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Friday, August 19, 2011


The young lady sitting before us had a starlet-grade smile, legs forever, and the rest of her was just - well… as Chris put it when she left: "If we hire her, Puni's gonna kill me." (Puni, an Air-India stew - was his girlfriend at the time.)

I scanned our prospect's resume. She did possess the requisite secretarial skills - or else she wouldn't have made the cut for Universal Studio's Secretarial Pool; ruled over, it was said, by an Office Manager La Suprema who could give the Wicked Witch of the West lessons in meanness.

On the other hand, her CV was especially Vitae in skills such as acting, singing, dancing and… as I told Chris: "Says here she's an expert with a sword, riding a horse, and is working on her black belt in Akido."

"If we go with her," Chris observed, "after Puni gets through killing me we'll never see the chick again. She'll be too busy hitting the Casting Department up for a part on the show."

In case you hadn't guessed, Chris and I were interviewing for a secretary. Now that we were big time story editors on Galactica 1980, we learned it was not only a perk, but a necessity. Over a week had passed since Peter Thompson had greenmailed us into taking jobs we did not want, on a show we were embarrassed to be associated with, and we still didn't have simple supplies like typing paper to type scripts on, much less typewriters to write them with.

"Got no fucking pencils," Chris warbled, in his worst Hank Williams imitation. "Got no fucking pens. No paper clips. No staples. Feel just like an eggless hen."

"Look on the bright side," I said."We have a brand new set of Encyclopedia Britannica."

Artistic Miracles Galore
This was true. It sat in the place of honor, nestled in a faux cherry-wood bookcase, beneath wide windows that looked out over the Studio Backlot, where busy people - many in costume - dashed here and there, no doubt producing Artistic Miracles for Madison Avenue to stick commercials into every ten or twelve minutes.

"We bought the encyclopedia ourselves," Chris said.

This was also true. In anticipation of our first payday as story editors, we'd decided to treat ourselves to something to help brighten our days of indenture. Chris wanted to get a new Ak47 to blow Peter Thompson and Jeff (The EatAnter) Freilich away for muscling us onto the lot. But, after I pointed out it might be just as hard to get paper and pencils - much less typewriters - in San Quentin, we settled on the Britannica.

Other than our desks and chairs - which were pretty nice, I must admit - it was the only functional object in our huge, empty office. In the alcove outside the office was an empty desk and chair, meant to accommodate our secretary. Several empty filing cabinets. A couple of chairs for people to wait in, if we ever got a secretary who could set up appointments with freelancers so we could make them wait, you sons of bitches, just like you used to make US wait when you were story editors. (A basic rule too frequently ignored in Hollywood: when you are sitting on the money side of the desk, the guys pitching will most likely be in a position like yours not too far down the line. And you will be pitching them.)

Oh, and there was a small office fridge with a nice coffee pot on top. But there was nothing in the fridge. And no coffee for the coffee maker. Jeff said not to bring any of our own, that the Studio would provide us with everything we needed, and that soon as we got a secretary she would order it all. We were so dazed by our Black Tower Press Gang experience, that we just went, "Yeah, yeah," and brought thermoses of coffee from home.

Chris Lost The Names First Toss
Don't get me wrong. We had a super office in the brand new "Producer's Building," just across from the Black Tower. Jeff had seen that his story editors got the very best.

"The fucking problem is," Chris said, "is that there's nothing but producers in the Producer's Building. We're the only writers. And they hate us."

"They don't actually hate us," I said. "They just don't want us in their neighborhood."

"They complained to Jeff," Chris pointed out. "Told him we were too fucking loud."

He had me there. The day before we'd finally been handed something to do. A scene Jeff wanted rewritten, or something. Said he needed it like, the day before yesterday. So, we'd temporarily stolen an IBM Selectric from one of the offices down the hall, along with some paper and pens. Then proceeded to write. Chris at the keyboard, me striding across the room and back, shooting lines of dialogue back and forth.

In Other Words:
 "Shut The #$%$# Up!"
Immediately the complaints came flooding in. Women appearing in the doorway, putting fingers to lips and shushing us. (A couple of guys wanted to do the same, but scuttled away when Chris fixed him with his best Chris Bunch Glare.) Somebody finally shut our door. Then somebody else opened it and shushed us again.

Finally, Jeff's redheaded assistant intervened. "You guys do get pretty loud," she said. "Can't you try and keep it down?"

I shrugged. "Sure, we can try," I said. "But, we get worked up when we write, you know? And when we get worked up we forget everything around us and the volume goes up."

"You are also rather profane," the redhead said - just as nicely as she could.

"We never say anything worse than fuck," Chris said.

She just looked at him. Pretty little foot tap-tap tapping the floor. All red hair and green eyes and a look that just said, "Oh, please!"

"Okay, maybe a mother fucker, now and then," Chris grudged. "And, sure, a pig fucker once in awhile. But that's it. Tops!"

"I hope you aren't putting those in the script," the redhead said. Then she giggled. "Futterman will shit kittens." She covered her mouth, blushing furiously. "I've been around you guys too much," she said.

Then she asked us - please, could we watch our language, and our volume, and could we please return the typewriter and office supplies to Stella down the hall before she called Security?

After she left Chris said, "We've gotta get away from these people, Cole."

"I know, I know," I said mournfully.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Feeling like Gene Wilder after the unintended successful debut of Springtime For Hitler: No way out. No way out. No way-

Chris said, "The problem is we don't know anything about working on a Studio Lot. It's like we've been drafted in the Army and were just dumped off the bus into Boot Camp and we literally don't know our shit from Shinola."

"What I think you are getting at," I said, "is that we need to find somebody in the know, who is on our side."

The Road To You-Know
Is Paved With Cuties
Chris snapped his fingers. "Damn fucking straight. All they are sending us is one cutie after another. And a Cutie for a secretary we don't need," he said. "What we have to get is a fucking Sergeant Bilko. Somebody who knows where all the bodies are buried. And the supplies are kept. And whose palm to grease, and whose ass to kiss. Most of all, we need somebody who won't fink on us to the bosses."

I said, "Let me call the Redhead. She'll know what to do."

And so that's what I did. Explaining our requirements very carefully. And she put the word out and before long La Suprema herself called us, and said she was sending somebody along who ought to fit the bill.

That very afternoon, the Amazing Dolly Brown showed up at our door. She was a tall, classy-looking woman a few years our senior. Tastefully dressed, with a skirt that fell just below the knees, but not so far as to hide her fabulous dancer's legs. Her CV shone with office skills of all kinds, and like just about everybody else in the Universal Secretarial Pool she had a showbiz background. She was a former dancer, chanteuse and actress, playing mainly B-Movie roles - "I was usually the blonde Gun Moll with the heart of gold," she told us. "The one the hero should hook up with, but goes for the virginal bank teller instead."

We started out by listing our problems and asking if she could help. Beginning with the lack of such basic writerly tools as typewriters.

She nodded at that. "There's always a shortage," she said. "Especially the nice new IBM Selectric 2's. Big waiting list for them. Basically, you have to grab them when a show closes down and they're returned to Central Supply."

"Can you get us a couple?" I asked.

"I can do better than that," she said. "The guy who runs Supply is sweet on me. He's a little jerk with a bad combover and BO, but I flash him a little leg now and then to keep him primed. Inside a week, I can half half-a-dozen typewriters delivered."

"We only need three," I pointed out. "Two for me and Chris and one for you."

Dolly laughed - a big, throaty sound that was a delight to the ears of two depressed writers.

She said, "We need trading stock. With extra typewriters… and some others things I can lay my hands on… we can get everything we need - and more."

This was getting better and better.

Some Shameless Sten Hype
We went on to explain that besides working on the show, that we were under contract to deliver the first in a series of science fiction novels (Sten), and we'd need help with some things we couldn't do while stuck on the lot. 

And there was other personal business as well, that was sure to come up.

Chris said, "Cole and I don't expect you to do any of that on the company's dime. We were thinking, maybe a hundred bucks extra a week - fifty from me and fifty from Cole. How's that sound."

The smile Dolly blessed us with would have put the sun to shame. "Boys," she said, "if the other girls find out about you two, I'll never stand a chance."

"Well, maybe you won't think that if you talk to some of the ladies in this building," I said.

"They think we're too fucking loud," Chris blurted.

Dolly grinned. "Can't be louder than me," she said. "I did a roadshow version of 'Gypsy' and one very nice critic said I could out bellow Ethel Merman."

"They also think we curse too much," I said.

Dolly laughed. "I fucking noticed," she said.

That broke us up - big-time.

When we recovered, Dolly explained further: "My father was career Navy," she said. "I was brought up on Navy bases and became pretty immune to hard language."

"That's great," I said. "We won't offend you. But we're stuck in a neighborhood where we just flat don't belong."

"Can you get us out of here, Dolly?" Chris said, with real feeling.

Dolly thought a minute. Looked around our office. Then nodded.

She said, "Girl I know says her boss hates his office. He's a producer, but they stuck him over by the LA River. How about if I arranged a swap?"

"Done!" Chris said.

"Not so fast," Dolly said. "It won't be in a nice building like this. You'll be getting a big double-wide trailer, stuck along the LA River with, perhaps, two dozen other trailers."

"We know the place," I said. "The Writers' Village."

"That's what they call it," Dolly said. "A whole neighborhood of crazy writers just like you two."

Dolly not only delivered, she did it double time. Before the week was out we were in our new digs in the Writer's Village. Double wide trailer, with a pop out. Paneled offices. Plush chairs. Nice desks. And not six IBM's - but eight of them. Plus all the paper, pens, pencils, staplers, staples, paperclips - you name it, we had enough to stock a stationary store.

We also had not one - but two coffee pots. Plenty of coffee. A fridge stocked with goodies, including a couple of shelves that were magically resupplied with beer, courtesy of the Studio, every morning.

And the neighborhood was terrific. We could yell our lines loud as we pleased. Cuss up a storm. And when stuck on something, wander out and mingle with our fellow writers, usually gathered on the banks of the LA River.

For you non-Angelenos, the LA River is your basic, big clottin' ditch, cemented in on all sides, with a few inches of water running down the center of the cement channel most of the year. (We were somewhere in this morass on the Google Earth Map.)

Back then a whole lot of high speed car chases for both "A" and "B" movies were shot there so if you stepped out your office most hours of the day you'd see stunt cars driving a trillion miles an hour all over the cement throughway. Ron Howard directed one of his first movies there (Grand Theft Auto) when he was just out of "Happy Days." (We met him later on and he said he always knew his freckle-face would keep him from getting roles as an adult, so he started studying directing and the business of filmmaking at an early age.)

We also had parking places right in front of our trailer, instead of the other side of the lot - a distance of a thousand asphalt-hot miles. Across the river were the fences that marked the Bob Hope Golf Course.

Now, like I said, we were only one of many double wide writer trailers lining the banks of the Universal Studios portion of the LA River. There were maybe fifty or more writers residing there - sort of like the literary equivalent of Navajo caves, except made of aluminum and allegedly fire-proof insulation.

A fat gray cloud of smoke with a distinctive odor hung over the settlement day and night and Security pretty much declared it a Dedicated Peace Pipe Zone.

Fairly often - usually in the late afternoon - somebody would slap a Fade Out on the final draft of a script and send for a bicycle messenger to take it to one of the Producer Buildings. When the guy/gal got there we'd all run out, shaking bottles of cheap champagne and showering the poor soul with it as he/she pedaled away.

Drinking would then continue to commence. (Writers tend to either not drink at all, or drink all day long). Around about dusk the writer tribe would gather at the banks of the LA River and try to peg the empties to other side - the target being Bob Hope's Golf Course.

It was a rite of passage of sorts, but not so bad, since it didn't require ritual scarring. Unless one became so overcome by the muse and booze that one tumbled down the banks into the river. Then scarring might commence, because for a very long time the bottles we hurled did no more than crash into the cement, scattering shards all over the place.

Then one night a new team from the Dallas TV Series took up residence. They had heard about the daily contest and came prepared. The Dallas prop department had constructed a catapult mounted in a kid's Red Ryder wagon bed. And, as we all stood there in awe, they placed the bottles into the catapult and slung them clear over to the other side, where they bounced  - tragically unbroken - on the soft green meadow grass.

We all turned away. Terribly disappointed. The contest would never be the same again. Empty bottles piled up, but no one had the heart to hurl them.

Then, a week or so later someone stole the wagon - it was said by a team from the Incredible Hulk - and the game began once again.

But this time as writer equals.

At day's end the cheers went up as before.

And boom, went the bottles.

And crash went the glass.

And all was well with the world of American Television...

The Vast Wasteland was whole once more.

As for Bunch & Cole: Our coming days of indenture were made a little bit more bearable by the Amazing Dolly Brown.


The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now knocking at the door of 110,000) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    


Relive the fabulous four-day Stregg-laced celebration.  Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. New recipes from the Eternal Emperor's kitchen. Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever. Sten's thrill-packed exploits at the Emp's castle. How to make your own Stregg. And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?

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