Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Naming characters after people you know

In Anne Flett-Giordano’s hilarious new book, MARRY, KISS, KILL there’s a character named Ken Levine. He’s a total asshole. Anne is also a brilliant TV comedy writer, having won a gazillion Emmys for shows like FRASIER. So we know each other. Unlike random people who just assume I’m an asshole, Anne asked if she could use my name. I, of course, was delighted and touched. Yes, the character is a prick but he also gets laid a lot and is young. Her book (which you really should read) is sprinkled with names of people she knows.

This is not uncommon.

It’s always tough coming up with names and always fun to send little shout-outs to friends. Or work in inside jokes that only eight people will get.

In one of the Castle novels there’s the PR firm of Levine & Isaacs. I don’t believe I screw anyone over in that one.

Isaacs and I have worked in a lot of friends, acquaintances, and pets into our scripts. In the DANCIN’ HOMER episode of THE SIMPSONS, the minor league announcer (voiced by me) was Dan Hoard who was my broadcast partner in Syracuse in 1988 and is now the voice of the Cincinnati Bengals and U. of Cincinnati Bearcats. The major league announcer was Dave Glass, my partner in Tidewater the following season. Dave Glass also shows up in an episode of AfterMASH.
Radio buddies Bobby Rich, Tom Straw, Dean Goss, and Tom Greenleigh all appear in various MASH episodes. In the “Goodbye Radar” two-parter, he meets a lovely girl from his hometown, Patty Haven. Patty Haven was a former girlfriend of mine. And as discussed elsewhere in this blog, Charles’ sister Honoria was named from a girl I dated very briefly in college.

One of the happiest married couples I know is Bill & Sherry Grand so we used them in a CHEERS episode as a married couple trying to kill each other. Norm’s original boss was Darrell Stabell. Darrell Stabell gave me my first job.

Our tributes are not confined to people. In the movie VOLUNTEERS we needed a name for a Chinese warlord. So we chose Chung Mee, which was a Chinese restaurant in downtown LA that we frequented until health inspectors shut it down.

I’ve mentioned this before but on MASH we were always looking for names since so many patients and military personnel passed in and out of the 4077th. One year we needed four Marines for an episode so named them after the-then California Angels’ infield (Remy, Solita, Chalk, Grich). The following year (season seven) we just went down the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster. You’ll notice Garvey, Rhoden, Lopes, Cey, etc. By the end of the year we were down to announcers (Scully) and owners (O’Malley).

And then there was the time when we were producing a series. We went down to the stage for a runthrough. One of the regular cast members took exception to a name we had given a guest cast member. “Lana Lewis is a joke name,” he said. “It’s not real. You’re just going for a cheap laugh by using a goofy name.” We nodded then introduced him to our writers’ assistant, Lana Lewis.

Now who’s the asshole?

41 comments:

Oat Willie said...

Boy, if life were only like that!

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wendy M. Grossman said...

I remember reading that the novelist Rita Mae Brown collects names to use in her novels from graveyard tombstones.

wg

Matt said...

Before using a friend's name do you usually ask them? Especially if the character won't have the nicest traits.

Anonymous said...

Just Googled Lana Lewis. Sadly, it seems, she never made it as a screenwriter.

Bill Crider said...

Crime writers and science-fiction writers have been doing this sort of thing for a long, long time. It was started (in those fields) by a writer named Wilson Tucker, and the practice became known as "tuckerizing." I've tuckerized a lot of folks in my time.

H. Ellison said...

I invented Tuckerizing, you beanpole! I'll sue you!! So help me I'll--oops gotta poop.

Hammerin Hebrew 1 said...

Major Fierman was greatfully on MASH. thanks guys!

Ed said...

Also in Dancin' Homer- Homer gets fired by a General Manager named Rosenfield. For many of us connected in minor league baseball, that very brief scene was hilarious and pitch-perfect.

Jason Roberts said...

Occasionally during shooting when a writer is doing rewrites, they will ask me or any of the crew members if they could name a character after them. It just happened a couple of weeks ago on the movie I am working on. Sometimes on set a Director will ask people to come up with a name and if any are worthy will use the best one.

Art Departments also do this a lot with AD's and crew members on movies and TV shows. For example, I worked on season three of Dexter and up until the end you could see my name on the open homicide case board in the station. In another case I was friends with a Production Designer and she made title fight posters for a boxing episode of Ironside (the short lived Blair Underwood remake) and I was the title fight. Hardly anyone ever notices these things. But it's fun for the crew. I don't know how to post pictures or I would have attached them too.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Whenever I name characters, I usually tend to give them names that you don't hear very often, especially for fictional characters (see One Mario Limit on TV Tropes, you'll understand), or names that seem to fit their overall appearance. Really the only time I ever named a character after somebody I knew was when I named a character after a girl I had a crush on in high school: same first name, just a slightly different last name (hers was that of a gem, so I changed it to another gem).

One of the oddest examples of using somebody's real name were those two episodes of SEINFELD with a charity worker named Rebecca DeMorney: nothing like the piece of ass that Tom Cruise got in RISKY BUSINESS.

Jason Roberts said...

Anonymous,

You can't find Lana Lewis because she changed her name to Joe Eszterhas.

RockGolf said...

What's the process for corporate names? I was catching up on Blacklist and they referenced a company called "Trans-Atlantic Pipeline" which sounds legit until you think about what it means.

Brian Phillips said...

In "His Girl Friday", Cary Grant managed to squeeze in two mentions of a guy named "Archie Leach" trying to sue the newspaper.

Archibald Leach was Grant's real name.

Bill Crider said...

My apologies to Harlan! If he says he invented tuckerizing, then he invented it. Who am I to quibble?

Rashad Khan said...

Question: you mention Tom Straw as one of your "radio buddies" whose name ended up being used in an episode of "M*A*S*H". Is that the same Tom Straw who worked on "Night Court"?

Mike Doran said...

To old cyber-friend Bill Crider:

I'll make the wild guess that "H. Ellison" above is not the real Harlan Ellison, but rather a snotty troll who happens to know the Man From U.N.C.L.E./Judith Merril story (or part of it, anyway).
I've read enough of Ellison's real work to know that he has always accorded full credit to Wilson "Bob" Tucker for "tuckerisms".
Also, the real Harlan would never send a message into this uncertain ether that did not bear his full name - with or without the TM designation.
HE simply put too much effort into establishing his name to let it go to waste.

If I happen to be mistaken about this - apologies all around.

vicernie said...

possible Friday question. "Welcome to Sweden" is back. as a sitcom it breaks all your rules: no big belly laughs and subtitled jokes. but I love it. and apparently it accurately depicts life in Sweden. have you seen it? what do you think?

Ken Levine said...

Rashad,

Yep. Same guy. Tom has been on many terrific shows -- the most recent: NURSE JACKIE.

Ken Levine said...

Vicernie,

I think what America thinks. It was just cancelled after record low ratings.

Johnny Walker said...

Possible Friday Question:

Still watching Cheers again -- on season three -- and I notice that the writers have given Shelley Long a few great quirks along the way (her facial tick, the voice she gets when she thinks she's allergic to Frasier's dog). How does these come about? Is it something the writers come up with and hope the actor can make funny (Long's facial tick was priceless), or do they work with the actor in question to find a quirk that's funny?

Thanks. Hope you're over the nitpicking that myself and others engaged in. Everyone's a critic! :)

Steve Bailey said...

For what it's worth, a few years ago, I wrote and locally produced a play based on my misadventures in teaching and test scoring. I named all of the nasty characters after people who had hassled me on the job and back in high school. It was the most cathartic experience of my writing life.

Rashad Khan said...

Thank you, Ken, for responding to my earlier question.

Potential Friday Question: In a previous blog post, you mentioned the pilot episode of "The Phil Silvers Show" to your comedy writing class at USC. If you haven't covered this topic before: which OTHER sitcom pilots would you show to anyone as good examples (provided, of course, they were available for viewing)?

benson said...

If he's the same Tom Straw, I remember listening to him while in college, on a station in St. Louis.

When David E. Kelley was writing L.A. Law, a lot of the names in the courtroom were hockey related. For those of us who knew hockey, it was like being in on an inside joke.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

@RockGolf There is a very real company named Trans-Mountain Pipeline. There are also several trans-Atlantic pipelines being built at this moment.

bruce said...

Larry Markes, my father's writing partner on Jack Paar, wrote an episode of "McHale's Navy" which used my father's name. At a plot point, the group was under a threat that Captain Binghamton (Joe Flynn) would be replaced by a new commanding officer. After 50 years, I still remember the dialogue:

They're bringing in Capt. Sidney Reznick.

You mean Sidney "Suicide" Reznick?

Yeah, the Kamikaze Kid.

Todd Everett said...

Let us not forget Sheldon and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory.

Anonymous said...

How about Dobie Gillis with Professor Imogene Burkhart, played by Jean Byron, whose real name was Imogene Burkhart.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I do this all the time. My books are full of characters that use the names of my friends and/or enemies. (Enemies' names go onto villains only.) I also do that thing where I take a friend's middle name or nickname and put it with the name of the street they live on. Sometimes the characters have aspects of their namesakes, but not always. I also use intersections. For instance, in the South Bay there is an intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Del Amo Avenue. In My Lush Life a minor character is named Torrence Del Amo, and a major character is named Sherman Oakley.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Sherman Oakley was the most beautiful actor of all time! Rest his soul.

Mike said...

@Joseph Scarbrough: Unusual name, Penny Pathogen. Oh, you wrote gem.

Cool Papa Bell said...

Just having a flashback after you mentioned you were an announcer at Tidewater. When I came back from Vietnam I was stationed in VA and in '68 became a fan of the Tides, who played at maybe the worst ballpark I've ever seen, located in Portsmouth. But I still went, it was a fine, fine summer with a terrific team (farm club of the Mets at the time). Jon Matlack, Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen, Ken Singleton are the only names I recall now, and I'm too lazy to look up more!

Cap'n Bob said...

I didn't know Bill Crider read your blog. I think this is the first time he's commented, at least since I became a regular here. Anyway, Bill has tuckerized me many time. I was even a continuing character in one of his sadly-short-lived series. In the couple of books I wrote I tuckerized freely.
I've also popped up in a number of other authors' books, a benefit of my long involvement with mysterydom.

Mike said...

Lana Lewis was Superman's other, other girlfriend.

Bill O said...

Keeping it closer to home - Mario Lanza on the Tony Randall Show. Penn and Teller has a show where they judge other magicians,one of whom has the stage name Mike Hammer. Is nothing sacred?

Howard Carter said...

Wow...Bill Crider reads this blog too :) Really is a small world sometimes.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Mike Thanks for the suggestion, but considering that Penny is the name of an overly popular character from THE BIG DANG THEORY, as well as that of a little Disney girl, among other examples, I don't believe it's a name that I would be using anytime soon; but Penny Pathogen is a creative name, keep up the good work.

VP81955 said...

Lana Lewis was Superman's other, other girlfriend.

Wrong Lana -- that was Lana Lang.

VP81955 said...

Tallulah Morehead said:

I do this all the time. My books are full of characters that use the names of my friends and/or enemies. (Enemies' names go onto villains only.) I also do that thing where I take a friend's middle name or nickname and put it with the name of the street they live on. Sometimes the characters have aspects of their namesakes, but not always. I also use intersections. For instance, in the South Bay there is an intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Del Amo Avenue. In My Lush Life a minor character is named Torrence Del Amo, and a major character is named Sherman Oakley.


As do I. If I mentioned this in an earlier thread, I apologize, but in the screenplay I just completed, the protagonist is named Colleen Cossitt -- "Colleen" for 1920s actress Colleen Moore of page-boy hairstyle fame (back in the day, that 'do was identified with her, not Louise Brooks) and "Cossitt" for a street in the Syracuse neighborhood where I grew up. (She later has a daughter called Stacy, which is the name of another neighborhood street.) Her love interest is Keswick Chesterton, a tweedy, nerdy scientist from an old-money San Francisco family. (I have never come across anyone with "Keswick" as a first name, another plus.) Colleen's best friend is named Meg Switlik -- in the late '60s, when my family was driving through New Jersey, we passed a school named "Switlik Elementary," and it stuck in my mind -- while the bad guy is named "Vito Cortez," a tribute to pre-Code actor Ricardo Cortez (who wasn't really of Latin descent, but a New Yorker born Jacob Krantz). Much of the action in the story takes place at a Las Vegas casino called the Bryson; Angelenos will know that as the name of one of the first Wilshire Boulevard high-rise apartments, and one I can see from my apartment a few blocks north.

Mike said...

@VP81955: Dude, that's why I wrote other, other girlfriend and not other girlfriend. Though I fear there were other, more obscure girlfriends, all following the LL naming convention.
How are you enjoying Los Angeles? You seem to be out & about, seeing the sights, taking a healthy interest in your (as I recall) new surroundings.

@Joseph Scarbrough: Stephanie Streptococcus? Too Greek?

VP81955 said...

Mike, I'm loving Los Angeles. Had a great time a few hours ago at Warners watching the season-three premiere filming of "Mom" -- my only direct exposure to Anna, Allison and company from April 30 (when the final season 2 ep aired) to Nov. 5 (when this will air -- curse you, CBS and Thursday night football!).