Sunday, February 21, 2010

How my partner and I met

A dear reader asked how I met my partner, David Isaacs and it occurred to me, I’ve never shared that story on this blog. Too busy reviewing HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD I guess.

Anyway, here’s how we met. Summer 1973. Jack in the Box rolled out their first Breakfast Jacks. DEEP THROAT was charming theatergoers. SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS debuted on NBC. It was a great time to be alive.

David had recently moved to Los Angeles from South Florida where he had dreams of being in the industry. Doing what he didn’t know but he felt there were more entertainment opportunities in Hollywood than Ft. Lauderdale.

After the usual litany of odd jobs (security guard, etc.) he finally landed at ABC – in the film shipping department. He would send out film cans of shows to Hawaii and other network outposts. This is a department that no longer exists in any form. But that’s due to technology, not David.

I was a Top 40 disc jockey doing the all-night show at KMEN in San Bernardino. I was on from midnight to six every goddamn night trying to be funny after every record even though my only listeners were ten 7-11 clerks and half of them were tied up in the back after being robbed.

And for good measure, every other day I would get a memo from the program director saying, “JUST SHUT UP AND PLAY THE RECORDS. YOU’RE NOT FUNNY. JUST PLAY THE GODDAMN HITS!”

Neither of us had a bright future.

I was in an Armed Forces Radio Reserve unit back then. My draft number was 4, which meant if eligible I’d be drafted in one nanosecond. So I managed to get into this unit, although it meant a commitment of six full years.

After completing regular Basic Training and Advanced Training my obligation was 16 hours a month and two weeks every summer. It was during one of those summer camps that I first met Pvt. Isaacs.

Through a friend of his he was able to transfer into the unit upon his arrival to California. He had no broadcast training nor any desire to become a broadcaster but this was the army, so he was approved immediately by the unit. It’s amazing they didn’t try to recruit him.

So now I’m in Ft. Carson, Colorado, in the barracks, enjoying my first Breakfast Jack and hoping to see DEEP THROAT for a third time when I notice a guy reading the biography of George S. Kaufman (famous comedy playwright from the 20s-50s). Kaufman was an idol of mine (read MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU) and I was surprised to see someone reading it on an army base. Actually, I was surprised to see anybody on an army base reading any book.

So I introduced myself, we seemed to hit it off, and we discovered we both had this love for comedy.

Tomorrow: How we decided to team up and become a writing team. There may be a HOUSE HUSBANDS OF HOLLYWOOD 2. If so, I’ll drop whatever I’m writing and report on that.


Mike McLaughlin said...

This isn't about this post necessarily, but I wanted to share that, despite what you once wrote, some people do go back and read the entire archive -- I recently completed it. A few months back Aaron Barnhart's TV Barn linked to your blog, I liked what you had to say and remembered you calling Mariners games when I lived in Seattle (I'll refrain from saying how old I was so you don't feel old), and kept reading. And reading. And reading.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I enjoy the blog (the entire blog) and am now a faithful daily reader.

Mike McLaughlin
Spokane, Wash.

Pat Reeder said...

Nice to see the reference to Kaufman. He's also an idol of mine, and I remember reading that same book in high school. I also have a book of previously uncollected Kaufman material that's worth searching out. It's New Yorker pieces, revue sketches, etc. To this day I recommend Moss Hart's "Act One," which is largely about his teaming with Kaufman to write "Once in a Lifetime," as the best book about comedy- and playwriting that I've ever read. I have a friend who wants my help writing his second musical, and I sent him that just last week. I didn't want it to turn into one of those "damn noisy" plays.

Wallis Lane said...

Now that's a "meet cute."

I don't know, but I've been told.
George S. Kaufman's comedy gold!

Matt Patton said...

Having actually SEEN an episode of Sigmund and The Sea Monsters, I can assure you that it was a rather dubious time to be alive.

At least Johnny Whittaker didn't have to share the screen with Jodie Foster for this one.

Ron Rettig said...

And Joel Siegel, a then part-time KPFK staffer, was at Ft Carson with you!

Larry said...

Let me second Moss Hart's ACT ONE. It's one of the most entertaining books ever written, and the profile of Kaufman is unforgettable.

I do get the feeling, though, that in recounting his ealy life, Moss Hart let the dramatist in him overwhelm the biographer.

D. McEwan said...

I read Howard Tieshman's biography of George S. Kaufman, but I didn't get a cool partner out of it. I guess I should have read it out in public. It left me wanting to read Mary Astor's diaries.

Brian Scully said...

I actually remember seeing "Deep Throat" in a movie theater in 1973... and if I remember right, there was actually a joke in it. Linda Lovelace is shaving a rather intimate area and in the background, they played the Old Spice commercial theme. Am I hallucinating or did that actually happen?

D. McEwan said...

I actually wrote "Howard Tieshman" when I know perfectly well that his name was Teichmann, along with being Kaufmann's biographer, also his collaborater on The Solid Gold Caddillac which I saw Martha Raye play onstage. (The play, not the car.)

Pat Reeder said...

PS - One of my favorite parts of "Act One" (and I'm quoting from memory, so please forgive any inaccuracies) is when Hart delivers a scene of several pages to Kaufman. He picks up his blue pencil and quickly rips through vast blocks of dialogue, replacing them with a pithy line here or there, and drawing arrows back and forth to improve the flow, making it both much shorter and far better. Hart reads it in amazement and says, "Yes, yes, you're right, it really works now!" Kaufman stares incredulously at him over the top of his glasses and says, "No, it doesn't work at all. I was just showing you WHY it doesn't work."

VW: deperse - What a purse snatcher does to people for a living.

Unknown said...

It would be really interesting if once your done with your version of events, we could get a guest post of David's version.

Tom Parker said...

Isn't this the base where you coined the phrase "Where Humor is Our Fort(e)"?

estiv said...

You may have identified your blog's core audience: George S. Kaufman fans. And yes, I read Teichmann's book in the seventies too. Once I'd read all the Thurber I could get my hands on as a kid, it was on to Benchley, D. Parker, Kaufman, and other Algonquin wits (a group of which Thurber, interestingly, was never a member -- go figure).

blogward said...

Thurber gets a mention! Class!

WV: ement - the glue that holds the internet together.

Michael Tassone said...

Don't underestimate the revelation of someone reading in the barracks.

I remember going thru the process at basic training and being asked in a room full of new recruits who had a high school dipoloma.

As I raised my hand I looked around and saw maybe one or two other hands raised. It was at that moment I realized what I had gotten myself into.

Funny, because I joined for the college fund program.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Ken...This is truly the perfect "Valentines Day" story. Sounds like you two are a match made in heaven.

Bob Summers said...

That's funny about all the folks without diplomas joining. My father joined without a diploma so he could learn a trade. He wound up as a stock broker, not a teletype repairman.

My uncle got to be an E-8 and had a master's degree. Life goal: football coach.

Should you catch this comment, Ken, I am posting a Friday question in the Friday comments.

Anonymous said...

Let me add to the chorus of those who also read that Kaufman biography and who cherish Moss Hart's 'Act One'(the casting of George Hamilton as Hart in the film adaptation may be one of greatest examples of miscasting ever). There's that famous story when the Marx Brothers were doing a play co-written by Kaufman; Groucho was ad libing and Kaufman was speaking to someone backstage and all of a sudden Kaufman interrupts his friend and says 'Wait, I think I just heard one of my lines.'

Kevin Arbouet said...

This post in two parts?!

You've been watching too much American Idol.

Pat Reeder said...

Thurber was the first of my heroes I discovered, when I was in about the third grade. Then I found Benchley, then Kaufman. I still have all their stuff and am constantly on the lookout for any Benchley collections I might have missed. It should be a felony that most of his stuff is out of print while Peter Benchley is not.

One of my favorite Thurber observations about humor writing is that it's every humorist's nightmare that he'll discover the piece he's been working on for a month was done much better and funnier by Robert Benchley in 1923.