Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RIP Gary David Goldberg

Gary David Goldberg was what the hippie movement was supposed to be. Before it all got corrupted by drugs, greed, and bad fashion the point was to spread compassion, understanding, love for one another, and place the human spirit over material wealth. If anyone fulfilled the promise of our generation it was Gary Goldberg. (I always knew him just as Gary. The David was silent.) Gary passed away yesterday, just shy of his 69th birthday.

He sure looked like a hippie. A bear of a guy with long black hair and a thick black beard. Since when did the lead singer of Canned Heat become a comedy writer?

I first met Gary in 1976. My partner David and I were hired as baby writers on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW for MTM. The staff was showrunners Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses and writers Hugh Wilson and Gary Goldberg. Gary was the one who took us under his wing and taught us the ropes. He was supportive and calm at a time when we were the most insecure and mashugina. I think Gary Goldberg could have settled down Mel Brooks in 1955 when even a stun gun couldn’t do the trick.

But that was his temperament – relaxed, reassuring, and confident. Everything in perspective.

He used to say that he and longtime companion, Diana Meehan once lived in a cave. I believe that. Gary could adjust to anything; Gary could be happy anywhere. I’m sure he left the cave in better shape than when he found it.

We went on to MASH and hired Gary to do an episode. It’s difficult for freelance writers to really find the voice of a show, especially one as unique as MASH. Gary’s episode won the Writers Guild Award.

At the core of all of his work was heart and reality. Many of his projects stemmed from personal experience. We helped out on a pilot for a short-lived series called THE LAST RESORT, which was about kids working at a large Jewish resort in the Catskills. Gary had worked in one. FAMILY TIES was essentially his family – hippie liberal parents, conservative materialistic children. And then he did a jewel of a show called BROOKLYN BRIDGE, which was an homage to growing up Jewish in New York in the ‘50s. Good luck getting that series on the air today.
Gary was wildly successful but used that success for good. He took advantage of his leverage at Paramount to create a day care center for working parents. Not a palatial office (his office was small and dark – his second cave?), not use of the corporate jet. A day care center for below-the-line studio employees who didn't have the luxury of hot and cold running nannies. No studio up until that time even considered it. Paramount’s day care center is still operational today. He and his wife, Diana were instrumental in the formation of the Archer School for Girls in West Los Angeles. And he gave selflessly to many causes.

Side note: the other demand he made on Paramount was for an outdoor basketball court so he and his friends could shoot hoops. Half the time I’d see Gary he’d be on crutches because of one basketball injury or another.

Those who worked for him (including me) loved him and learned from him. The big lesson: You can be in this crazy business and still stay true to who you are, what you believe in, and preserve what’s important to you.

The passing of Gary Goldberg is a huge loss. He leaves behind a stunning body of quality work that will be enjoyed and appreciated for decades to come. But personally, I will remember him for his generosity, inspiration, and grace under pressure. I will honor him by trying to be more like him.

27 comments:

Carol said...

Morbidly, I was looking forward to reading your eulugy for Gary David Goldberg. This didn't disappoint.

Thank you, once again, for giving insight to another Hollywood insider, and for doing so in such a beautiful and touching way.

ed.j. said...

A few years ago I went through a phase of reading every screenwriting book I could get my hands on (in order to not have to write, you see)

I picked up 'Sit Ubu, Sit' hoping for some trash from one of my favourite shows.

What I got instead was a very sweet story about how one guy stayed true. I will dig it out and re-read in memory.

ed

Tudor Queen said...

Thanks for this beautiful tribute by someone who really knew this lovely writer. I speculated in another forum that he was a real mensch (read "Sit Ubu, Sit", of course, which seemed to confirm my opinion). Now it seems he might have been an uber-mensch!

BTW, in addition to the long-running "Family Ties", I was an ardent worshipper of the short-lived "Brooklyn Bridge"

Again, thanks for giving even more insight into this lovely person and creative genius

Now, when are we getting your thoughts on the extraordinary Richard Matheson?
















Dan Ball said...

My parents both watched "Family Ties" and "Brooklyn Bridge" at an age when I was too young to appreciate their greatness. But I still liked them.

Since then, I've at least rediscovered "Family Ties" and it's just classic TV and great storytelling. Sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor, Ken.

Roger Owen Green said...

My daughter has no idea why I say 'Sit, Ubu, sit' when I'm trying to get children to calm down. Just feels right.

Michael said...

A beautiful tribute. It's rare to be able to say that a television series was or is lovely. Brooklyn Bridge was lovely.

Jon88 said...

"Meshugana" is a noun; the adjective you want is "meshuga." (Transliterated spelling variants are legion.)

Marv said...

As much as I loved Family Ties, Brooklyn Bridge was my favorite of his shows. I say this selfishly because I was not only raised in Brooklyn at exactly the same time but I was the same age as the younger brother and the shows felt absolutely real to me. He reached into the core of the people and the time and made them entertaining even for those not from Brooklyn in the 1950s. I was sad when the show was ultimately and unsurprisingly cancelled and I'm sadder to know he won't be around to produce more shows of that caliber.

RockGolf said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: If Cheers or Frasier were introduced today, would networks insist on adding black, latino and/or gay characters? Did you ever get such pressure at the time? And if you had to make a switch, before casting had been settled, which character or characters would you have made black, latino or gay? (I could see, for example, Roz recast as a black lesbian.)

David L. said...

Beautiful, Ken. Thank you.

ScottyB said...

I always thought it was a shame that his 'Brooklyn Bridge' series on CBS never got the support or audience following it deserved, and that it died an undeserved death after just a season or two.

Anonymous said...

Bravo

Kyle said...

Thanks for sharing.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

A great piece on one of the real good guys. It's a shame his spirit is being crushed by today's nasty political climate. He deserves and should get recognition for his legacy. And for his humor.

Your dad has arrived at Rainbow Bridge, Ubu. Enjoy his company.

Anonymous said...

Sad. I hope someday that they will release Brooklyn Bridge on DVD. With all the crap that is out on DVD how did this get missed.

Mac said...

Lovely tribute. How great to be remembered that way.

It's heartening to hear of someone who achieved such success and kept his humanity.

ALISON GRAHAM said...

hey Ken....nice work. I enjoy reading your blog and visit it weekly. I see you said you worked some with Hugh Wilson (WKRP) I bet you wanted to do some writing for that show. Tell us if there is a Hugh Wilson, WKRP, Ken Levine story out there....

cityslkrz said...

LOVED Brooklyn Bridge. One of my favorite episodes of any show was when Carol Kane played the hip aunt who took the little boy to a coffee house. Can't remember if she was the one reading the poem (where everyone was in black, snapping their fingers) but one line stood out:
"Lost. Lost in Brooklyn."

I say it every time I cross over to Brooklyn, lost or not.

jcs said...

I was a teen when watching FAMILY TIES on German TV and always wondered about the story behind "Sit, Ubu, sit". FAMILY TIES - like most sitcoms from that era - looks a bit dated today, but it has more appeal than most shows that are currently on due to its outstanding cast of characters. Goldberg clearly succeeded in creating a TV family with everyday problems that audiences cared about. - Thanks for shedding some light on Gary David Goldberg and his work.

Pat said...

Beautifully written. I had the good fortune to work for Gary and he was so kind, charismatic and humble. And easily the most generous person I've known.

He once overheard me telling a co-worker I didn't have any money for lunch that day. Next thing I knew, I was holding a check that would buy many MANY lunches. He did that sort of thing all the time, often on a much larger scale.

He truly was one of the good guys.

RareWaves said...

Gary also created a fun, albeit short-lived, show along with Ruth Bennett called Sara, starring Geena Davis, Alfre Woodard, Bill Maher, Mark Hudson, Bronson Pinchot, Ronnie Claire Edwards, Matthew Lawrence, and Richard Venture. It premiered in 1985.

I enjoyed that show (like all of Gary's shows, it had heart), but just noticed IMDb is missing key information. I have Beta tapes of the series which, if I can, will look up credits and update IMDb, but I'm hoping someone more savvy with IMDb can at least update Gary and Ruth's role as series creators and Gary as Executive Producer. Here's a YouTube clip from the opening... http://youtu.be/h7Q9nGjZjLY

Charlotte said...

Thank you for this tribute, Ken.

Johnny Walker said...

Very lovely tribute. And I just added another book to my Amazon wishlist, too!

Storm said...

Losing someone you love is even harder when that person was the kind of person that you would (and others should) aspire to be like. It is somehow more unjust when a kindhearted person leaves this world too soon, especially with all the schmucks in the world still breathing fresh air. I was already saddened to hear of his loss, but to hear from you what a good person he was made me sniffly.

I wish you and all who loved him strength and peace.

Storm

Merrill Markoe said...

I'm glad you wrote this. I worked for Gary a little and felt pretty much as you did. But I was especially moved by your last sentence. Really...what better tribute is there than that? xoxo

Dale said...

Ken, I am very sorry to learn of the loss of your friend.

Breadbaker said...

Ken, partially by chance (because the one was available on audiobook from the Seattle Public Library) and partially because of this tribute, I'm listening to Warren Littlefield's Top of the Rock and reading Sit Ubu Sit at the same time. I've just started both, but I can tell already that I'm getting two very different approaches to much the same story. Also interesting is that Bob Balaban reads the Littlefield book, but as himself and not as the character he played on The Late Shift. Littefield himself reads the introduction and Balaban sounded more like that when he was playing him.