Over the years, I have had “Letters-to-the-Editor” published in The Los Angeles Times. I have also had a couple of commentaries published on their “op-ed” section. I am demonstrably no stranger to that arena.
Still, when a year or so back, I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine that required immediate comment, to my surprise, chagrin and disappointment, I found myself uncharacteristically inert.
I am correcting that error of dereliction – or whatever it was – today.
I am belatedly writing that Rolling Stone “Letter to the Editor”…
Hoping that, like some misdirected correspondence, it will inevitably arrive at its appropriate destination.
I just want to get it out of my system.
And shine a light on a more generalized concern.
I am not a regular reader of Rolling Stone. (When it comes to magazine consumption, I read The New Yorker and The Atlantic, although I have been recently swimming away from The Atlantic.) (Full Disclosure: I once submitted a commentary to The Atlantic, with an accompanying cover letter saying that theirs was one of just two magazines I read regularly, and the only one named after an ocean. They rejected my commentary.)
It was a “Perfect Storm” situation, if a “Perfect Storm,” can involve only two elements, which may, on reconsideration, not entirely be enough. Let’s say it was a somewhat serious storm.
The intersecting elements?
There was a Rolling Stone profile about Lorne Michaels. And I was in a doctor’s office Waiting Room. (The doctor determined that the room live up to its delineated reputation.) I had no choice but to read it. I had already flipped through People and Us, and had grown tired of pictures of pregnant superstars frolicking at the beach.
The Rolling Stone profile of Lorne Michaels chronicled his inexorable rise to media moguldom. None of the specifics were unfamiliar to me, as I had known Lorne since the 60’s, when he was my brother Hart’s writing partner. When Lorne subsequently decamped on his own to Los Angeles, he soon invited me down there to work with him.
Included also in our long-ago interaction was the crossroadsing interlude where Lorne had tried to recruit me to join him during the fledgling, pre-production period of Saturday Night Live and I had respectfully turned him down, preferring instead to remain in Los Angeles and develop a television-writing career of my own.
(Which I did.)
Anyway, early in the Rolling Stone’s profile – which reads like liner notes from a impending coronation program – I discover a big, factual – what do they call it in the journalistic profession? –
Oh yeah. A boo-boo.
Triggering the “Letter to the Editor” that I never wrote, (if you can “trigger” an occurrence that did not ultimately take place, which I am now thinking you can’t.)
As I mentioned, I am no alien to “Letters to the Editor.” I know, for example, that to have any chance of getting it published, the letter needs to be relevant, short, and to the point, leaving room for other “Letters to the Editor” concerning global warming, international terrorism, and dog-walkers who are unwilling to pick up their pet canines’ poo-poo.
Okay, here’s what happened.
Comedy-writing team Hart and Lorne – the “name order” reflecting their comparative importance at the time – had gone to Los Angeles to write, first for The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show and, after that show was cancelled, for the megahit variety series Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.”
Having been let go from Laugh-In after half a season, Hart and Lorne then returned to Canada, where, for three seasons, they produced, co-wrote (with some help), and starred in four TV comedy specials a year under the exuberant moniker, The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour.
When that job ended, Hart and Lorne dissolved their partnership. Lorne eventually went back to the States, where he went on to create Saturday Night Live and garner an unquestionably deserved knighthood. Oh, wait. America does not dispense knighthoods. So they awarded him the Mark Twain Prize for Humor instead. Even though that honor is traditionally accorded to writers and Lorne Michaels is primarily a producer. But what are you going to do if you can’t give a guy a knighthood?
To his journalistic discredit, the Rolling Stone writer (whose name I do not recall) had flipped the order of occurrences, having Lorne doing the Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour before moving on – and up – to writing for Laugh-In, rather than after.
I do not know why he did that. It could have been accidental. It could have been sloppiness. It could have been because it seemed like it was a better story that way, elevating Lorne, “straight-line” fashion, from the Canadian backwater to the “Big Time” in the States, rather than chronicling, as it actually happened, Lorne’s initial failure in the States, his return to Canada to regroup, and his subsequent return to the States, and eventual stratospheric success. (Which, when you think about it, is actually a more interesting story.)
It is then that I imagined composing an irate “Letter to the Editor”, a stinging rebuke that, dutifully chastened, I was certain the people at Rolling Stone would be eager to publish.
It would go like this:
To the Editors of Rolling Stone: I have read this issue’s Lorne Michaels profile with great interest. However I must to inform you that the chronology of the biography has been inverted. Lorne Michaels wrote for “Laugh-In” before working on the “Terrific Hour”, rather than the other way around. I know that, because I was there.
“You might think this is hardly an egregious mistake. But it made me wonder. If you got something I know about wrong, what else in your magazine is wrong that I don’t know about? And what does that do to my trust in your overall credibility?
Santa Monica, California.
(Author’s Note: The above letter is too long. But when it comes to “Fantasy Writing”, there is a tendency to cut yourself some literary slack.)
The implications here are far greater than the triviality of a messed-up Lorne Michaels profile.
Think about it.
Your opinions, your understandings, the beliefs on which you base your personal conclusions.
Where did they originally come from?
And what if where they originally came from got it wrong?