This is a kind of apology. An explanation, not an excuse. Or at least not one that will hold water. If everyone used the excuse “I was a little down for eight months” (and nearly everyone might), we’d all be full-time hand-wringers, stopping only for intake and outgo. If you stop eating and excreting, you have bigger problems than what you should put on your blogsite.
But I digress. I like to digress early, get it out of the way.
Last year, I had been tooling along dropping the occasional post into the mix, keeping it nostalgic and light, trying to avoid doing an all-inclusive “We’re Losing Too Many Cool People” post, when something happened that made it an “excrete or get off the pot” situation. (Okay, dropping that metaphor, stat).
The Missus, the daughter and I were at home watching a movie. My phone heralded a text from my manager, Harriet. A glance took in “Sorry…Garry Marshall…know what he meant…” and I hit pause on the movie and on all other thoughts for a while. I called Garry’s sister, Penny, for a very rough conversation about losing the irreplaceable. Even knowing better than I how ill Garry was, Penny voiced what was in my mind, too: that it somehow didn’t seem possible he was gone.
I told Penny what I had told her brother when I saw him a few months earlier: “Thank you for my life”, I said. He had seemed bemused by this, then quickly and characteristically segued into straight praise for me and my work and his pride therein, but he got the message. I’m sure he had heard such words over the years from hundreds of actors, writers, directors and so on. He was a man who never forgot those who helped him when he was breaking into the business and inspired (not demanded) a similar appreciation from those of us to whom he gave a major boost at a crucial time.
I was a double-boost specimen.
In late 1975, Laverne and Shirley had gotten a green light from ABC/Paramount. The Happy Days spin-off was busy assembling a writing staff and cast to support Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka in their effort to make Milwaukee silly. Penny suggested hiring, as writers, David L. Lander, Harry Shearer and myself, then operating under the banner of The Credibility Gap. Not only could we help cook up the comedy, but those weird greaser guys David and I had on speed-dial might serve as helpful foils for the title pair. We attended a party at the home of Penny and her then husband, Rob Reiner. Rob helpfully prompted DL and me to “do the boys” (then known as “Lenny and Ant’ny”) to the approval of some of the new show’s creative team, also in attendance. Garry Marshall got a load of us in his office the very next Monday, and Boost Number One was in the books.
Six years into the L&S experience (not always smooth sailing; more about that never), Garry was directing his theatrical feature debut, Young Doctors in Love. It was essentially Airplane in a hospital-soap setting, glossy and goofy by turns. Garry thought I would work as a kind of straight man for a movie-full of lunatics. It was my first starring role and it sure as hell wouldn’t have been mine without the director’s support. I had a friend in court, and got to do the movie.
Garry also helped me craft a unique rider for my 1982 Laverne & Shirley contract . It essentially stated that if party McKean got a go-ahead on the long-a’borning Spinal Tap project, then said party needn’t fulfill the bit about acting in the “back nine” L&S shows in that fractured eighth and final season. Garry made this happen because he knew it was important to me.
We came close to working together a few other times. When he didn’t use me, I had no regrets (aside from the usual gimme-gimmes endemic to any actor’s psyche) because he always cast the right person instead. Me in Jason Alexander’s part in Pretty Woman? Or Ed Herrmann’s in Overboard? No, me neither.
Anyway, time marched on, as it does. Whenever I saw Garry, it was always a good thing. I never laid my gratitude on the table, though, because I thought it was obvious. But that last time at the new TV Academy in North Hollywood (in your dreams, I’ll call it NoHo), I felt I had to say it plainly and simply, “Thank you for my life”. It was not hyperbole.
I tried to write something about Garry the night we heard he had died, but it kept oozing into general malaise, a bleak landscape of loss. I couldn’t write at the high level of complete inconsequence I’d come proudly to settle for. The year-long reaper-activity in the arts, combined with the looming election (and its emerging cast of sketchy bit-players), were enough to discourage any expression longer than a hundred and forty characters.
I’m better now. And I don’t claim it’s been a Boschian Hell for Mikey and Co. I did work that I’m proud of. I watched the Cubs, of all people, win the World Series. I saw my son get married, my daughters thrive, my wife do great work, all of which conspired, as Huck put it, to keep the dull times off. I’m a lucky fellow, no doubt.
I will return soon, and with some regularity. I needed a little time off, but now I’m prepared to resume this enterprise. Not too much politics though, because there’s a surfeit of same in everyone’s grill these days. Although, full disclosure: my keyboard is stenciled THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.
Well, that wasn’t much of an apology. But it was an opportunity to suggest we all do this: remember the ones who helped us along the way. And when they leave this world, and they (we) all do, we should make note, share the shareable, and make sure they are not forgotten.
And one more bit of Twain for the road: “Let us endeavor so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry”.
Next time, “Ultimate Bowling: Too Violent? Or Not Violent Enough?”