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Friday, January 6, 2012


There's an old fireman's joke that goes something like this: A fireman working outside the station house spots a little girl in a red wagon with a little ladder hanging off one side, and a coiled garden hose on the other. Behind the wagon is a cat tied to the wagon by its testicles. 

Trying to be tactful, the fireman says, "That's a great fire truck, little partner. But, you know, it might go better if you untied that cat." The little girl shrugs. "You're probably right," she says, "but then I wouldn't have a siren."

If only Chris and I had heard that joke before we met Irwin Allen and signed on to Code Red our voices might not have gone from Middle to High C.

There were other signs. Signs we ignored. Everything and everybody was just so - well, nice.

The Rolls in the driveway of Irwin's Bel Air manse was nice. The chauffeur polishing the Rolls nicely directed us up the path to Irwin's very nicely carved front door. The nice maid who opened the door greeted us nicely, and then she turned us over to Mrs. Irwin Allen who was so sweet and nice our teeth ached.

"The boys are out by the pool," she said nicely, pointing at the patio door. "Why don't you join them? Ellen will be along directly with some sandwiches and drinks."

As we headed out the door, she said, "What would you prefer - soft drinks or some nice ice tea?"

We said the nice ice tea would be nice, then exited into a lavishly landscaped pool area. The waters in the pool were sparkling blue and beyond you could see the entire Valley Of The Studios sprawling all the way to snow-topped Mount Baldy.

There was a patio table next to the pool, with a large brightly colored umbrella shading it. Two men rose as we advanced. One was a small guy in his late forties with ginger hair and a nervous smile. We guessed this would be Larry Heath, the exec story consultant.

He offered a hand and confirmed our suspicions: "Hi, I'm Larry Heath," he said, It's great to meet you two. We've heard a lot about you."

Larry indicated the other man, who had a smile like a skeleton. "This is Irwin Allen."

If Larry was small, Irwin was a midget. And a skinny midget at that - except for a small, round pot that protruded below his beltline. His features had an unhealthy pallor and his face had that shrunken head wrinkly look, made even more bizarre by large, round specs. Except for the glasses, think of Mr. Burns, Homer Simpson's boss and you've got Irwin (The Master Of Disaster) Allen down pat.

One more largish difference: the first thing you noticed when you reached out to shake Irwin's hand was an enormous pompadour - an obvious toupee - dyed so black you could see the little dots of desiccated dye on the strands.

Since he was sitting by the pool, he was doing his best to look relaxed but only managed to appear uncomfortable in pressed golf pants (striped), white shoes with see-through socks and a starched short-sleeved shirt. I don't remember the color, but it was of some bright, offending hue.

I'll admit that minor alarm bells were ringing, but Irwin was an immensely charming man - very old school gentleman. He also said writers were his favorite people - he 'd been a writer himself once. He told us stories about old Hollywood, especially Groucho Marx, who he said was a pal.

You just had to like the guy. Larry seemed likeable enough, but remained in the background for most of the interview.

Irwin told us that Code Red had been born from one of his recent hit movies - The Towering Inferno. He said his first idea was to do a firemen's TV series based on the San Francisco department featured in Inferno. However, when ABC bought the series - to be produced at Columbia Studios - Warner Brothers and Fox, his partners in Inferno crime, made him drop any mention of the movie in the title.

So, Code Red it was.

At the time, Code Red had nothing to do with any nomenclature in American fire departments, but it sort of crept into the general language of Hollywood movies and television, even though most people never saw the show, and the few who did, have mostly forgotten it. I get emails now and then from people who say they were inspired to become firemen/women by the show and all I can say is God Bless.

We learned that besides Lorne Greene, our old fellow Galactica 1980 survivor, who played the station house chief, the stars included Julie Adams, who was to play his wife, Andrew Stevens and Sam J. Jones, his firefighting sons, and Denis Haysbert as one of their fireman chums.

Julie Adams is a supremely talented actress with extensive credits that go back to the Golden Age of Hollywood where she starred opposite many of the great leading men, like Clark Gable. She's probably best known these days by the frat boy cult favorite: The Creature From The Black Lagoon. She played the lovely victim the creature carried away to his lair to await rescue.

Andrew Stevens, the son of the beautiful Stella Stevens, was - and is - a multi-talented artist who acts, writes, directs and has his own production company. Sam J. Jones who had just come off a starring role in Flash Gordon, is no slouch himself when it comes to impressive film and television credits.

You'll recognize Dennis Haysbert,  of course, who reached real fame as the President Of The United States in the mega-popular series, 24, and now is one of the "most trusted men in America" as the spokesman for Allstate Insurance. At the time we knew him from Quincy M.E., The Incredible Hulk, and (moan whimper) Galactica 1980. (Space Croppers)

Okay, great cast, right? Not only that, but Irwin said he was bringing in a whole shitload of freelance writers who would have two-script guarantees and offices on the lot to write them. That way we'd be well ahead of the game before the first show was shot.

Chris and I didn't like the idea of the writers being hired without our input, but their deals had already been negotiated and signed so what the hell could we say? Irwin must have sensed our feelings, because he delivered a double helping of charm.

We went away telling each other what a good deal this was, and what a grand fellow Irwin was, and by the time we had escaped the freeway traffic and smog and arrived at my house, we had pretty much convinced ourselves that we were making the right move.

If you are still wondering how we could have been so stupid, I'm pretty sure I mentioned the fact that we were just out of a three-month WGA strike and broke. Did I not?

Later, when the whole thing went into the shitter, that was the only excuse we had for joining that speeding fire truck to hell.

The first day on the job was good.

TBS (The Burbank Studios) was the last but one film complex in the Valley. (The last was Disney and the pissing Dwarfs, but more on that later.) At that time TBS was the home of Columbia Studios (helmed by Irwin's old buddy Herman Rush), Paramount and Warner Bros. It was a warren of sound stages, warehouses, and streets lined with false front buildings of every variety and age. Vehicles of every description and purpose, some of which could only be imagined, whizzed and rumbled about this way and that. (Full disclosure: Much later we sold a TV series pilot - The Treasure Game - with Herman's adopted son, James. It was done as a "Fantasy Island" spinoff. )

A large water tower with TBS painted on all sides, marked the vast complex from a distance. All the roads leading to TBS were decorated with huge billboards advertising the latest movies and their stars, as were the high walls that surround the lot. There were guarded gates, natch, with nice guards to assist us. We had a brand new pass plastered on the window of Chris' BMW, so we were whisked on through.

We had been assigned Burt Reynold's old offices, which were huge and nicely appointed and came with two secretaries. A very long way from our double-wide trailer parked along the LA River at Universal Studios. Our official parking space was inconveniently located a hundred miles distant, but to save us a minimum twice-daily tram ride, Chris checked out the front of our new office building.

To our pleasant surprise among the parking spaces was one with Burt Reynold's name still painted on it. He was long gone to other projects and other studios so Chris parked his Beemer there, figuring (rightly as it turned out) that nobody would dare question it.

We learned later that down the hall from us were the offices of Falcon Crest, overseen by our old buddy, Jeff (The EatAnter) Freilich. The whole upstairs was given over to Cheech and Chong, who were making a movie and whenever they were home clouds of suspicious-smelling smoke came rolling down the stairs. Chris knew them from his days as the (self-proclaimed) worst PR man in the music business so our visits were welcome.

Sounds super, right? We thought so too. Then - in the very first week - things began to go wrong.

Irwin called us into his office. Larry Heath was there by his side. Irwin didn't look well. Not that he ever looked well, but today was worse.

"Fellas," he said, "I've gotten word from the network that they are changing our timeslot."

Chris and I looked at him with interest. We were set for 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC. A good slot, aimed at a family audience. Maybe they were kicking us up to 9 O'clock, which was cool, because it opened the show to grittier plots and saltier language and situations.

Then Irwin dashed all hope and it was hello Susan (The Censor) Futterman again and here comes that old familiar feeling of the 60 Minutes being rammed up our you know where's.

In other words, we had just been turned into a 7 O'clock show.

The Children's Hour had struck again. And we had the awful feeling that it was going to be Galactica 1980 all over again.

Chris and I were so shaken we could hardly speak to one another later on, unless assisted by sufficient quantities of scotch. What was said was incredibly profane, adds nothing to this tale, and so is best left on the Dark Side of your imagination.

The next disaster struck a few days later. Once again we were called into Irwin's office. We were accompanied by Larry and our new tech advisor, (courtesy of the LA County Fire Department) Chief Joe S. Weber.

"Fellas, I called you here to meet our new star," Irwin announced, forcing a smile.

We all looked at each other. What the hell? Lorne was the star, right?

"Since we have been moved back to 7 O'clock," Irwin went on, "the Network, in its wisdom, thought we needed a younger person to play Lorne's adopted son." The adopted son in question was supposed to be a recently ex-delinquent kid Lorne and his sons had rescued from the streets. All the scripts that contained that character had been aimed at gangs and other gritty situations.

Larry asked, "Who's it going to be, Irwin?"

Irwin coughed into his hand. Later, we would learn that this was a sign that his stomach was quarreling with its contents.

Another forced smile. "Adam Rich," he said.

"Shit," Chris opined, "you mean the little rug rat from Eight Is Enough?"

Irwin winced at Chris' word usage, but nodded. "None other," he said. "The Network assured me that he's easily worth six ratings points."

Larry sighed. "Did they say plus or minus, Irwin?"

Irwin's eyes glittered. He was starting to get angry. The intercom buzzed, announcing the arrival of Mr. Rich and his mother and saving Larry from Irwin's wrath.

"Now, remember, he may be young, but he's still a star. A little star, but a star nonetheless," Irwin warned us. "So be nice to him."

The door began to open.

All of us put on welcoming smiles and looked at the spot we thought he would first appear. But in a flash we realized we were looking up way too far. And then we looked down, and down, and then down some more.

Right about door knob level.

And there, a short, plump boy with an immaculately coiffed Prince Valiant haircut and chronically blinking eyes appeared.

As we rose to greet him, I heard Chief Weber whisper, "I knew he was short. But not that short!"

Then his mother followed and a younger, and yes it was possible, shorter version of Mr. Rich. His brother. Both kids looked terrified and jumped and jerked whenever their mother said a word.

Irwin reached out a hand, turning on all his charm. "Welcome, Adam," he said. "Welcome to Code Red."

Adam briefly touched Irwin's hand, then primped his hair. "Thanks," he said in a voice we could barely hear.

"Fuck," I heard Chris mutter.

Later, on the way over the hill where home and lots of scotch awaited, I asked Chris, "How bad do you think it's going to be?"

Chris shook his head. "We're fucking tits up in the sun, Cole," he said. "Code Red has gone to Code Dead."



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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