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Friday, December 30, 2011


WGA Strike Class Of '81
Richard Brooks, Bo Goldman,
Gore Vidal & Billy Wilder
To understand how we wound up getting run over by Irwin Allen's big fat toupee, you first have to know about the Writer's strike of 1981.

The strike wasn't as long as the 1988 strike, which lasted a bank-account-bruising, lose-your-home-and-everything-you-own, five months. Nor, was it as short as the two-week 1985 eating-Danish-at-Farmer's-Market-while-picketing walkout. But it did last a mortgage payment squeezing three months, just like the recent 2007-2008 Studio ball buster.

The '81 strike, like all that would follow, was over technical issues, such as how much the royalties ought to be for hitherto unknown media markets, like VHS, and later DVD's and streaming videos. In my view, despite all the agony the writers have suffered during those strikes we've never come out well. The '81 strike was badly mismanaged - also in my view - by a professional labor negotiator.

She was a person whose name I totally forget, but whom we immortalized in Sten #3 (Court Of A Thousand Suns) as a voracious sea monster. We called the critter a Gurion (Gurionus-awfulus, to you biology majors) and it featured many barbed tentacles and turned itself inside out to swallow you with its fang-lined stomach.

Yech, right?

Our view of the dis(re)membered woman entirely.

Defenders Of The Earth
During the strike we scraped by with some magazine freelance work, and even wrote a little animation - the animation writers weren't Guild members, so although the pay was low the work was legal. We also got a helluva education about comic book heroes and animation from Stan Lee, working on some his shows like Defenders Of The Earth. (Mandrake Rocks!)

We worked the picket lines regularly, which was sort of fun because you got to meet old friends, catch up on their news - thereby gaining ammunition so that later on you could talk about them behind their backs.

Meanwhile, Kathryn's career in the escrow business was really taking off, so when vacation time came around and her boss said company policy was use it or lose it, we had money enough to pack up our little Honda car and set off on a camping trip up the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Chris remained behind to tend our rather empty freelance store.

Kathryn and I took El Camino Real (The King's Highway, or Highway One) all the way, getting forced onto a freeway or a larger road only occasionally.

We had a marvelous time, cruising along the Pacific Ocean where cattle ranches ran right down to the water's edge and you'd see longhorns standing belly-deep, cooling off. There was the Big Sur, the redwoods, fishing villages and the mountains, where we saw an eagle owl with a wingspan as long as our car, pursuing some kind of lapdog, clutched in the arms of a scampering woman.

Along the way, we would buy things for dinner - artichokes from Castorville (the artichoke capital of the world) crab claws and sourdough bread from the docks in San Francisco, and so on until we stopped for the night.

Our camping gear was all from motorcycle magazine advertisers - light weight mountain tents, sleeping bags, pop out butane burners - on loan for the trip with promises of articles lauding said gear upon our return. We set up in seconds every night, while others struggled with ungainly tents, or leveling and hooking up their motor homes.

Then it was a nice dinner under the moon and the stars, a loaf of sourdough, a good jug of wine and a dusty bottle of brandy for afters and thou - Kathryn being my thou. And I hers. And there was much singing in the wilderness.

Eventually, after many days and hundreds of miles we reached the end of the King's Highway. It stops at Port Angeles, just across the bay from Vancouver Island, in Canada. We wanted to try the famous High Tea at the Empress Hotel, so we took the ferry across. It was delicious, as advertised, and we had a lovely time playing tourist on the island.

On the way back, a radio news announcement broke into the easy-listening music station playing on the ferry's loudspeakers.

It seems that the Hollywood Screenwriters' Strike had ended.

Son of a gun. Amazing to hear such news from afar - and in another country yet. Proof positive that you'll get airtime anywhere in the world if you use Hollywood as a modifier.

Over at Port Angeles I phoned Chris. "Shit, Cole," he said, "did you hear the news?"

"That's why I'm calling," I said. "Your sister and I are going to hop on I-5 in the morning and we can be home in a couple of days. Meanwhile, you can beat up on our agent to set up pitch meetings before all the shows are sold out."

There was an unusually long pause on the other end. Unusual for Chris, that is. Who was a motor mouth of the first order and proud of it.

I blinked first. "What's the problem?" I asked. "Did you get pissed at the agent and fire him? Don't sweat it for not asking me first. He probably deserved it."

I don't remember who our agent was. In those days we went through agents like bacon through a goose. Chris used to say: "In the spring the swallows return to Capistrano, the buzzards come back to Hinkley, Ohio, and Bunch and Cole fire their agent." (More on that subject a little further down the Misadventures road.)

Chris said, "No, I didn't fire him. In fact, it looks like the little weasel got us a job. Or, damn close to it."

I was pumped. I gave Kathryn a thumbs up and said, "Out of work for three months and back on the job in nothing flat. That's great news, partner."

Another pause, but a shorter one. "It's not exactly great," Chris said. "Maybe good news, or even so-so news. Or maybe it's plain old shit news."

"So what if we have to write a dumb script for a dumb show," I said. "We'll be on to another one in a few weeks. That's the joy of freelancing. Bad boss one day. Good one the next. All putting money into the book-writing coffers."

"It's a fucking staff job," Chris blurted.

Now it was my turn to pause. For those of you who have been following these misadventures, you'll know that we swore off staff jobs back when we escaped Galactica 1980 and seven years of indenture at Universal Studios.

Chris said, "Al, I'm so damned broke that American Express is calling to tell me to leave fucking home without it."

"You don't have American Express," I pointed out.

"Well, if I did," he said, "the fucking phone would be ringing off the hook with creditors dunning me."

I sighed. "Aw, shit."

Chris sensed that I was weakening. He said, "The weasel's pretty sure he can get us a two-script guarantee. On top of four grand or more a week."

"Okay, okay," I said. Then: "Who's the meeting with?"

"That's the good part," Chris said. "It's with Irwin Allen."

You know who the late Irwin Allen was, don't you? The self-proclaimed Master Of Disaster? Architect of the first "Poseidon Adventure," and "The Towering Inferno" movies. Creator of Boob Tube hits like "Lost In Space," "Land Of The Giants," and "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea," to name just a few.

Pretty damned impressive, right?

Chris said, "It's a show about firemen. Called Code Red."

That sounded cool. Who doesn't love firemen?

"We can learn how to blow things up and set things on fire," Chris added.

I liked that too.

"Plus," Chris said, "plus... and this is even better... our old buddy Lorne Greene is the star of the show."

"Holy shit," I said, delighted.

Lorne was one of the few bright notes on Galactica. Doing his best with lousy scripts and even lousier production bosses. He was also very kind to writers. A prince among men.

Chris said, "Maybe we'll get to pay Lorne back for all the shit he had to put up with on Galactica."

"Damn straight," I said, ending the hesitation waltz. "We owe him big time... I'm in if you are, partner."

Poor Lorne.



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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