June 7, 2001
ONE OF THE GREAT things about writing comic books is also one of the bad things: It demands constant and consistent output
over a long period of time. To make anything resembling a living, you have to write three or four complete stories a month, often juggling them
simultaneously, finishing one and then leaping, sans hiatus, to the next. The playwright, George S. Kaufman, once said to Irving
Thalberg, when Thalberg was demanding a certain script be handed in, "Do you want it good or do you want it Thursday?" Writing comics is one of
those fields where the answer is, "We want it as good as you can make it by Thursday." The assembly-line hand-offs require us to keep churning
it out. And churning it out and churning it out.
There have been some very prolific writers in comic history — Robert Kanigher, Joe Gill, Gardner Fox, Paul S. Newman, Vic Lockman
— and while he might fall short of matching those gents in page count, no one has maintained a consistent standard over more tales than Denny
O'Neil. Folks who recall his fine work on Batman and on Green Lantern/Green Arrow sometimes forget that all of that represents a
fraction of the work he's done...and not a very large fraction. How does he do it? He tells some (not all) in a new book out any day
now...The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. I'm among several "guest lecturers" who inhabit its pages but never mind that. Anyone
who aspires to be a writer — and not just a comic book writer but a writer of anything — can profit from reading what Denny has to
say about story construction, pacing, crafting expressive dialogue, etc. End of plug.
I WANT TO ELABORATE on something mentioned earlier here. There have been many histories written or, more often, written
and televised about the making of Sid Caesar's various TV shows: Admiral Broadway Revue, Your Show of Shows, Caesar's Hour, Sid Caesar Invites
You, As Caesar Sees It and a couple of subsequent specials. Way too often, they treat the whole body of work as if it were one program
called Your Show of Shows. Not true. Then they act as if anyone who was a writer on any of them was a writer on Your Show of
Shows. Also not true. And, most annoyingly, they focus disproportionately on those writers who are today well-known for their other
work — especially Woody Allen, who actually did relatively little work for Caesar and did it later, when Sid was generally in decline.
The core of Caesar's writing staff over the years was Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen and Mel Brooks plus Neil and Danny Simon. To this were added,
at various times — but after Your Show of Shows — Tony Webster, Larry Gelbart, Sheldon Keller, Gary Belkin, Aaron Ruben, Selma
Diamond, Joe Stein, Lou Solomon, Mike Stewart, Woody Allen and a few others. Sid, Carl Reiner and Howie Morris were also involved in the
writing process, though they did not receive credit as writers.
For what it's worth, when I worked with Sid in the eighties, he told me that, as far as he was concerned, Kallen and the two Mels had
probably, between the three of them, accounted for around 75% of everything he did on TV...and Imogene Coca felt that Kallen had written most of her
best material. So it was a little maddening that, when Lucille Kallen passed away, most of the obits made it sound like her great achievement
was being one of the writers, along with Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen, on Your Show of Shows. (Larry spends a lot of time correcting
people who think he worked on that series and also that he somehow "created" M*A*S*H, long after it was a book and a movie.)
This may all seem kinda trivial, and perhaps it is. But if we can't get this stuff right when most of the people involved are
still alive and being interviewed, what hope do we have of knowing who did what, a hundred years from now?
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Starting Monday, June 11, the Trio cable network is running old episodes of Rowan and Martin's
Laugh-In, Monday through Friday...and they're running them in the hour format, with only a few trims to accommodate more commercials. These
shows were briefly (and unsuccessfully) syndicated in chopped-up half-hours some time ago; oughta be interesting to see them today. Of course,
unless you have a satellite dish, you probably won't. Not very many cable companies in this country carry Trio.
GOOD ARTICLE by Michael Kinsley (here) on the
Republicans' silly belief that they have some sort of mandate or entitlement to lead. What I'd like to see is someone point up the inherent
silliness of talking about "the reds vs. the blues" and showing the map of which states went for Gore and which went for Bush. They keep
talking like everyone in the blue states voted for Gore and everyone in the red went for Bush. Here's Jonah Goldberg in The National Review...
Everyone knows what RvB refers to. The electoral map of the United States shows a stark political split in America that tracks
geographically. The blue parts hug the coasts and the major urban centers. This is Gore country. The red parts form the vast bulk
of the United States — "fly-over country" according to people who order off-menu. This is Bush country.
Will someone point out to these people that the red states are full of Gore supporters? (Bush won Nevada 49%-46% and Tennessee
51%-48%) And the blue states are full of people who wanted Bush. (Gore won Iowa 49%-48% and Oregon by less than 1%) Gore won New
Mexico by less than 400 votes and, of course, we all know about Florida. Even the landslide states contain hundreds of thousands of Americans
who wanted the other guy. Why are we pretending they don't exist and that the whole state represents one mindset? Frankly, I think most
of the states should be colored purple.
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