• Some of the plots and dialogue on The Dick Van Dyke Show came from real life. The episode “A Bird in the Head Hurts!” was about a bird stalking Ritchie to get locks of his hair for her nest. (This actually happened to a neighbor of series creator Carl Reiner.) The advice given to Laura Petrie in the episode — “Let him wear a pith helmet” — was actually spoken by an ASPCA officer. In the episode “Never Name a Duck,” the Petrie family acquires two ducks as pets for Ritchie. (In real life, the Reiner family had acquired two ducks as pets for the children.) One duck died and the other duck soon appeared to be ill. The line about the ill duck — “He looks pale!” — was spoken in real life by Mr. Reiner’s wife, Estelle.
• For a while, Marc Cherry, the openly gay creator of TV’s Desperate Housewives, named every episode after a song title by Stephen Sondheim. This got Mr. Sondheim’s attention, and Mr. Sondheim sent him this note: “Next time you’re in town, give me a call and you can tell me how much you like my work.” (Mr. Sondheim can get away with messages like that because he is so successful and because he is over 75 years old.) In fact, Mr. Cherry did get to have dinner with and spend five hours talking to Mr. Sondheim.
• During the McCarthy era, and for a while after it, many excellent writers were blacklisted, meaning that they could not work in the entertainment industry. In practice, however, many of these writers continued to work, but their work appeared under the names of other people. For example, a blacklisted writer wrote an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, but the writer’s name listed on the credits was chosen at random from the Los Angeles phone book.
Actors and Acting
• Actors often know their own limitations. Early in his career, E.A. Southern tried to act the roles of tragic heroes but discovered that he was not very good at them and so performed other kinds of roles on the stage. He once told theatrical critic John Rankin Towse about a conversation that he had had with fellow actor Edwin Booth: “We were talking, among other things, of Will Stewart, the old dramatic critic, and his capacity for apt and cutting definition. By way of illustration I quoted his remark about my Claude Melnotte, that it ‘exhibited all the qualities of a poker except its warmth.’” Mr. Southern then added, “I suppose that my performance was about as bad as anything ever seen upon the stage.” Mr. Booth chuckled and then asked, “You never saw my Romeo, did you?”
• Early in his acting career, Sheldon Leonard competed for parts with Sam Levene because they played similar characters. In a road production of Three Men on a Horse, Mr. Leonard played a comedic part that Mr. Levene had originated on Broadway. During a dress rehearsal, Mr. Levene stopped by — not to watch Mr. Leonard, but to time his laughs to see if Mr. Leonard was getting bigger laughs than he had gotten. After an especially long laugh, Mr. Levene turned to Mr. Leonard’s wife, who was also standing in the back of the theater, and snarled, “What did he do? Drop his pants?
• When British actor Hugh O’Brian was visiting in New York City and feeling prosperous and famous, a woman said to him, “Excuse me, but would you be kind enough to tell me your name?” Mr. O’Brian also felt mischievous, so he replied, “Certainly, madam, my name’s Natalie Wood.” The woman turned to her companion and said, “There you are — I told you I was right.”
• Filmmaker John Waters once received a resume from a 16-year-old boy whose only acting experience was playing the Easter Bunny in a grade-school play. He offered the boy an acting job, but the boy’s parents vetoed his acting career.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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