Saturday, April 14, 2007

Stan Daniels

Not every comedy writer is a loud and crazy guy. Sometimes the funniest is the quietest. One such writer was Stan Daniels. We lost Stan earlier this week. He was 72.

For years, Stan was one of the creative forces behind THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. He won eight Emmys. He also directed and composed music (he wrote the theme from PHYLLIS). People who worked with Stan usually say two things: He was incredibly talented, and how could he be in a partnership with Ed. Weinberger for so long? If ever there was a mismatch this was it. Ed was the loud and crazy guy. And volatile.

Stan was just the opposite. Soft spoken. Warm. Your kindly uncle.

But together they wrote brilliant scripts filled with inspired humor and tremendous heart.

Stan's sense of humor was always sly and wildly original. A typical joke: Lou Grant asks an elderly lady if she watches Ted Baxter. She says, "I don't watch television. I have a fireplace."

Stan later went on to co-create TAXI (among many other things) and he wrote the music and lyrics to a 1976 Broadway show, “So Long 174th St.”.

I worked with him on ALMOST PERFECT. By then he was directing. He did many of our early episodes, really establishing the tone for us, and helping the cast to gel into a cohesive unit. He was a master at finding little character moments, bits of business and behavior, and infusing humanity in every beat.

I remember when we approached him to direct our show. David Isaacs, co-creator Robin Schiff, and I took him to lunch at Art’s Deli hoping to convince him to come aboard. We were thrilled that he liked the pilot and even considered joining us. I mean, this man was a God! Every question he asked zeroed in on the heart of the series. The resulting discussion led to a lot of stories and character development. And that was vintage Stan. You always got more than you paid for.

It was a pleasure to know him, a privilege to work with him. And I still can’t imagine how he and Ed. Weinberger were a team.

Here’s the theme from PHYLLIS.

16 comments:

Tom Quigley said...

Ken,

Thanks for the thoughtful and touching tribute to Mr. Daniels, who though he had a lower profile than some of the people he worked with such as James Brooks, Allan Burns and the Charles brothers, is one of the people whose name you'll always find popping up on the credits of some of the great sitcoms of the past.

RAC said...

"Not a Christmas Story"

Sue Ann (Betty White):
Snow always inspires such awe in me. Consider one tiny snowflake, so delicate, so fragile. And yet, let a billion or so come together through the majestic force of nature, and they can really screw up an entire city!

Blarneyman said...

RIP.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I had never seen that "Phyllis" opening sequence before (the CBS run as a little before my time and it's never been a syndication favorite around here). For the majority of it, I was prepared to ask, with all due respect to the memory of the late, great Mr. Daniels (and to Ms. Leachman), what kind of lame smooch-the-star's-fanny nonsense that theme was -- and then we got to the closing line, and Phyllis' reaction. Brilliant.

D. McEwan said...

I shall think of Stan whenever I hear "The Butler Song", which is surprisingly often since it's part of my best friend's regular musical repertoire.

When I read of his illness in his obit in the LA Times, I realized that his passing was a sad blessing.

But much of his work lives on in syndication. That is our blessing.

Anonymous said...

"Superstitious, eh?" - He said posting on Friday the 13th.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I've always considered Friday the 13th for what it is: "Blame Your Failures on a Superstition Day." ;)

Rory L. Aronsky said...

It was a pleasure to know him, a privilege to work with him. And I still can’t imagine how he and Ed. Weinberger were a team.

Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, every other fat actor in history paired with a skinny guy. Opposite personalities. It's not "how," it just is.

Hard to imagine with how you described them, but they sure made some great TV together.

Anonymous said...

My first very job in TV in the 70's, I worked with Ed. and Stan on "Doc." A Bernard Hughes show they were doing in addition to Mary and Phyliis.
I thought both Ed. and Stan were nice. And both funny.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

We got all of Phyllis and The Betty White Show on a cheap local channel about ten years ago and I watched every episode. I liked both and seem to remember that Phyllis had two formats.

Stan Daniel's favorite credit for me (apart from the MTM show of course) is Glory Glory, a forgotten gem.

And Almost Perfect. I loved that show. You really should buy the dvd. Oh wait, there is none.

la guy said...

Nice post about Mr. Daniels.

Incidentally, for those who were fans of Taxi, the show is receiving an award at this years' TV Land Awards. Along with the cast and James L. Brooks, the aforementioned Ed Weinberger is scheduled to accept the award.

Look for it next Sunday, April 22nd.

Wally said...

There was a nice obituary in today's New York Times of Mr. Stan Daniels, which concluded in two paragraphs readers of this blog may appreciate:

"Pinpointing the legacy of a situation comedy writer is difficult because of the genre's collaborative nature. But Al Jean, an executive producer of 'The Simpsons,' said that Mr. Daniels might best be known, at least within the industry, for a joke construction referred to as "the Stan Daniels turn."

"It's a staple of comedy writing," Mr. Jean explained. "A character says something and then does an immediate 180-degree shift on what he just said. It's definitely a term in use, and it's something that Stan Daniels did really well."

Anonymous said...

A 180 degree Stan Daniels turn in a joke? Would that something like Sue Ann Nivens describing someone... "He's commanding, cruel, even heartless... I think I'm in love!" Up and back?

bonny dore said...

Ken,

The Stan Daniels legend lives on...

Stan was always the sly one...who would quietly wait for an hour to quip the perfect line that went straight to the heart of a character and the story..And he never missed.

I had the great priviledge of collaborating with Stan on the multi awardwining Musical HBO mini series "Glory, Glory"..where I first hand got to see Stan in his element. Comedy, Drama AND Music.
It was a joy. The project was a big hit..but more importantly it gave Stan the chance to show all his colors. Stan was funny, clever and very deep in his assessment of human behavior, but he never forgot the basics "only the truth is funny"..his favorite mantra.That I shared writing credit with Stan was an honor..but the real honor as you know was actually doing the work together. Stan was the greatest teacher of human foibles that you could imagine.

My husband and I were also personal friends of Stan and his wife Alene...and we always knew that Stan's collaboration with Ed Weinberger was a marriage made in heaven because "Opposites make great comedy". The process may be insane but the results are brilliant. Stan knew this and cherished his relationship with Ed.
And the results speak for themselves.

And I know Stan is 'on the other side' now waiting to have the last line...

Bonny Dore

Fred said...

Hi All

I was sorry to just (May 18/07)hear of Stan's passing.
I am a cousin on Stan's in Toronto.
If anyone can provide an address or email address for any of Stan's children or his widow, I would much appreciate it.
It can be forwarded to me at pearlandfred@gmail.com
Thanks

Anonymous said...

I am trying to find a copy of Stan Daniels' great song, "You", from "Enter Laughing - The Musical". Any help in finding the publisher or a place to find a copy would be most appreciated.

Gary Beard
Gary.Beard@Lindenwood.net