Luck is not something you can brag about because you had nothing to do with making it happen. It is also unlike “blue eyes” or a “cute nose”, because those things are permanent – you do not suddenly grow a gigantic honker one day and your old nose reappears a day later. Luck, on the other hand, is not permanent. Nobody I know is always lucky. If they were, they’d be living permanently in Las Vegas, or, more likely, own it.
I consider these thoughts because I am aware what I am about to write and I do not want it to sound like I think I am congenitally lucky. I do not believe in that. And even if I did, I would not talk about it, for fear it would be bad luck. I know that’s a contradiction, but so, on various occasions, am I.
Having said all that in italics, I want to talk about luck. And the role luck plays it the way things turn out.
So here goes.
I have written about “It’s who you know” in the context of show business success. “Who you know” is a real and helpful advantage. It can often get you “in the door.” But if you stink, it cannot keep you in the building. At least not for long. Unless you stink but you’re charming. In which case… man, I hate those ingratiating successes.
I have also written – at least I think I have though I can’t always remember – about talent – the meat and potatoes of extended careers. There is only so far you can go on connections or an impeccable wardrobe featuring pastel-colored sweaters in a surprising array of colors. In the end, you have to do something. Skillfully. Again and again and again.
Even so, beyond “Who you know” or how appealingly you present yourself, or even how naturally gifted you are…
You gotta have luck.
Three brief personal stories from earlier days but within a contracted period of time when things went happily, repeatedly and inexplicably…
In my mid-twenties, I had virtually no money whatsoever and two roommates. Because I virtually no money whatsoever. We split the rent three ways, my contribution coming from a twenty-five-dollar-a-week writing job. (Before that, I was living alone in a basement apartment next to the furnace and the other tenants referred to me as “The Mole.” Rent: A mere fifteen dollars a week. I know it was a long time ago, but even then, fifteen bucks was a cost of a medium-priced breakfast. (If you left a generous tip, and you rounded up.)
Then, one of my roommates got married and moved out, meaning that the rent would now have to be split two ways. When that happened, however, suddenly, without warning or any effort on my part, I was offered another writing job. With the combined income from, now, two jobs, I was able to afford half the rent.
Then, the second roommate got married and moved out. The two of us had been living in a two-bedroom apartment, and with my roommate’s departure, the rent was now entirely on my shoulders. I was thinking seriously about moving.
“Un-expected-ly”, as the lyric goes in “Beauty and the Beast”, a third writing job materialized to supplement the other two. I could now cover the rent on my own.
“Luck”, Part Deux.
FLASH SOMEWHAT FORWARD:
I am now working on a Canadian variety series, making seven hundred and fifty dollars a week, the most money I had to date ever received in a single paycheck. I get a call from Lorne Michaels who had a year earlier relocated to Hollywood. (This was long before Saturday Night Live.)
Lorne informs me that he is producing a special starring Lily Tomlin, and he wants me to come down and write for the show. The salary would be twenty-five hundred dollars for four weeks’ work. (And then I’d be done.)
I explain to Lorne that I am currently making seven hundred and fifty dollars a week, and that the job is expected to last for four months. (And even longer, if the series is picked up.) Opting for the higher paycheck and the greater job security, I turn down Lorne’s invitation to work in Hollywood.
And they said on the show Ren and Stimpy – I no longer recall if it was “Ren” or it was “Stimpy” –
But that’s what I did.
Four month later, the Canadian series I was writing for was cancelled. I was now entirely out of work.
I swear to you, two days after the notification that our jobs would be ending, I receive a second call from Lorne Michaels.
The Lily Tomlin special had been postponed and would be going into production the following week. Was I interested in working on it?
I enthusiastically said yes.
(When I related this story, my daughter Anna observed, “Whoa, Dad. ‘Opportunity’ knocked twice!”)
“Luck” a fortuitous third time, as my work on the Lily Tomlin special inaugurated a television-writing career that proceeded for thirty years.
I have no idea how luck works. But when it does,
It is well worth noticing.
And perhaps saying, “Thank you.”