Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wackos we have hired

Today’s topic is nutty secretaries that my partner and I have had. Yes, the more politically correct term is “writers’ assistant” but the less p.c. and more accurate description of them is fucking loons.

Back in the day, studio secretaries were hired by the head of the steno pool. And those people were usually the craziest. So it only stood to reason that they would hire other fruitcakes. Producers then had their pick of the damaged litter.

Note: the names have been changed to protect the insane, er… innocent.

We had Carol who was into the occult. She would play new age music and stand on her head in our outer office. Perfect for greeting guests. The way my partner and I work, we dictate our scripts to our secretary so obviously she has to be in the room. Frequently we’d be silent, trying to come up with a line, and Carol would just start randomly chuckling. We asked what was so funny and she’d say, “I’m just imagining the great joke you’re going to come up with.”

Alas, one day she was having lunch outside the commissary during a gale force windstorm and a tree branch hit her in the head. She went on sick leave and was never heard from again.

Liz used to put her head down on the table during those lulls when David and I were thinking of a line, and she’d fall asleep.

Perky Bonnie, on her first day, asked if she could have a longer lunch break because she had an abortion scheduled for noon.

Poor Gina had her Porsche impounded by the FBI. Seems she had purchased a stolen car. This, after they were about to arrest her.

There’s sometimes “good” crazy and that was Ellen. She was 30, very attractive, and came in one day to ask what we thought of the nude pictures of herself she had a photographer take. Ellen was a keeper!

Carrie and some other secretaries had a little competition going. Who could sleep with the studio president first? Carrie came in third.

One day we asked Marianne to let us proofread the script we were writing one more time before she distributed it. She said, “Y’know, up until now I’ve been very patient with you guys.”

Donny regaled us with stories of being tied up in a famous celebrity’s basement dungeon. (No, I won’t tell you who… or the address… or how long he was tied up.)

And then there’s Sarah. Sarah lived in an apartment in Brentwood. Her parakeet got out of its cage and perched on a nearby tree. So Sarah did the sensible thing, what anyone would do. She called the studio and asked for a stunt man to be dispatched immediately. I get a call at home asking if I’d approve the $20,000 that would be charged to me. The stunt man was put on hold. So was Sarah.

Fortunately, we also had some great secretaries along the way and we will forever be in their debt. Ruth Horne (these are their real names), the incomparable Lana Lewis, and the late Sue Herring, who I still miss each and every day.


Mike said...

Your good secretaries all have very solid character names that one would give loyal secretaries.

You'd think that Carol might have been able to see that piece of tree coming... Or that she would have been more valuable to you if she could have pre-told you the joke that made her laugh.

Carlos Matthews Hernandez said...

“I’m just imagining the great joke you’re going to come up with.”

Yep, that one was gold.

Jimmy "Tats" Tressell said...

Why no pics of Ellen? She didn't let you keep them or, buy them? I've been very patient with you!

Oh, I passed a BMW Z4 yesterday, which is no big deal, but it had a Northwestern Univ. DAD decal on the rear window. I was wondering, after putting a child thru a private school or two, do you have the money for a Z4...or a rear window...or even the decal?

Mac said...

Pretty soon, someone's going to be pitching "Celebrity Basement Dungeons" as the next Reality TV hit, in the style of "MTV Cribs." Probably Donny, who's also looking to host the show.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a sitcom. Are you sending us a trial balloon?

John said...

Sounds like the basis of the running joke with all of Candice Bergen's secretaries on "Murphy Brown".

purplejilly said...

Wow, that is funny enough to be an actual sitcom. Two writers and the endless parade of really unusual assistants they get. I always figured someone who would go be an assistant to writers might be someone who was actually interested in the business itself, and interested in learning, helping out, etc. You know, almost like a paid internship thing. But it doesn't seem like that's what you guys had at all. Your head of HR should have talked to local colleges, and gotten writing and arts students to intern as your assistants! Too bad they didn't call me 30 years ago so I could tell them what to do and how to run their business! :)

RCP said...

Ida Blankenship to the rescue!

"That's comedy? If you say so."

Wallis Lane said...

20 Lines About 12 Secretaries:

Carol was a new age loonie
a chucking contortionist.
Bonnie's perky to all persons
even her abortionist.

Gina had her Porsche impounded
bought it from an alley back.
Ellen had some pinup photos
Showed her bosses one nice rack.

Carrie tried to sleep her way up
only got as far as third
Donny's into dungeon porno
she was caged up like a bird.

Liz was somewhat narcoleptic
always had to catch some Z's.
Sarah lost her parakeet
sent a stunt man up a tree.

Marianne was oddly grumpy
when called upon for something new.
A kiss for Lana, Ruth and Sue
I chose to end this list with you.

ee goings said...

Very nice, Wallis.

Breadbaker said...

Great poem, Wallis, only Donny was a guy. Luckily you can change the pronoun without ruining the metier.

John said...

Wallis, you nailed it (so to speak, in a really John Sterling-like awful pun-ny way). And if you don't know the song those lines are supposed to go with, here you are. (NSFW)

Chris said...

In How I Met Your Mother, they go back and forth a lot and sometimes they insert stuff that happens in the future (like some day when one of the characters is pregnant).

Who keeps track of everything (clothes characters wore, stuff they said, what episode it was in) when they have to write the actual episodes in the future?

J S Swanson said...

Bravo to Ken's Secretaries & Wallis Lane's radio friendly parody. Add an l to chucking & make Donny a he and it's Comedy Gold. I can just see an hour long vignettes show called The Secretaries in the Love,American Style or Love Boat mode. Produced by Isaacs & Levine ~ of course..

PB said...

Ken -

On Monday CBC R1 program "Q" aired an interview with Modern Family creator Stephen Levitan (sp?)around 10.40am where he had some nice stuff to say about Cheers as the types of moments they aspire to get to in their writing.

Might be on podcast later, but you can probably catch it on the Vancouver feed this morning at 10 at

Cheers (!),

Pat Boule

Brian Phillips said...

To purplejilly: You may already know, but "Murphy Brown" had a running joke about an odd assortment of assistants. It worked well, because it wasn't an every-week occurrence. Among my faves were:

A Satanist
A Monkey
A Crash Test Dummy
Carol Bondurant (Marcia Wallace) who worked out quite well, until her old boss, Dr. Bob Hartley showed up because his office was in disarray.

It could make a nice movie, though. Seeing a writing team putting up with each other's foibles and drama , maybe even mentoring a budding talent, or finding someone is certainly NOT the reincarnation of Larry Gelbart.

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

What a great job Wallis. I was actually thinking of that song as I read Ken's entry.

Anonymous said...

Writer's Assistant isn't "PC." It's what the job title became once that became the entry level path for men. Ivy League-educated men wouldn't stand for being called secretaries, even if similarly educated women put up with it for decades.