Friday, December 24, 2010

"Long Overdue"

This is the one before Christmas. This one is traditionally overflowing with generosity, good cheer, an openhearted spirit, and a love for all Peoplekind.
Though, should you be susceptible to certain ethnic and temperamental proclivities, it may also include
It comes with the territory. Even on Christmas.
I call this “Long Overdue”, because it’s long overdue. It’s not clever, but it’s accurate.
You see, I owe somebody. Big time. This person contributed significantly to making my career possible. And over almost seven hundred and fifty blog posts, my acknowledgment of that contribution somehow completely slipped my mind.
Vehry intehresting.
Shut up.
I’ve paid tribute to my brother, who I appreciatively call “The Snow Plow.” (He cleared the way for me.) I’ve acknowledged Lorne Michaels for getting me to Los Angeles. But this guy, in his way, did as much for me, or more. And I’ve consistently disincluded him from the “Thank you’s.”
Well, that’s about to be corrected. During this season of gift giving, I thought I would bestow upon myself the gift of belatedly doing the right thing. And upon him, the gift of public recognition.
Well, semi-public.
I can’t say his whole name. He’s kind of a Fugitive from Justice. Also, with a few exceptions, like when I’m really feeling vindictive, I feel uncomfortable revealing somebody else’s story without their prior agreement. I can’t ask for this guy’s agreement, because I have no idea where he is. Though I think it’s in Canada. Or someplace else. I just know it’s not in the United States. For it is in that country where he is a Fugitive from Justice.
The man I’ll call Sheldon, because that’s his name, was a deserter from the army during the Viet Nam War. As I recall the story, Sheldon had been given a “Military Police” assignment, and in the course of carrying out his duties, he had realized, “Yeah, I can’t do this”, and had relocated himself to Canada, where he’d be free from arrest for not liking military service, and for consequently taking a hike.
Sheldon was a writer. Since moving to Toronto, he’d had several plays produced, whose scripts I had read when he was hired to work on a TV show I was also working on, produced by Lorne Michaels, who at the time was doing a series of one-hour variety specials with my brother, called The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour.
The thing I recall most about Sheldon’s plays were the angry feelings expressed by the characters and the colorful language they used to express those feelings. I don’t know if the plays were any good, because these jarring elements interfered with my appreciation of the work.
Incongruously, Sheldon himself was milder than Ivory Soap. Soft-spoken and gentle, Sheldon was as quiet as his plays were noisy, reminding me once again that writers come in various packages. They’re not all closet performers. Some emote on paper, and that’s all they need.
Having constructed an outline of a short film, Sheldon submitted it to Lorne for consideration on the show. It was about a baby who’d been born a clown, and the complications consequent therefrom.
Lorne liked the idea, but thought it needed funnying up. He turned to me, because of my track record in that regard – I had written comedic short films for two previous Hart and Lorne shows.
One was entitled, “The Puck Crisis”, which concerned a devastating blight affecting the most recent crop of hockey pucks, the results of which threatened the upcoming NHL season.
The other short film, “Baffin Island” involved a remote island in Canada’s Northwest Territories, that, having been insulted once too often by the Dominion to which it belonged, decided to venture forth economically on their own (their only export was snow) and form a separate country, complete with a new language (to make things easier, they simply gave English words different meanings) and their own National Anthem (for which there was a contest).
Sheldon and I partnered up to write “The Clown Movie.” What sticks most strongly in my mind is the “Opening Scene”, set in a hospital room, the proud father and medical staff gathered around the bed as the mother draws back the blanket, revealing the New Arrival, who has entered the world with a wild main of frizzy red hair, powdery-white skin, a bulbous, Rudolph-like nose, and enormous feet.
A natural born clown.
The seven-minute or so film was included in the final outing of The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. And that was that.
Somewhat later, a year, maybe a little more, Lorne was in Hollywood, schmoozing with the stars, one of whom was Lily Tomlin, whom Lorne had befriended. Wait, Lily was bigger back then. Lily befriended him.
Lily wanted Lorne to produce her next comedy special, and Lorne said sure. In the course of the “getting to know you” process, Lorne showed Lily tapes of his work, including Hart and Lorne special that contained “The Clown Movie.” Lily instantly identified with the protagonist’s outsider status, and requested an adaptation of the material for her show.
To be written by “The Clown Movie’s” original writers.
That’s how I got to Los Angeles.
My co-writer didn’t get to go.
Because he was a deserter.
I owe him.
And on this day before Christmas,
I gratefully acknowledge the debt.
Merry Christmas, Everyone.
And especially Sheldon.


MikeAdamson said...

I still regale my children with some of the entries from the Baffin Island national anthem contest...too funny! I hope all is well with Sheldon and Merry Christmas to all.

Rebecca said...

I thought that a kind of blanket amnesty was issued for all of those guys who went to Canada. Didn't Jimmy Carter do that? I could be wrong, a lot of that area is a little foggy in my memory. But maybe Sheldon has been living happily in the States for a few decades now. Still, the acknowledgment is nice.

Also, have you checked You Tube for some of that stuff? You should post links for those of us who haven't seen it, if copies exist. You know we'd love to see it.

Gary said...

Rebecca is correct, Pres. Carter did grant amnesty to all the Sheldons of that era. He can come home now. But he probably has, many times.

Best of the season to you and yours, Earl, and to my peers who are also Just Reading.