Monday, November 13, 2017

Letter, we get letters

Here’s a question that went from “possible” Friday to entire post.

It’s from Glenn:

Ken, possible Friday question, regarding viewer mail: Do you have any letters you might be able to share here (after removing names and addresses, of course)? I'd love to see what MASH fans were writing in about at the height of the show ("Where can I find that dress Klinger wore last night?")

I didn’t save the letters. I sure wish I did.

On MASH we would get angry letters saying we were anti-American, Commies, that sort of thing. If we received a letter without a return address it was a good bet it was from a troll or idiot.

The network would also get angry letters about our show and they would graciously forward them to us.

But most of the mail we received was complimentary. Sometimes a viewer had a question or wondered if we were going to bring Colonel Flagg back.  And yes, we got inquiries all the time about Klinger's wardrobe. 

We also received unsolicited scripts, which for legal purposes, we had to send back unopened.

On every show I worked on I received mail from people saying “I look just like so-and-so. You should do an episode where I play her sister.” They would always include a picture and NEVER once did they look even remotely like the actor they thought was their doppelganger. Oh, the laughs we had in the writers room passing around those photos. Imagine Mick Jagger thinking he’s Suzanne Pleshette’s identical twin.

The majority of viewer mail went directly to the actors. And in many cases they were addressed to the characters’ names. The post office knew to send letters addressed to “Hawkeye Pierce, 4077th MASH, Korea” to 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles. They knew to send Paramount all correspondence addressed to “Diane Chambers, Cheers bar, Boston, Ma.”

You’d think this would happen two or three times a year. Try hundreds. Maybe thousands.

Sometimes "Hawkeye" would be asked for medical advice.  Or "Frasier" would be asked for relationship advice.  

Actors receive lots of marriage proposals. And fan mail from prisons. Writers don’t get any of that.

Usually if someone sends a letter to an actor on a show he will receive some response. Most of the time it’s from a staff member. Generally a thank you with a photo. Occasionally the star will write back himself. Some are very good about providing autographs, others just send printed autographed photos.

We writers get requests for scripts from time to time. I always try to accommodate them. Now if a young writer wants a script from a show I suspect they can just email the request to the show and if granted, they receive a pdf. And that’s cool except there’s nothing like getting a package in the mail with the logo of the show or studio.

I don’t know whether shows get as much mail today as they once did. Before the internet and social media the only way to express your opinion of a show, yay or nay, was to write letters. Now you can just go on a fan site and chances are the writing staff will read it.

Of course how many letters these days are not getting delivered because, unlike the postal service, the internet doesn’t know how to deliver email sent to or


Theo said...

Ken here's an article about how writers are working overtime because of one sleazebag:

Friday Question: Will writers, cast and crew get paid extra or will some other compensation be paid to them because of this one scum. Can they sue him or the network for shutting down the show/their livelihood?

Pete Grossman said...

Thanks for the Suzanne Pleshette pic. Knew she was a knockout when I was nine. And that voice. Just, wow.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I recall reading that when two popular characters on the BBC soap EASTENDERS had no money for their wedding people sent real donations and real presents...


Aaron Sheckley said...

Suzanne Pleshette affects me the way Natalie Wood affects you, Ken. She left me speechless the first time I saw her in "The Birds" when I was probably 12 years old, and I still have the same reaction. Thanks for the photo.

Peter said...

I remember a while back you said you got a letter when you were working on a Mary Tyler Moore show that was quite funny.

I just googled it and this was the hilarious letter you mentioned:

In the mid ‘80s TV GUIDE did a whole cover story on the rampant use of cocaine in Hollywood. At the time David and I were "show running" a short-lived series for Mary Tyler Moore. We received a letter from a viewer. This is how it began: “I read a recent article on all the drug use in Hollywood and thought they must be way exaggerating. And then I watched an episode of your show…”

Glenn said...

I’ve heard that on “Home Improvement”, the creators got a letter from a guy who claimed he looked exactly like Richard Karn (Al Borland) and he should play his brother. They actually created the role of brother Cal, since the guy was practically Karn’s exact twin.

Jeff Maxwell said...

When I was a kid, there was a kid show on local L.A. television hosted by a ventriloquist, Jimmy Weldon. His pal was a two-foot duck dummy, Webster Webfoot. That duck never failed to make me laugh. With my mother's help, I wrote to Jimmy telling him I wanted to be a ventriloquist and asked him what to do. A couple of months later, I received a picture of Webster and a typed letter from Jimmy in which he thanked me for being Webster's friend and offered encouraging advice. Getting that letter meant to world to me.

Over the years, little Private Igor has had his share of autographed picture requests. They're not in the thousands so they're easy to navigate. And I do. Each and every one. I feel I owe it to all the kids who want to become ventriloquists.

YEKIMI said...

How about any letters you received when you were a DJ? Or did you just get the weird phone calls like I did? First time out as a DJ I eagerly answered the phone. That lessened as the years went on because some of those calls got very scary. So after a while I only answered when doing the "160th caller at ***-**** gets their very own gerbil waxer and a years supply of small rodent polish!" Every once in a while someone figured out the hot-line number and when that rang the blood ran cold. Management was at least nice enough to tell us that if random people called on that line we could be as mean as we want to them..."How dare you call this un-listed number! NEVER call it again or you will get a visit from the police, FBI, CIA and whatever other alphabet agency we can think of to send over! This is a PRIVATE number only to be used in the case of an national emergency!"

VP81955 said...

Back in the heyday of Hollywood, decades before the Internet and social media, actors got lots and lots of fan mail. In her more than 50 years in the limelight, Joan Crawford received or answered an estimated three million fan letters, but also used mail to keep in touch with good friends such as Barbara Stanwyck. Say what you will about Joan, but she truly enjoyed interacting with fans.

John Hammes said...

In the late 1980's, Sam Donaldson (ABC News) paid a visit on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show". With a long career spanning decades of press conferences and Sunday talk shows, Donaldson was never shy with conversation or opinion, and more than happy that politician and viewer would be well aware.

Like any reporter, he received his share of critical viewer mail, and then some. The story he told Carson was of a particularly irate viewer who mailed a severely critical letter, addressed to "Sandinista Sam, ABC News". That was all the address said.

Amid audience laughter, Donaldson then added that the worst part was, even with that minimal information, the letter actually DID get sent to him!

Edward said...

I was watching an interview with Barbara Feldon from "Get Smart" (Probably the Archive of American Television) and she said that when the show went on the air in the mid 1960's she was instructed to NEVER read fan mail. All mail directed to her was opened by others associated with the production.

benson said...

Peter and Aaron (and Ken): Oh, yes! Ms. Pleshette was the sexiest woman of her era. But, you know, she should have worn more sweaters. LOL

Jeff Maxwell: Yes! As I kid, I sent a fan letter asking for goaltending tips from hockey Hall of Famer Jacques Plante. At the time he was winding down his career in St. Louis. Not only did he send a really signed card, but also wrote out several tips in longhand on my letter.

Hall of Fame person.

ADmin said...

Let's face it. No matter what you do, you're going to get someone complaining about it. There's always someone out there that will swim against the tide and complain about things that "most" people like, right? I assume you just have to laugh it off.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Since I don't do Twitter and the other social media (as Satchel Paige said, "The social media ramble ain't restful"), I cannot communicate with famous people who don't do anything else unless they have blogs like this one. Long ago I wrote letters to an actor and to Steve Allen and received very gracious responses. It remains a good memory.

thirteen said...

I remember that people used to write to Marvin Miller, who played the guy gave away a million dollars every week on The Millionaire, asking him for money.

I've written a handful of novels. I once got a letter from a guy who wanted me to write his brother, who was always in trouble with the law and was headed down a dark path. I thought, Jesus, whatever I tell this guy, when he inevitably goes to jail it'll be my fault because I didn't tell him the right thing. I mean, I don't even write crime novels. I managed to come up with something, and I never heard from the guy again. Maybe the brother murdered him.

Ken Keltner said...


euphoria0504 said...

Ken, there's an exception to your rule about civilians sending photos of themselves. That's how Vicki Lawrence was discovered!

Anonymous said...

I was 13 in 1962, living in Georgia, and had just lost the sight in one eye due to an accident. After watching the forever-memorable "Price of Tomatoes" starring Peter Falk and Inger Stevens, I wrote a letter to Peter Falk, probably sending it to NBC. I was so disappointed when I never received a response. Twenty-some years later, I was able to meet him at an industry function and mentioned the letter. He said he probably never saw it because he always replied to letters like mine. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd have an opportunity to meet him in person. It was a thrill.

Al Leos said...

So of the shows you worked on which cast members got the most mail?
And if the mail asked legit questions (like the Flagg and Klinger questions you mentioned), did anyone give replys? And if so who wrote them?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

George Bernard Shaw got enormous amounts of letters, to the point where he had a series of colored postcards with answers printed on them to the most common questions (I think one was about being a vegetarian and another was about the Fabian Society, something like that...), but he would end up writing screeds on the postcards anyway. He apparently said he could have written two more plays if he hadn't read (and written) so much mail.