Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Uncovered: a lost gem from Levine & Isaacs

In 1980, David Isaacs and I wrote a series of one-act plays called CITY OF ANGLES.  It was an exercise to write in four different comic styles.    They were performed at the Fifth Street Studio Theater at 5th and Western downtown over a pizza parlor.  Theatergoers took their lives in their hands by attending.

One performance was videotaped for posterity and promptly buried.  Only recently did I find it and get it digitized.   One of the four one acts still seems to work. 555-GIVE.  This was our attempt at writing a funny monologue.   Thanks to friend of the blog GreatBigRadioGuy, it's now on YouTube.   So today I thought I'd share it.

The play is clearly a parody of Dr. Gene Scott, a charismatic televangelist who owned a TV and radio station in LA until the FCC took them both away (something about his refusing to disclose income).  Dr. Scott would be on the air live for at least twelve hours a day.  Of those, eleven would be fundraising.  He'd sit on a big throne and ask for money all day every day using a variety of techniques.  The man was a master salesman.

So we decided to distill his sales pitches down.  In our play he has 30 minutes to raise $30,000.  And he tries every trick in the book to accomplish that.

Playing the part was the wonderful John Ericson.  You've seen him in a million things.  He's probably best known for co-starring in HONEY WEST with Anne Francis.  He also played Elizabeth Taylor's love interest in the movie RHAPSODY.   You clearly need a special actor to play a Gene Scott type larger-than-life character and John was perfect! 

A couple of quick things...

The screen is black for the first 12 seconds while the intro music plays.

It was shot on a camcorder so the quality and sound is not exactly "broadcast."

There are maybe thirty people in the audience. 

It was early in our career. 

Okay, so here we go.  For the first time in 33 years, here's 555-GIVE. 


Fred said...

Love the sirens in the background during the opening. Gene Scott used to have a satellite channel also...24 hours a day! Funny thing - he had the strongest transponder out there.

Anonymous said...

Your version is kind of like Gene Scott on amphetamines. Minutes would go by on his show where he would appear to be deep in thought.


Alan Tomlinson

Dan Ball said...

I kinda like this, Ken. As a Christian, I feel like a majority of writers and directors get Christianity wrong, even the goofier sects. It usually feels like the Bluths' impersonation of a chicken. ("Saved" is a good example of this. Some Christians might act like that in general, but none of us are so on-the-nose like Mandy Moore's character.)

However, I feel like I've actually seen televangelists who act like your preacher. Ericson reminds me of a poor man's GD Spradlin. This caricature feels like it was developed after studying an actual, Christian preacher and not just what you thought was a preacher without bothering to research it. I'm not sure if it was your attention to detail or if Dr. Scott just inspired you that much, but I'm impressed. Even if he's not an authentic caricature, he's sure a good character.

chuckcd said...

People went to 5th and Western?
At night?
On purpose?

Pat Reeder said...

I haven't had time to watch the video yet (I'm taking a quick break from work and will have to get back to it later), but I just wanted to mention that anyone who hasn't seen Gene Scott before should try to find a clip on YouTube or something. It would probably enhance your appreciation of a parody. And he has to be seen to be believed. I used to love the way he'd get furious at people and tell them off for not calling in fast enough to give money, and the way he'd smoke cigars and show footage of his prize horses that your donations paid for. Unlike other televangelists, he didn't try to hide his lavish lifestyle, he shoved it in your face. Normally, I'd be the furthest thing from the target audience for televangelists (former editor/columnist of the North Texas Skeptic magazine), but Gene Scott was freaking hilarious.

Brian Phillips said...

Like Dan Ball, I am Christian as well and I found this funny.

Thankfully, he is not playing this with a thick Southern accent. I am sick of every other caricature of a preacher saying, "a-HEEYIL!"

Gene Scott was not to be believed. He used to wear funny hats, including a fireman's helmet. Heaven help you if he had his blackboard out. One night I saw him going on about something and after making allusion after allusion and drawing indiscriminately on the board, he apologized for going off on a tangent and the end result on the blackboard looked like something that made Pollock look like Mondrian.

He was the only preacher I have ever heard use the word "hell" out of context, as in, "What the ____ are these phones doing on the hook. CALL ME!!"

After he passed, his wife Melissa took over. From what little I've seen of her, she seems less flashy and cogent, for better or worse.

Brian Phillips said...

For those who have Windows and want to look at Gene Scott:


RyderDA said...

Hope you saw this today, Ken -- Esquire Magazine on the 5 best episodes of Frasier.


Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

Very funny. Some gems in there, Ken. John Ericson did a terrific job! That's a helluva lot of dialog to memorize (especially for a waiver show!) and he really sold it.

What a cool look back. I do the same with old groundlings videos from the eighties and can barely get through them, but I can see where "I came from", comedically. Cheers, Bob Hilgenberg

Cap'n Bob said...

Good stuff,Ken and David. After a YouTube video plays it shows a dozen frames from what they assume are similar videos one might like. Three of those after your clip were Amon 'n Andy shows.

RCP said...

Fork it over, Burbank. This was funny, and it caught the mix of sleaze and charm that seems to characterize a number of real televangelists.

D. McEwan said...

My brother worked at Dr. Gene Scott's TV channel, in a tech capacity, for a while, around 30 years ago, and so had daily offscreen encounters with him. Duncan hasn't anything good to say about crazy old Gene Scott. I never found him quite as hypnotically compelling to watch as crazy old Kathryn Khulman. When she'd, apparently unconciously, gesture towards her own crotch with both hands as she said: "Jesus entered me," not only used to make me scream with laughter, but inspired the best stand-up piece I ever had back in my stand-up comedy days.

John Ericson is on my kitchen wall, in the enormous 3-sheet poster for 7 Faces of Dr. Lao that graces it, one of my top favorite movies, in which Ericson does a fine job as the stalwart romantic hero who wins over Barbara Eden with a little help from Dr. Lao and "Pan, the God of Joy".

Back in the 1960s and early '70s, I found Ericson very sexy. Then he did a full-frontal nude centerfold for Playgirl, and my interest in him - ah - shrank. Turned out he wasn't as big a star as I'd hoped.

stone said...

Like Dan Ball. Ken Levine, thanks for your sharing.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was hilarious. Great writing, great acting. I don't suppose there are more tapes buried somewhere that we could watch. Julie