Saturday, May 15, 2021

Weekend Post

I've talked about how Larry Gelbart was the Mozart of comedy writers.  Remember in AMADEUS that Mozart used to write his music with no corrections or cross-outs?  Larry used to write MASH scripts in longhand on legal pads.  I once mentioned that I loved a particular episode he wrote called "The More I See You" and the next day he gave me a Xerox copy of his first draft.  I noticed that there were hardly any changes.  I said, "Wait.  So you do your first draft longhand, then do a second longhand to clean it up?" He said, "No, just one draft."   

When I write in longhand I have 24 hours to get it typed up.  Between all the cross-outs, lines in the margin, arrows, and sloppy penmanship, after 24 hours Navajo Code Readers couldn't decipher my scripts.  

But check out an example of Larry's first draft of "The More I See You."  He was remarkable in so many ways.  


. said...

He sat and recorded exactly what he watched in his head. He saw it more clearly and sequentially than others.

Wonder if the effort took something physically from him, or rather was he the type where content flowed as easily as it appears here, like a gentle conversation.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

One of the best "M*A*S*H" episodes from its finest season--1975-76.

Corvus Imbrifer said...

Last week I was asked to put my signature on a deed. My typical scrawled glyph wouldn't do. Had to be in long hand. Like /cursive/, I laughed?

Speaking of 'lost arts'...

Jeff Boice said...

That is genius in action.

Andrew said...

"These...are originals?"

Such a powerful scene, from one of my favorite movies. However...

The notion that Mozart wrote everything down from his head is a bit of a myth. He did have sketch books, and often composed at the piano where he perfected his ideas.

Sorry to be "that guy." But doesn't that make Gelbart even greater than Mozart?

Michael said...

What a genius Mr. Gelbart was.

I remember reading that Alan Alda said once that one of the biggest differences between himself and Hawkeye was the character's fear of commitment, and that would be interesting to explore more (after all, he's now been married to Arlene for 64 years). I think he said it after this show, and I'll never forget the scene where Blythe Danner's character points out that in his talking about staying together, he's walked himself into a corner. It was brilliant.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Gelbart used to frequent some of the TV-related Usenet newsgroups -, is where I encountered him (he used "elsig" as his email address). Somewhere in the archives (Google I believe has the most comprehensive one) will be his many answers to questions from fans.

At the time I saved the ones I saw. Which includes this answer re AfterMASH:

-----copied message------
From:* elsig@xxxxxxxx (Elsig)
*Date:* 18 Oct 2002 16:50:52 GMT

>Maybe you could tell us how you came up with the idea and when? Was it when
>you heard M*A*S*H was going to end? Was it an idea that you had been thinking
>about for some time? Did you know what cast members who would be interested in
>doing it? It would be very interesting to know.
>I've never seen the show, but I've heard less than brilliant things about it.
>How did you think it came out?

Last things first:

The show was far less than brilliant.

I take full responsibilty for its failure.

When I learned that MASH was going off the air, the first thought I had was
that any sequel would have to be AfterMASH. If I hadn't been so in love with
the title, I might have thought out the show to go with it in a more objective

I knew the series would inherit Potter, Mulcahy, and Klinger. Knew, too, that
good as these people are, a leading player was going to be necessary.
There was an attempt to build up a central character, a doctor who had lost his
leg in Korea, and played wonderfully by David Ackroyd, but other attempts at
making a show with its own tone, style and intent were not as successful.

As I've said here before, probably an hour show would have been a better
format. One which did not try to emulate MASH, one with more drama than

Oh, well, you win some and you lose some (except on TV you lose in front of a
whole lot of people).

------end copied message------


Jeff Maxwell said...

I was fortunate to have been on set for the big scene between Alan and Blythe Danner. It was mesmerizing. I remember going home telling friends what great work I’d just watched. Those words, those two actors, it just doesn’t get much better.

Mike Bloodworth said...

ANDREW, I had heard similar things about Mozart. Most notably that he rewrote music in his head over and over before he ever wrote it down. So when he did put pen to paper it was the final version.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Maybe writing that way is what made him so great. If he had used a word processor or computer he may have been inclined to rewrite and move things around and to edit excessively and unnecessarily. To continue the Mozart analogy he may have wound up with "too many notes."
Writing longhand may have caused him to be more thoughtful and deliberate about the things he wrote. As they say in art, one brushstroke too many can ruin a painting. This way Larry made sure that every syllable mattered.

Al in PDX said...

Reminds me of Vin Scully. Whenever I listened to him, I was struck how he sounded as if he was smoothly reading a well-written novel when, obviously, he was speaking in real time.

zapatty said...

I'm a Canadian. I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada, and listening to radio hockey broadcasts on CKFH-1430. The two most-frequent play-by-play guys were Foster Hewitt, and his son Bill. They were masters at what they did in the same way that Vin Scully was.

Andrew said...

"It's people like this who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It's a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years." - Tom Lehrer

VincentS said...

It's SO cool that he wrote the MASH pilot in only two days.

Brian said...

I don't know if this was indicative of Mr. Gelbart's process, but Frank Loesser said, "I write slowly, but I throw out fast." It would seem that the editing staff in Gelbart's head "threw out fast", but the writing staff created at a breakneck pace.

If you'd like to hear some of his earlier genius, he was one of the co-writers of "Dick Tracy in B-Flat", a once-in-a-lifetime cast of stars assembled for "Command Performance", along with Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. All three wrote for Bob Hope.

D. McEwan said...

The thing about Amadeus's contention that "Mozart was just taking dictation from God," is that it is an insult to Mozart. It takes a true genius of musical creation and reduces him to a stenographer while letting the fictional character "God" take all the credit for a real human's art.

MOZART wrote Mozart's music. It came from HIM, not some make-believe magical character in the sky.

Larry Gelbart wrote Larry Gelbart's comedy. HE gets all the credit for his genius.