Writer/actor Bill Idelson passed away last week. He was 88. His acting credits are as recent as WILL & GRACE and as far back as network radio. (He once was a regular on a radio series playing a character named “Skeezix”.) Maybe his most famous role was playing Sally Rogers boyfriend on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Talk about being ahead of your time. He was the consummate nerd in 1962.
I knew him as a comedy writer. In the 60s and 70s he was on the A-list. (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ODD COUPLE, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, GET SMART, GOMER PYLE, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, even that laugh riot TWILIGHT ZONE.) He won two Writers Guild Awards (one for GET SMART and the other for ANDY GRIFFITH). He did an episode of MASH for us that was a sheer delight (meaning: we didn’t have to change any of it!).
But Bill’s real contribution was as a teacher. For years he held a comedy writing class in his house – BILL IDELSON’S WRITING WORKSHOP, For Writers who want to be professionals. Many of today’s top comedy scribes were mentored by Bill. And if you were in his class you could always call him, bounce ideas off him, seek advice, which he always freely and lovingly gave. More than anything else, Bill was a great cheerleader. So supportive of young writers. He didn’t just teach, he inspired.
In his own words, his philosophy:
Pointing out that an idea has been done is off limits. If you say it’s been done, everything stops dead, but if you stick with it, it will probably turn out to be something totally different. And it shows it was good to go on the air. The main thing is to keep a positive attitude. If you start turning things off before they are developed, you’re going to put everybody in a frightened mood, and they are going to get very negative.
I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of guy I want teaching me a creative skill.
He wrote a book WRITING FOR DOUGH. It's well worth checking out.
I bet on the picket lines next week there will be a lot of great Bill Idelson stories. I’m only sorry he won’t be there with us, telling them himself.