* Chuck Norris doesn't worry about changing his clock twice a year for daylight savings time. The sun rises and sets when Chuck tells it to.
* If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
* Life insurance premiums are based on how far you live from Chuck Norris.
* Ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Chuck Norris stories.
* Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice.
* Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.
* Death once had a near-Chuck Norris experience.
* There is no Theory Of Evolution, just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.
* Unstoppable force meeting an immovable object? Chuck Norris clapping.
* When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn't lifting himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.
Frank Lupo said, "Whatcha'doin', guys?"
Chris said, "In a word - getting the fuck out of town."
I said, "That's six words."
Chris said, "Jesus, Cole, you're so damned nit-picky."
I could hear Frank laughing on the speaker phone. He was always a duck for the Bunch & Cole Show. He said, "No, seriously, guys. What're you up to?"
I said, "We really are leaving town, boss. Chris and Karen are pretty much packed. Kathryn and I have to hang on some so she can close down her business, and we can find tenants for the house."
Knowing us, Frank was unsurprised. All he said was: "Where you headed?"
Chris said, "A little town called Ilwaco in Washington State. We ran across the place years ago on bike trip. It's on a peninsula across from Astoria. Beautiful country. Maybe fifteen thousand people in the whole damned county."
I added, "Looked like a great place to write. We both agreed that when we made it, that's where we'd go to. We've got enough book contracts to take care of us for a few years, then we'll see what's next."
"That's great news, guys," Frank said. "The dream of practically every writer in Town."
"Even you, boss?" I teased.
Frank laughed. "Nah. I'm too much of a city kid."
Lupo was ex-New Yorker who'd come out to Hollywood to make his bones as a writer. Drove a cab to support his family, while turning out spec scripts on the side. At a very young age, he'd impressed the hell out of the right people and before you knew it he was a big time producer. Another blink of the eye and Frank was Co-creator (with the late Steve Cannel) of The A-Team, Wise Guys, Hunter, Werewolf, and many more.
We'd first met on his debut gig as a showrunner on Galactica 1980 (it wasn't Frank's fault) where we were story editors (wasn't our fault, either) and since then we'd written a pile of scripts for most of his shows. In fact, the best experience we ever had in Hollywood was as story execs on Werewolf, where at Frank's behest we had not only scragged Chuck (The Rifleman) Connors, but made him literally kiss the ring of his replacement. (See Episode #54 - Chuck Connors Kisses The Ring)
I was grinning at the memory when Frank said, "Can you guys maybe use a little 'get out of town' money?"
"Sure as hell could, boss," Chris said. "Can't believe how much it costs to ship fucking books. They want 50 cents a damn pound, and I've got easy - four thousand books."
"Well, maybe we can help each other," Frank said. "You hear about that new Chuck Norris show CBS bought?"
I said, "Vaguely. There was a two-hour MOW that did big numbers. A Texas Ranger thing, right?"
"Walker, Texas Ranger," Frank confirmed. "Damndest story behind it. Chuck made the two-hour himself. And get this, he got the Mattress King of Texas to finance it. CBS bought the movie, then didn't know what the fuck to do with it, so they thought they'd burn it off. Show it in the Dead Season and maybe they'd get their money back. But, then - Boom! Ratings through the roof."
Chris said. "No surprise there. Martial arts shit always does well - not that any Suit ever realizes that. Hell, there's a huge built-in audience for it. Put a Kick Boxer on anything and you've got automatic sales."
I added, "Plus, we're talking Chuck Norris, here. He's no great shakes as an actor - but when it comes to martial arts, he's the real deal. Middleweight champion for I don't know how many years."
Chris snorted. "Not like that phony-ass Steve Seagal!" (As you may have gathered, Chris did not Steven Seagal in high esteem. Nor did I. See Episode #61 - Chris Bunch Versus Steven Seagal to get the full nitty-gritty.)
Although I could hear him chuckle, Frank stayed on point. "So, the Network had this hit from out of nowhere. Even had some financing if they wanted to share the profits with the Mattress King."
"Fat chance," Chris said.
"You guessed it," Frank said. "Anyway, they make a deal with Chuck to do a Texas Ranger TV series. But, holy shit, after they sign the deal, they realize the movie was a fluke. Made by amateurs, for fuck's sake. And no way can amateurs do a whole fucking TV series. With or without Mattress King money."
I could imagine the dilemma. A weekly series is an incredible grind. Fourteen hour days. Six, seven days a week. Couple hundred employees - all members of some kind of union. One sneeze can cost a fortune. And then there's the actors. Temperamental? If they are any good - probably. I remember a Studio Veep who bragged to me that she'd blown off Rosanne Barr when she came calling with her show. She said, "I knew she was a bitch that'd cause nothing but trouble." Well, that "bitch" made a rival network hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure she was trouble. But it goes with the territory. In my experience, Talent is a coin whose flip side is Temperament, if not downright Trouble. (Present company not excluded.)
Frank said, "Anyway, the network asked me and John Ashley to get the show off the ground. And after we backed up a truck to the studio gates and they'd shoveled in enough money, we said okay."
FREEZE SCENE FOR SAD BACKSTORY
The John Ashley Frank was referring to was his longtime friend and production partner. A really great guy. Sadly, Ashley died from cancer not many years after this conversation. He'd gotten his start in the business working on a John Wayne movie back in 1956. The movie - an awful thing with a fabulous group of Players - was called The Conqueror, with Wayne totally miscast as Genghis Kahn.
Far worse - the movie was shot at St. George, Utah, about a hundred miles downwind downwind from the government's nuclear test site in Nevada. (Testing was above ground back then.) Worse still, when they returned to LA to finish the movie, Howard Hughes (who made movies and starlets in those days) shipped tons of the dirt from the Utah location back to the studio for an added sense of film realism.
The result: Of the 220 people in the cast and crew, 91 later developed cancer and 46 died of the disease - including Wayne, the amazing Agnes Moorehead... and our John.
Coincidence? Government says so. Cancer specialists say otherwise. Who to believe? Hmm.
Frank said, "So, whaddaya say, guys? Write one more for the road?"
Chris made with his favorite reply: "Is the Bear Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods?" And that afternoon a messenger dropped off a package with an outline, character sheet, and VHS tape of the movie - which Frank told us to mostly ignore since there was really nothing in there that would make a series. But, it did give us a look at how Chuck Norris handled himself. The martial arts scenes - all choreographed by him - were a marvel. Natch. His acting was kind of wooden, but passable.
"Not bad for a guy who went to acting school on the GI bill," I told Chris.
"That's right," Chris said, "You met him before, didn't you."
I had - although I doubt if Norris would remember me. It was when I was a kid reporter for the late, unlamented Inglewood Daily News. Norris, an ex Airman (he served in Korea, among other places), had yet to kick his way up the ladder to Karate fame. He worked at an aerospace company in our circulation area - shrewdly hoarding every penny to open up a chain of karate schools.
I interviewed him at his Torrance school, and quite liked the guy. He was shy, earnest, and totally focused. He was about my age and we hit it off right away. I had an interest in the martial arts - I'd lettered in Judo at Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, and we swapped stories about life on military bases in Asia. After that interview, his success came as no surprise.
When Chris and I were done with the TV movie, we scored a copy of Way Of The Dragon - the film he did with Bruce Lee. Although Chris and I were both big Bruce Lee fans, we had to admit that Norris more than held his own in his scenes with Lee.
We came up with some stories and met with Frank's Story Exec - whose name I unfortunately don't remember, because he was a definite Pro and a helluva nice guy. There weren't any offices for Walker yet, so we met at the guy's house out in the Valley.
We made our pitch and the one he especially liked was titled "Right Man, Wrong Time." Basically, it was about a beautiful country singer who is being stalked by a former beau - a Jerry Lee Lewis type madman who is on the skids. We gave him a sawed-off shotgun to make things interesting, and a couple of very large Red Neck bully boys to make them doubly so.
The Story Exec got on the phone to Frank, told him about "Right Man" and a couple of minutes later he was saying the four magic words: "Who's your agent, boys?"
We wrote the first draft. Things were in a flux on the show and the Story Exec was swamped, so we met with Frank personally for our second draft notes. It was at his house, if I remember correctly. Big place. Nice art, tastefully decorated and Frank's study was filled with books. Many of them first editions from writers he admired. Some of ours were among them. (Aw, shucks.)
He said, "This is great, guys. But there's a couple of things we need to do throughout." We nodded, pens hovering over notepads. Frank went on, "You've got some scenes here that Chuck just isn't equipped to handle. We've got a guy who has three expressions: Poker Face. Poker Face With A Frown. And Poker Face With A Smile. And sometimes the smile looks more like he's gonna kill some-fucking-body, than anything else."
Chris and I knew right away where we'd gone wrong. We'd set up a trap for ourselves. This was a love story, after all. And a bitter sweet one at that. Normally, we could expect our lead to show the appropriate emotion at the appropriate time. Woo the girl. Win the girl. Lose the girl and Fade Out, The End. Where we'd gone wrong was to treat Norris like any other professional actor, giving him some real meaty scenes to work with.
Big damned mistake. We'd handled similar situations for Frank before - where the Lead's acting abilities were weak, but he was surrounded by very professional character actors and actresses.
I said, "Gotcha boss. Throw the lines to the real actors and give Chuck the button on the scene."
Frank said, "Yeah, like that."
He shook his head, then said, "You know, I probably won't be with this show long. To make it work, I've gotta come down hard and Chuck isn't going to like it. I told the Network that. Said I'd make the show a success, but when that point came Chuck's gonna want to fire my ass, then take credit for the success."
Chris and I made noises of concern. Frank laughed and waved them away. "Don't worry, I've got a fuckin' Fail-Safe Clause built into the contract. Let him take credit. He's not a bad guy. In fact, I like him. But, pretty soon he's not going to like me."
With those final words in mind we gathered up our stuff and headed out. Turned in the last draft a couple of weeks later, and then it came time for Chris and Karen to call the Bekins man and make the big move to little Ilwaco.
Kathryn and I stayed on another month or so. She to sell her business, me to find renters for our house in Venice.
A couple of weeks before we left, I got a call from Frank's Story Exec. He said, "We've got a situation here, Allan, where we have to rattle Chuck's cage. He thinks the other people on the show are getting all the acting glory, while he just gets to punch people out."
That worried me. I thought we'd done a good job of walking that tightrope. The Story Exec sensed my concern and said, "No, not your script. That's fine. Chuck loved it. It's already been shot and it's in post-production.
"But now what we need is a script that makes Chuck think that if he's not careful, we can make his worst fears come true."
I knew what he was after. "You want a story that really puts the spotlight on one of the other characters," I said. "Then Chuck comes in at the last minute and saves the day. So, who needs him, right? Any action star can do that."
"Right," the Story Exec said. "Frank said you boys were specialists in that kind of thing."
And indeed we were. We'd done it any number of times, starting way back at the dawn of our careers with Jack Klugman on Quincy and James Garner on Rockford. You write a script in which the Star is on vacation, or sick, or something. Throw the story to one of the regulars on the show - or even a guest star - then sit back and wait for the Star to read it. Give birth to a two-headed cow. Shout and scream at his agent. Then promise to be a good boy or girl again.
But there was one big problem with that kind of script.
I said, "If we do it right, you'll never shoot it." This meant there'd be no reruns, meaning no residuals - which count for a large part of a freelance screenwriter's income.
The story exec said, "Got you covered. Frank said to make a back-up script deal."
Ah, that was better. A backup script - one which will only be shot if something else falls out - pays scale and a half. Maybe even double. I made a mental note to tell our agent to negotiate for double. The move out of state, as Chris had said, was really expensive.
I told the story exec we'd give it a shot. I called Chris in Ilwaco and he agreed I'd done the right thing taking the gig. This was in Barbarian times, you understand. Before the Internet. (I know, I know. But, we still had Fire, and this new-fangled thing called a Wheel.) Chris and I both used CompuServe, which was sort of a mini-mini-internet. So, to save long distance charges (yeah, no Skype either...sigh...) we hammered out ideas and shot them back and forth on CompuServe.
It wasn't long before we had what I thought was the perfect story. I'd just read an article - or, maybe it was something I saw on 60 Minutes - about a Breast Cancer Boot Camp aimed at restoring self confidence in cancer survivors through strenuous physical activity, obstacle courses and group counseling.
One of the regulars on Walker was Sheree J. Wilson who played the part of Alex Cahill - an assistant district attorney. Ms Wilson is as talented as she is lovely, so she was perfect for our purposes.
In our story, we gave her a background that made her particularly sensitive to the issue. Her character's mother, or sister, or whatever had died from the ailment. That gave us a reason to involve her in a newly-formed Breast Cancer Boot Camp and volunteer to spend a week with one group. Walker, meanwhile, is busy on some other case and we follow Alex Cahill as she helps these women win back their confidence.
Naturally, we had a MacGuffin that produced a group of really nasty villains who go after Alex and the ladies. And they spend most of the episode bravely and cleverly fending off the bad guys ala The John Ford movie: Fort Apache. The resultant battle does a lot for confidence regaining, and just when it still looks like all is lost, Walker shows up and kicks serious butt.
Chris and I collaborated long distance on the script and then I punted it forward. The Story Exec loved it. More importantly, Frank liked it.
But most important of all...
I got the call from Frank a few days before Kathryn and I were due to leave town to join Chris and Karen in Ilwaco.
He said, "It fuckin' worked, Allan."
"Chuck hated it, right?" I said.
"Fuck, yeah. But you know the reason he gave?"
I said I couldn't begin to guess.
"Chuck said if you get cancer, it's your own fault because you're not living right. He won't do a show about fucking cancer, and that's that."
"You think he really believes it?"
"Who the fuck knows?" Frank said. "But he's back at work again, and really giving it his all."
"Glad we could help, boss," I said.
And that, was that.
Just as Frank predicted the show became a big hit, winning its time slot week after week. And just as he predicted, Chuck grew to dislike him and Frank exited the show to go on to better things. No boo-hooing for Frank. (a) He was already rich. And (b) You remember that Fail Safe clause in his contract? Well hide and watch how it played out.
Walker, Texas Ranger ran a full nine seasons - always at the top of the Nielsen charts. During that time, Chris and I finished up our book contracts, then broke up the band and took our acts solo. Remarkably, it was a writing partnership that had lasted nearly twenty years.
LONG DISSOLVE TO: BOCA RATON, FL
Where Kathryn and I now live.
We had spent three years living in the boonies of Washington State. It was there that an ice storm inspired the idea that would lead to The Warrior Returns, the final novel in the Far Kingdoms series.
Then we spent another three years another three in New Mexico, outside the tiny little town named (I shit thee not) Truth Or Consequences. This was Geronimo and Billy The Kid Territory so we had a grand old time.
It was also where I came up with the idea for the Timura Trilogy, and if you look at the cover of the first book - When The Gods Slept - you'll see that the artist exactly matched the view of the wilderness outside my office window. (Sans the cavalry and magical city.)
But it was time to get back to civilization so we heeded the urgings of my Aunt Rita and moved to the little beach town of Boca Raton.
By sheer chance, one night we ran across Walker, Texas Ranger on TV. I hadn't seen the show since our episode - Right Man, Wrong Time - aired, so held on a minute to watch the big fight that always ended the show. Chuck kicked ass, then you had the obligatory, laugh, ho-ho, with the regulars at the Bar - a standing set used for those purposes.
Then I watched the end credits. And, son of a gun, I saw the names of two old friends: Nick Corea, from our Incredible Hulk (See Episode #23 - Showdown At The Incredible Hulk) and Gavilan days. And Bruce Cervi, who we had worked with on Gavilan. (Bruce is married to another Hulk alumnus and friend: Karen Harris, a whiz of a producer and writer.)
Kathryn who knew and liked them all, said, "Maybe you should call and say hello."
And so, that's what I did. It was a great phone reunion, and while I was at it - what the hell? - I tested the waters for a possible script gig and found them warm and welcome.
I sold them a notion I'd been toying with for awhile - a story without a home. While in New Mexico, we had visited some of the small border towns - including Columbus, NM, which Pancho Villa had attacked back in 1916. My grandfather - Frank Guinan - had been an underage soldier under General Pershing then and he and the other members of the unit fruitlessly pursued the wily Villa all over the badlands.
One particular thing about those towns stirred the writer in me. Some of them were run by old-fashioned Western Sheriffs, who ruled the towns like it was their personal fiefdom. Also, some of the towns - and the sheriffs - had been living off the proceeds from smuggled contraband for well over a century. In the old days it was guns and rustled cattle and horses. In modern times guns and narcotics.
So, I sold them a story about such a town and sheriff titled On The Border, that went down pretty well with everybody, including Chuck Norris. (Lee Majors played the bad ass sheriff.)
Damndest thing, though. The notes I got for the first draft consisted of a recording of the Exec Producer - Gordon Dawson reading the story aloud to Norris. As he went on, you could hear Norris cracking and eating what I took to be nuts of some kind.
He'd go - crack! - "Yeah, that's good..." Munch, munch - "But, maybe after that I'll just choke the guy out, instead of a big fight." Crack! Munch, munch. "See how I feel when we get there." Crack! Munch, munch. Crack!
It went on like that for two small forevers, me scribbling notes in between sounds of nut cracking and eating. And I was wondering - Geeze, when I met Chuck Norris all those years ago, it hadn't occurred to me that maybe he didn't read very well. He had his own business then, right?
Then, I thought, maybe that's the trouble he's having with dialogue scenes. How can he memorize his lines well enough to dramatize them if he has trouble reading the scene? Or if somebody has to read them to him over and over until he got it? Kind of like Gordon was doing reading my story aloud.
I thought about asking some of the guys on the show about it, but decided it would be wiser to just write the damned story, Cole, and don't mess with the idle speculation.
The episode was shot, aired, and to this day both Walkers I wrote rerun more than just about any other show. Matter of fact, I just got a nice check a week or so ago. Chris was spot on when he talked about the built-in popularity of anything to do with the martial arts.
Several months later, Kathryn and I visited LA to see her family and mine. I had lunch with Frank Lupo, introducing him to my son, Jason Cole, a budding writer following in his old man's footsteps. (Check out his book of short stories: 50 Rooms)
From there I went to Walker, to visit with Bruce Cervi and his partner, John Lansing, along with some of the other people on the show. I told them I had just come from seeing Lupo and everybody laughed and looked at each other knowingly.
I must have seemed confused, because one of the guys explained: "We don't mention Frank's name around here."
"A definite fucking no-no," somebody else said.
And that's when I learned about Frank's Fail Safe Clause.
"It's like this," one of them told me. "Frank may have left the show - but every single time an episode airs he gets fucking one hundred thousand dollars right off the top."
"Holy shit!" was my reaction. "And that's been going on for all these years?"
"All nine fucking seasons," one of the guys said. "For one hundred and ninety four episodes."
I started to calculate in my head, but gave it up. All I could say, was, "Wow!"
"It drives Chuck crazy," one of the guys said. "Whenever we sit down to budget a new episode, the first item on the list is Frank's one hundred thousand dollars. Gets a look on his face that would scare the fur off King Fucking Kong."
We all laughed over that, then I observed, "Only reason the show has been a hit for nine years is because of Frank Lupo. Without him, it would have been cancelled after three episodes."
And somebody said - "Want to tell Chuck that?"
As Chris would've said: "Not a fucking chance!"
Ps: A tragic footnote: Unintentionally, this has ended up sort of being a cancer episode. You see, Nick Corea died before I had a chance to see him again after all those years. The cause: Pancreatic Cancer.
NEXT: THE BIG RIPOFF - DO THEY REALLY STEAL YOUR IDEAS?