLE?  How are you going to be a good hostess when he brings his business associates home for dinner!?  Ye gods, Karyl!  Answer me that!”

I knew what I had to do: move as far away from Mom as possible, so I moved to New York.  Despite my limited education, I always landed amazing and glamorous jobs.  Why?  I was smart.  I knew instinctively to always dress for the part, and I was a great bullshitter.  I created a PR job at Macy’s.  As their Teen Coordinator, I set up teen boards made up of  girls from local high schools, put on teen fashion shows, had celebrity autograph signings, and wrote a teen newsletter.  I was a little bit famous.  I was in Newsweek.  I was interviewed by Mike Wallace.  I won Seventeen Magazine’s AMY (Award for Merchandising to Youth) Award.  I also helped organize, and was a clown in, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I planned on working till I got married.  After that I’d paint and take art classes, but my main job would be to serve my successful husband so that he could become even more successful.  I would bask in his glory and raise our children singlehandedly (if need be) so he could concentrate on his career.  I had always viewed weddings as a sort of retirement party for the bride, because sooner or later it would be the man’s responsibility to support the family.

Hunting for something to read on my honeymoon, I grabbed a best seller that had just come out in paperback: The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan.  I had been wondering what all the fuss was about.  Only a few pages in, Friedan said smart women (like me!) who signed on to be “just housewives” (like I just did) were desperately unhappy.  They got no respect.  They had no money of their own and had to justify every single purchase to their husbands.  These formerly smart college graduates had become nothing but diaper changing, ass-wiping zombie house slaves.  Stuck in the suburbs they were lonely, isolated and practically suicidal.  Meanwhile, their husbands were respected business executives enjoying three-martini lunches and a plethora of cleavage at the Playboy Club in midtown Manhattan.  The more I read, the more I knew Friedan was right.  All I could think was: I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life.

I needed to come up with a Plan B--and fast--hopefully before the honeymoon was over.  I realized if a wife wanted any respect, she was going to have to fight for it.  How could I get my husband of one day to accept my new idea of my working full time?  I had just spent the past 6 months selling him on my domestic skills and convincing him that I couldn’t wait to wait on him hand and foot and to bask in his glory.  But now that I’d read this book, I still wanted to be married, but maybe not in the original Lucy-Desi way I had envisioned.  I wanted a job.  I wanted to stay vital.

I secretly vowed I would do everything I could to grow as a woman--as long as it didn’t interfere with my marriage.  All I had to do was be the perfect housewife and maybe I could fulfill myself from nine-to-five just like Betty Freidan suggested.  As long as I kept the house clean, the refrigerator filled and had dinner on the table by six, how could my husband say no? 

My husband gave me permission to work!  Yay!  The first two years of our marriage, I did PR for rock groups--most notably, the Rolling Stones.  Then I wangled myself a job on Madison Avenue as an Account Executive capitalizing on my special knowledge of what teenage girls want.  Still unfulfilled, I decided to become a dress designer.  I was an artist.  I could draw.  I had style.  I made up a bunch of sketches and I talked my way into a wonderful job designing Junior dresses.  I earned while I learned.  I took patternmaking at the Fashion Institute of Technology at night.  Of course, I still kept up with my marriage and my life plans.  I got pregnant.  I worked until my water broke and then I quit my job.  As a new mother, I was lonely and bored pushing a baby carriage in Central Park.  Chatting with other moms about the newfangled Pampers versus cloth diapers made me want to scream.  During Adam’s nap, I played “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” over and over.  I missed designing.  I missed my friends in the garment center.  I missed having something interesting to say when my husband came home for dinner.  Would he let me go back to work?

With great passion, I stated my case for NOT being a stay-at-home mom.  He agreed to my plan to return to work ONLY after I agreed to pay the nanny’s salary out of my designing salary because, taking care of the baby was the mom’s job.  Yes, I agreed to that.  It was another time!  It was a work-around to get what I wanted.  I returned to the garment center as head designer for a division of America’s #2 dress manufacturer--Bobbie Brooks.  After taxes and paying the nanny, I netted exactly zero dollars.  But I was fulfilled.

Everything changed when we moved from New York to LA.  For me, going to LA meant returning home.  I had grown up in LA.  After high school, I moved to New York to find a husband.  Now I was returning with my booty.  No one, especially my mom could say I had failed at achieving my goal of finding a nice Jewish husband and starting a family.  But that goal wasn’t enough for me anymore.  I promptly got a job designing dresses, but the garment center in LA had none of the action and excitement of New York.  I wanted to make a career switch.  Once again, it was time to re-invent myself, but as what?         

One night we were watching the Emmys on TV.  Lily Tomlin showed up in a 1950’s tulle prom dress.  Fashion jokes always kill me.  Lily’s outfit poked fun of the pomposity of the event.  She was hilarious.  I totally “got” her.  I decided at that moment to become a comedy writer and to one day write for Lily.  Two years later my wish came true.

The same day I was hired to write a Mary Tyler Moore episode, I was hired to staff write on Lily, Lily Tomlin’s first special.  Almost half the writers on Lily were women but I was the only wife and mother.  My son went to a private school less than a mile away.  How was I going to manage being a full-time mom and having a full-time job? 

Luckily, I had Maria, a “criada,” a live-in cleaning lady/baby sitter illegal-from-Mexico.  She didn’t speak a word of English, didn’t drive, couldn’t cook anything except tortillas.  My plan: I could drop Adam at school on my way to the office if his dad could pick him up from school at three and bring him home.  Maria could take over from there.  My husband lived on song royalties and didn’t work.  He had nothing to do all day except go to the gym, meet friends for lunch and call people on the phone.  Still, he balked at running this errand while I “fulfilled” myself.  I begged him.  It was only for six weeks and then I promised I’d be back at my job as Number One husband-and-child-tender.  Reluctantly, he agreed.

When Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel she was famous for saying that whenever she was running Israel she felt guilty about her children and whenever she was taking care of her kids, she felt guilty about Israel.  I could relate.  Whenever I could include Adam and work, it was good.  After writing on Lily, Richard Pryor and I became friends and decided to write a Sanford and Son together.  Richie’s daughter, Rain, was Adam’s age and sometimes the two of them played while we wrote.  Whenever that happened, it was the best of all possible worlds.  I staff wrote on a sitcom with Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna.  They had a son Gabriel who was Adam’s age, and again, I got really lucky that the boys could play together while we wrote, sometimes late into the night.  

I was a writer on the pilot of Cher right after she split from Sonny.  For our first staff writers' get-acquainted meeting, Cher greeted me at the door of her palatial Sunset Boulevard mansion with a naked two-year-old Chastity Bono resting on her hip.  Before the meeting began she handed Chastity over to her criada.

After Mary, TV became a hotbed for shows starring funny women.  It slowly dawned on Hollywood they might need funny women to write for them.  Yay for me.  For once, I had impeccable timing.  I wrote a Maude, a Karen Valentine Show, a Diana Rigg Show, and just about every other series about a 1970’s career woman or about a mom who wants to be a 1970’s career woman.  Even Edith Bunker had pangs of liberation.  Women writers became Hollywood’s newest novelty.  Every show wanted one.  There were around a dozen of us writing sitcoms.  Our unique status drew us together and we became friends.  We founded the Women’s Committee of the Writers Guild.  We were among the first members of Women in Film.

Just like all the other disgruntled housewives of America, women writers bonded, threw consciousness-raising parties and got enlightened.  Consciousness-raising was a lot like group therapy.  Once someone read aloud an article from Ms. Magazine (the feminist’s bible) called “I Want a Wife.”  The satirical piece was an amazingly long list of household chores assigned exclusively to the wife.  The more we heard, the angrier we got.  It concluded with “Who wouldn’t want a wife?”  Everyone in the room was blown away by it.  Everyone could relate.  Everyone got mad.  Then, everyone scurried home to cook dinner for their husbands.  If we were going to change our husbands, first we had to change ourselves.

­­­­­­My career really took off.  I could hardly keep up with my writing.  One night, purely by coincidence, I had three different shows on the air.  I wrote a second Mary Tyler Moore.  I wrote many other relics of that time including the wife-swapping sitcom Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.  I was so popular; I got my fifteen minutes of fame.  Ms. did a photo story on sitcom moms.  My son and I were pictured goofing off wearing matching baseball shirts.  I was interviewed on the first Regis Philbin Show.  By the end of my first year as a professional writer, I was nominated for an Emmy and a Writer’s Guild of America Award for Lily.  I got invited to speak at colleges that would never have admitted me as a student.  By the end of my second year, I won the Emmy for Best Writing on Lily Tomlin’s second special, along with the American Academy of Humor Award, and the Rolling Stone Magazine award for the Best Special of the Year.  

Like everyone who becomes successful in show business, my private life stank.  After I won my Emmy, my marriage imploded and my son needed an exorcist.  The freelance writing market dried up and staff writing became the only way to write sitcoms.  Now that I was divorced, writing was no longer a hobby.  I needed the money.  Even though we women had our own anthem and were Strong, Invincible, Wo-maaan, our rightful equality was taking longer than anticipated.  I don’t know why.  All we had to do was convince men to give us half of all their jobs, to pay us equally, and to wash their own goddamn socks.  How hard could that be?

Even though I was now a single mother, I was dammed if I going to let that stand in the way of my burgeoning career.  Of course I no longer lived in a big house with a live-in criada; I had to rely on the kindness of teenagers.

I was being considered to write an episode for the police sitcom, Barney Miller.  It wasn’t a woman’s show, so the fact that they liked my Mary Tyler Moore writing enough to ignore the fact that I had a vagina meant a lot to me.  I knew I would be the first female they hired.  I was determined to show them they wouldn’t regret hiring a woman and a mother.  I wanted to hit it out of the ballpark for my sisters in the Writers Guild. 

I was resolute in playing down the mom thing because being a mother was a reason NOT to get hired.  If a child gets sick, who stays home?  The mom.  Could I have predicted my story meeting would run over to 2:30 PM and that soon my child would be waiting for me on the curb in front of his school?  Could I have predicted that after picking him up and racing home and finding a sitter (Of course, I’m NOT going to bring my child to work--that would sabotage my whole case), that my car would break down on the freeway?  That my shoe strap would break when I ran to the Call Box?  That my Ex would have cancelled my AAA card?  That I would finally return to my story meeting two hours later sweaty and bedraggled?  Suddenly, all the stress, the hurt and the anger over the divorce came spewing out in an avalanche of tears and boogers.  Everyone knows there is no greater sin than a woman crying at work.  I was flunking as a feminist and that made me cry even more!  

After Mary and Lily I was the only woman in the Writer’s Room AKA the Frat House for the first ten years of my comedy writing career.  I was a feminist in the frat house.  Good thing I had an older brother who once threw a Lionel train at me and taught me everything there was to know about armpit farts, or I wouldn’t have survived it. 

I went to London to write on a musical comedy special starring Sandy Duncan.  Did my Ex help me out and take our son for a month while I went on location?  Did he help me out with my career while we were still married?  Luckily, another PTA mom took Adam so I could take the job.  I was the only woman writer on staff.  I was jealous because all my co-workers (men) had wives back home who were holding down their forts.  I thought I was going to be like Sally on the old Dick Van Dyke Show.  There were three guy writers and me.  I was newly divorced and I couldn’t wait to explore London.  The first night after work we were riding back from Elstree Studios in our limo.  We were laughing and joking and I thought I’m finally accepted as one of the boys when one of my co-writers piped up, “Hey,  let’s all go out and get laid.“  Luckily I brought my knitting.  It was still a man’s world.

If it wasn’t for women actors, (or actresses, as they used to like to be called), I probably wouldn’t have worked at all.  I wrote on the staff of Erma Bombeck’s sitcom, Maggie.  I co-wrote a Kate and Allie.  I staff wrote and was Supervising Producer on My Sister Sam, which starred Pam Dawber and the late Rebecca Schaeffer.  I staff wrote on the first nine Cosby Shows.

The Cosby Show was a milestone for women in sitcoms.  Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey hired four writers to complete the unfinished pilot and write or re-write the first nine Cosby episodes.  The two other writers on the staff were guys.  Women writers were finally 50%!  I felt like women were finally making it in sitcom.  Our Executive Producers were 50% female and our line producer, Caryn Mandabach, was overtly female, being very very pregnant.

One day on stage I noticed Caryn was missing.  I asked around and someone told me she had her baby yesterday.  “Oh.”  A little while later I spotted Caryn walking around and she was still as big as a house.  “Oh Caryn, you’re here.  Some idiot just told me you had your baby.”  And Caryn said, “I did, yesterday.  He’s up in the stands with his nurse.”  Caryn waved to a smiling buck-toothed black lady in a white uniform.  The lady waved back while holding a teeny, tiny one-day-old baby.  ONE DAY?  ONE DAY and she’s back to work, like she played hooky for a few hours to get her roots done? Is that what Yahoo Mom Marissa Mayer is planning?  What was the world of working women coming to?   

The day after I gave birth I was still in the hospital, walking like Roy Rodgers while straddling an industrial strength sanitary pad the size of a canoe.  My hair was in a point.  I looked like Phyllis Diller.  I was exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed.  I had a case of post-partum depression so severe that it lasted for eighteen years!  Did I rush back to work?  I did not.  I took six months. 

My generation of working women accepted the old Ginger Rodgers dictum that said: to get ahead women had to do what men did “backwards and in high heels.”  Caryn represented a new generation of working women—fourteen years after Mary Richards showed us her spunk.  She couldn’t take a few days off to have a baby?  Now we’re supposed to give birth in the field, tie the umbilical cord with our teeth and go back to picking cotton?  What the hell!  If Caryn set the new standard, I couldn’t compete.  I had neither the stamina nor the ambition, but Caryn did.  Eventually it paid off to the tune of eighty gazillion dollars when The Cosby Show was sold into syndication.  No one can say she didn’t earn it.

I turned to writing movie scripts as a way to get some sleep, sold a screenplay to Kevin Costner and found out why they call it “development hell.”  Still wrote all night.

During my career I wrote sitcom pilots for Karen Valentine, Nancy Walker, Madeline Kahn, Talia Shire, Mariette Hartley, Melba Moore and Pam Dawber.  See a theme emerging?  If the show was about a woman or a family, I got the call.  I brought my pen and my vagina.  I started out as a Hollywood housewife with a hobby, but that blossomed into a writing career that lasted thirty years. 

Writing on a TV show isn’t like any other job on the planet.  They pay you boatloads of bucks to sit around a table with the funniest people you ever met and try to crack each other up.  Every day, your sides ache from laughing.  Of course, the majority of the jokes are actually hostile remarks about coworkers.  But that’s the good part.  The bad part is: if the writing takes 24/7 well, you’re STILL overpaid, so just grab some toothpicks, prop up your eyelids and keep on writing–and you better be funny.  Will you be the only mom in the room?  Probably not.  Will you have a more helpful husband than I had?  Hopefully.  Can a woman have it all in Hollywood?  Yes she can, but she’s still going to be really, really tired.
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