Tuesday, October 19, 2021

10 years ago today

Here's a feature I like to do about once a month or so -- repost Friday Questions from the distant past.  Very few read the archives and there are some worthy FQ's buried in there.  Here's a post from October 2011.  My responses still hold up.

Becky is up first.

I was wondering what Harry Morgan was like in real life?

Becky, you’ll be happy to learn he’s a wonderful guy. Harry has a wicked sense of humor. Very droll. And is a great storyteller. During breaks he would regale us with stories of doing movies with Spencer Tracy and Elvis. And there were a lot of tales about DRAGNET and how, uh… “frugal” Jack Webb was. You’ll notice he and Jack were always in the same suits, every week. That’s because they filmed exterior shots of them entering and exiting buildings, their car, etc. and were able to use the same shots every week.

Harry is the ultimate pro. Could scan a page of dialogue once and have it perfectly memorized. Would lock in on a performance and do it perfectly the same way every time, every take. He was courteous to every member of the staff and crew and knew everyone’s name.

I saw him last at a tribute to MASH producer, Gene Reynolds a couple of years ago. Harry hadn’t seen me in ages. But he was still as sharp as ever. Remembered my name, that I was now involved with baseball. And he must’ve been only 93.

What few people don't know is that Harry is also an excellent director. Once a season he would direct an episode of MASH. During our tenure we made sure Harry got to direct one of ours. If he wasn’t such a terrific actor he would have had a great career behind the camera.

Harry has one of those faces and voices that even when he was 20 he was able to play 60. So it’s no surprise he’s a young 96. He’s been a young senior citizen for 70 years.

From Chris:

Here's a Friday question: why do some shows give the same writer a consulting producer and a written by credit in the same episode?

Those are two different assignments. Consulting producer is a staff position. A written by credit means he wrote the script for that week’s episode.

DyHrdMET asks:

Have you ever worked a playoff game?

Yes, with the Padres in ’96.  We lost. 

From Mark:

This is a question for Friday and you may not want to answer it but I bet that tons of your readers are wondering the same thing, so what the heck, I'll be the guy who asks:

You come across as a very modest, self-effacing, middle-class (okay, upper middle class) kind of guy, and yet you've been involved at a very high level with several extremely successful TV shows. Are you collecting fat (or thin) royalties from those programs, or is that money ancient history?

I am still collecting royalties but not enough to allow me to finally become a dick. Seriously, though, since the 1977 WGA Basic Agreements residuals are into perpetuity (God bless you, Writers Guild). The amounts have dwindled down through the years but royalties are still dribbling in. Even more exciting at this point is that shows I wrote 30 years ago are still being shown and enjoyed today.

And finally, from John based on a post about Charles Winchester of MASH:

There was an episode early in Season 6 written by Laurence Marks entitled "Change Day" in which Charles' scheme to scam people out of their script comes across more like something Frank Burns would do. Was the writing staff still trying to get a handle on who Maj. Winchester was at the time, or was this an idea thought up earlier, when Frank Burns was still the show's main foil, and then reworked to try and fit David Ogden Stiers' new character?

You were right the first time, John. We were still trying to nail down Charles. This was one of the first stories broken with that character. It came from an actual incident we discovered in the research. Unfortunately, it’s confusing as hell. If I’m being honest, it was one of our worst episodes that year, and it was not Laurence Mark’s fault. It was ours.


Cory said...

I have a Friday question:

At the time, there were grumbling that Alan Alda had changed MASH and made it more "liberal", rather than the freewheeling service comedy it was the first three seasons. Did this affect anything being done on the show or Alda himself?

Non-question - I remember this becoming a talking point for people at the time, and I wondered if they had even seen the movie it was based on. And, the fact that the show remains so popular decades after its run kind of puts those complaints in a rear view mirror.

. said...

Your 1996 San Diego Padres season involved some interesting names. Ken Caminiti was crushing opponents, drugs and his life expectancy. Tony Gwynn, whose own time on Earth was far too short. Future broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela, still doing OK with the 1996 Pads, 16 long years after capturing all of LA’s heart one magical summer.

Rickey Henderson. Every day around noon he ran through the streets of downtown San Diego. Tiny guy, looked like a muscle with a head and limbs. Ken Being Ken must been at least a little bit influenced by that season’s exposure to Rickey.

Infield sub Archi Cianfroccho had a featured display at the Baseball Hall of Fame that summer, like he was some combo of Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. Caught our family’s attention, as his daughter was friends with mine at that time. Turns out he grew up very near Cooperstown, capturing the fancy of someone important at the museum.

Bruce Bochy. I’m sure you clearly saw his Hall of Fame destiny. Would you have invested then in the HOF credentials of closer Trevor Hoffman? Steve Finley, Wally World Joyner, and Brad Ausmus, who later on seemed a perfect managerial hire. He wasn’t. Twice.

Greg Vaughn, who once hit 50 Hr’s. Coach Tim Flannery (and his country music). Still can’t figure out how that set of tools equated to a lengthy stay in MLB. TV’s Tom “Fire Sale” Werner was still a part-owner.

There were many stories about the Padres ”home games” in Monterrey, Mexico. Don’t recall if you worked those.

Chris G said...

We watched a lot of MASH last year and I was shocked when it turned out I am older than Henry was. Then with Potter, who'd seemed unspeakably old when I was watching MASH reruns as a kid, it turned out he was maybe in his early 60s, tops.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

I actually like the "Change Day" episode of MASH, while recognizing that Winchester's charter was still not fully developed. It seemed to take the first year Stiers was on to get there.

So don't be hard on yourself about it. Even MASH episodes that somewhat miss the mark are still brilliant and entertaining.

Mike Barer said...

The question from Mark reiterated a point I continue to make. How down to earth and relatable you are in spite of your success in the business.

Breadbaker said...

Kind of sad to realize Rick Rizzs is the only living person to have announced a Mariners playoff game. One short era (1995-2001) and of course Dave and also Ron Fairly gone.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I once did the arithmetic and concluded that for Sherman Potter to have served in World War I he could have been born no later than 1900. By the Korean War he would be in his early fifties and Harry Morgan was completely believable. (BTW in some early movies he's billed as Henry Morgan, which I believe he changed to avoid confusion with the radio and talk show personality.)

Jahn Ghalt said...

I occasionally catch Rick Rizzs on the radio - he's real good - no problem with switching him off.

Wow - Morgan was born in 1915 - therefore "playing his age" in MASH (less actually if he went overseas in the Great War) - and older than my dad. Alas, both are now gone.

DyHrdMET said...

Look at that. Since I had a Friday Question from 10 years ago, I guess it means I've been reading your blog for at least 10 years. Where has the time gone?

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Madeline Pugh Davis and partner Bob Carroll received no residuals for I Love Lucy. Richard Walter wrote about it in a blog post A Tale of Two Writers--Residuals Are the Real Key to Hollywood Wealth:

"Recently, on the same day, two legendary TV writers died: Sol Saks and Madeleine Pugh Davis. Saks wrote the PILOT for the TV series Bewitched. Through its many seasons he never wrote another episode, indeed, not another word for the show. Davis, on the other hand, with her writing partner the late Bob Carol, wrote each and every episode of I Love Lucy: 179 chapters over seven seasons. For his single episode of Bewitched Saks made millions upon millions of dollars, literally hundreds of times the remuneration Davis earned writing nearly two hundred Lucy chapters. I doubt that she and Carol made as much as two or three hundred thousand dollars for all of their work over all of those years toil for Lucy.
The explanation? Residuals.Lucy was produced in the ’50s. The Writers Guild did not win residuals for writers until 1962. There was no retroactivity. Everything written prior to ’62 belonged (and still belongs) exclusively to production companies. Ad we all know, I Love Lucy has been run, and re-run, and re-re-run into oblivion, in hundreds upon hundreds of markets worldwide."

Madeline Pugh's memoir Laughing with Lucy is a light, enjoyable read with personal tidbits (e.g., she named the Mertzes for some neighbors she knew growing up because it was a funny-sounding name, but years later met one of the neighbors again and tried to explain the coincidence).

There aren't a lot of behind the scenes anecdotes about working on shows but I recall she mentioned that throughout all the years of table reads they always got copious notes and she couldn't remember a single time when the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and universally praised...comedy is hard.

Brian Arbenz said...
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Brian Arbenz said...
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Brian Arbenz said...
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Brian Arbenz said...
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Brian Arbenz said...

I loved “Change Day” for Charles’ explanation of why a mega-wealthy person like him would so passionately want to make a modest sum from that currency scheme. “It’s the hunt!” That offered great insights into Bezos, Musk and the other greedy predators of our time.

ScarletNumber said...

If John is still around, he should know that fake money is known as scrip.

For those commenting about Harry Morgan's age and appearance, you should take a look at Sparky Anderson when he was managing the Cincinnati Reds. He was only 36 when he got that job, and was 41 and 42 when he won the World Series with them. He looks about 20 years older.

ScarletNumber said...


It is well-known that the author of the M*A*S*H book was not a fan of the Alan Alda characterization of Hawkeye. Neither was Robert Altman, who directed the movie.

Unknown said...

I am 71 years of age and mash was always and still is one of my most favorite shows of all time. I was serving in the us army on hill 754 in korea when the original movie mash was made. It seems like just yesterday.

Unknown said...

I loved Mash when it first came to the screen and i love it still i like it more with Mr. Morgan and Mike Farrell. My opinion and that's all it is my opinion is that they made the show . i really wasn't that much into it when col blake and trapper played again just my opinion.

JessyS said...

Just an aside, Harry Morgan died about two months after this post came out. RIP, Harry. :(

Matthew said...

Re question 4: I would wager one of the things that has allowed you to keep your head is having a writing partner. So while you'll could earn good money, you'll never get "fuck you" money, because you have to go halfsies with David.

CarolMR said...

Harry Morgan had to complete a six-month domestic violence course after he was charged with beating his wife. Maybe not such a nice guy after all.