Friday, July 2, 2021

A Blast from the Past


The roll call I put together in a recent column of “dearly departed” folks with whom I have worked in show business elicited a lot of comment from readers of these notes, partially (I believe) because the list was so long. It is one of the side effects of being in a business where one’s colleagues are older. That was most certainly true for me at the outset of my career in 1959.


At MGM, where I started right out of college, I was at least 20 years junior to anyone else in my department. It was the era memorialized in the film, The Last Picture Show. Movie theatres all over America had closed and the studios that supplied the films for those now empty houses were hardly a growth industry. That pretty much explained why I was the only member of the so-called Silent Generation in the building; to most of my contemporaries Hollywood must  have looked like a poor place to begin any kind of a career. I rationalized the move as part of my understanding of the philosophy of contrary opinion. Simply put: when everyone else is zigging… zag.


In the late 1960s, on my first producer job (Daniel Boone), my associate producers, Joe Silver and Merwin Gerard were closer to my father’s age than my own. Ted Schilz, my production manager was at least a decade older than I, and even older than that were my three top directors Bill Wiard, Jerry Juran and John Newland.


There was one exception, an Associate Producer who was six months younger than I. He was my first hire for my second year on the series and I write about this now because it only recently came to my attention that this alumnus of mine had also passed on. It merits comment as I reminisce, because of all the folks on that long list of the departed, this was one I absolutely do not---and will not---miss.


I was at my desk when I belatedly learned of the passing of this former associate. It was a rainy June afternoon on my Island Paradise, gloomy enough for reflection, recollection, and then (ultimately) the referral to notes I had made in the long ago. It had been over 50 years since I had hired this young (to everyone but me) associate producer. And, to everyone but me, it was clear that the mistake I had made in doing so was huge. I spent months defending him as well as my initial decision to bring him on board. The majority proved out to be right, as more and more my unpopular minion demonstrated a pathological need to “stir the pot,” culminating in his even turning against the one defender/benefactor he had left. The pain he was to cause me in the years that followed came crashing over my memory like the California surf of my youth.


I began to write fast and furiously, recalling with the help of my copious and contemporaneous notes, this Iago-like minion who tried so hard---and in so many ways succeeded---to cause me harm. As if by reflex, others in my rogues’ gallery came to mind. One who has passed on, and two others who, judging by actuarial tables, may soon join my little list of the never-will-be-missed. At least by me. When one considers the cutthroat reputation assigned to show business, it is a remarkably short compilation. Still, there is a lot of rich material there: one former boss, one erstwhile Network chief, and one other used-to-be-boss. These last two still linger on the planet, lending credibility to the poetic statement that only the good die young.


I pounded my keyboard, writing at length about each of them. It was not merely cathartic, the naming of names and the calling out of the villains of my life added (I thought) verisimilitude. More than one of my editors wrinkled their collective noses at what I had written. They considered it bad taste…or at the least…inappropriate, no matter how purifying it felt to me.                                                                                                   


Chastised, I nevertheless wondered what authority had decreed not to speak ill of the dead? Turns out it was Chilon of Sparta (6th century BC). His admonition (“De mortuis nil nisi bonum”) does have a ring to it. Still, I am betting he never had a career in show business.



Barney Rosenzweig



No comments: