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Recommended Reading

Fred Kaplan on the current talks with Iran about deprogramming their nuclear program. I'm currently trying to hold my own talks with various delicatessens about eliminating "weapons-grade" cole slaw.

Still More About Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols once gave his five rules for filmmaking…

  1. The careful application of terror is an important form of communication.
  2. Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.
  3. There's absolutely no substitute for genuine lack of preparation.
  4. If you think there's good in everybody, you haven't met everybody.
  5. Friends may come and go, but enemies will certainly become studio heads.

And I believe the last time he won a Tony, he said his acceptance speech that his philosopy was, "Cheer up. Life isn't everything." Quite apropos tonight.

A Good Question

So, uh, why is Peter Pan usually played by a woman?

More on Mike Nichols

Todd McCarthy writes about the career of Mike Nichols.

I would recommend to you the commentary track Nichols did for the DVD of the movie, Catch-22. I am not recommending the movie, which I think was at best a noble attempt to film the unfilmable. But the commentary track on the DVD is fascinating and fun…and actually made me appreciate the film a bit more. (The DVD is five bucks now but I'm not certain this version has the commentary track.) [UPDATE: Several readers have written in to tell me it does. Proceed at your own risk.]

Thoughts on Mr. Cosby

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You can kind of tell Bill Cosby is in serious trouble because the photos of him have all gone from looking like the one at left above to looking like the one at right above. Much the same change has occurred in a lot of minds.

Like most of you, I try to hold the thought that he has not been convicted or even charged by police, and that there are a few possibly hinky things in the accounts of a few of the women who've come forth to accuse him of drugging and raping them. Still, you take those hinky details away and you still have a lot of women telling much the same story without a visible motive to lie.

Last night at a writers' gathering, I overheard folks talking about the matter. One said he wasn't convinced to which another said, "What if it was twenty-five women? Fifty? How many it would it take?" The first one admitted that the number was probably more like ten, and there are already more than ten. Still, he wanted to believe it was not so. Cosby's refusal to offer any explanation or convincing denial has also probably convinced a lot of people he did it.

I'm trying to invent a scenario where he comes out of this okay and goes back to being Bill Cosby. I can't. And maybe one of the reasons he's not going on TV to try and deny it is that he can't, either. He'd have to say all these women are lying and that would (a) embolden them to repeat the charges louder, (b) cause him to be accused of trashing his victims, (c) maybe bring forth other accusers and (d) not be believed by very many people. He may try it but on a "nothing to lose" basis, which is not a good reason to do anything.

Where's this all heading? I'm thinking that depends on two things. One is what else comes out. Are there other scandals and charges lurking out there? And if so, are any of them still actionable, still within the Statute of Limitations? The other question is what the public does.

All the venues where Cosby is booked to do concerts seem to be going ahead with them. Will people stop showing up to them? Will protesters appear outside with angry signs? How long before Cosby is in the middle of a monologue about parenting and some audience member yells out a remark about rape? I can't imagine this man turning around the downward trajectory of his reputation but I can sure imagine him being shunned clear out of public life.

He doesn't need the money. He probably figures he needs to just keep going, act normal, make like this is all some minor misunderstanding…and hope that when he dies, the obits don't mention rape accusations in the early paragraphs.

It's all so sad. The guy was such a great comedian. Around 1982, in a story I told here, I was in Reno working on his opening act so I got to see him perform four shows over two nights. He was so terrific and I don't just mean that he made everyone laugh. We all just loved him. He did what he did on that stage about as well as anyone ever has or ever will. And now I look back on that and think, "1982 is when Janice Dickinson says he drugged her and raped her in Lake Tahoe, just a few miles from Reno." It's hard to get that out of your head.

Mike Nichols, R.I.P.

The great, universally-admired director Mike Nichols has left us at age 83. I have nothing to say other than that he sure gave us some wonderful plays and motion pictures. Before that, he did some now-legendary work as an actor and improv comedian, usually in tandem with Elaine May. Anthony Tollin suggested I link to this famous sketch the two of them did, in this case on The Jack Paar Show. One hopes and presumes the Nichols family is not going through anything of the sort right now…

Letters, We Get Letters…

Todd Klein is one of the best comic book letterers in the field. It's a profession that has largely transitioned from working with pen and ink on the artwork to working in Adobe Illustrator on a computer. Recently, Todd did a stunning amount of research to chart the evolution of that change for a seven-part series on his blog. Wanna read it? Start with Part One, then read Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six and Part Seven.

The one omission that struck me in Todd's otherwise exhaustive piece was Stan Sakai, who still letters Groo the Wanderer and his own Usagi Yojimbo the old-fashioned way, right on the art boards. Sergio Aragonés, who of course draws Groo, is well aware of the advantages of computer lettering. It makes it much simpler to translate the work for overseas publication, for instance. Still, there is something comforting about having the lettering right there on the pages he's drawing.

Today's Video Link

The other day, Shelly Goldstein (you all know Shelly Goldstein) and I were talking about the upcoming live TV production of Peter Pan and she said they'd probably cut or rewrite the "Ugga-Wugg" song, the one about Indians that is now far from politically proper. I wasn't as sure but, of course, Shelly was right. She always is. As this article explains, they're changing quite a few songs.

This does not bother me a whole lot. If they're bad songs it will but the mere fact that the show is being rewritten is not a deal-breaker for me. The Cathy Rigby production of the show dropped the "Mysterious Lady" number and was much better for it. It's a stupid number that added to the general sexual confusion of the show.

In the Mary Martin version, you had this adult woman (Mary was 47 the last time she played "The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up" on television) and Cyril Ritchard playing Captain Hook as very foppish — his feet touched the ground less than Peter's — and then along comes this song. Peter pretends to be a woman so you have someone who could have been a grandmother playing an adolescent boy playing a sultry young lady being lusted after by a gay pirate…

The Rigby version was right to cut it. And to go without that ridiculous ballet in which the Darlings' housekeeper somehow, in defiance of the logic behind the fairy dust, manages to fly to Neverland, dance with badly costumed animals, then fly home — all for no visible reason. Plus, they made Hook more menacing and villainous.

There's nothing wrong with changing a show like that if the changes improve it. We'll see if the changes on NBC do but for now, here's the "Ugga-Wugg" song as it was performed by Sandy Duncan — who was a pretty good Pan, too — for the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade one year. I think the "Indians" are wearing body stockings they didn't wear on stage because it was, like, eighteen degrees out there that day. And of course, there's no orchestra or microphones out there so they're lip-syncing…but it's still a pretty good performance.

It's introduced by Ed McMahon whose vertical hold keeps slipping. That's what happens to you when you drink…

Wednesday Morning

Okay, we have more tales from women who say they were raped by Bill Cosby, more attacks on the accusers' credibility and a lot of really clueless, insensitive comments about rape from people who oughta know better and don't. And still silence from the Cosby camp. So how long do we think he's going to be able to get away with this? The man has a series of concert appearances booked — one or two most weekends for months to come. I assume the two last weekend went on without incident or we'd have heard. At some point, they're going to begin getting disrupted or boycotted or even canceled because of these charges.

I'm still glowing a bit from last night's John Cleese/Eric Idle presentation. What a pleasure to sit in what was clearly a very smart, well-informed audience and listed to two smart, clever men speak with great wit and obvious affection for each other. Years ago, I attended a similar conversation in which Mr. Cleese interviewed William Goldman. I wish there was a place on TV for a weekly hour like this and I don't necessarily mean with John Cleese or Eric Idle as host, though either would be smashing. I mean a place where there could be discussions between bright people who were talking about something other than their current product. Jon Stewart occasionally has such chats and there are many podcasts…but podcasts usually lack what was a vital part of last night's event: A live (and smart) studio audience.

One of these days, I will probably have a long post here about one of my pet topics: Creative people being asked to create for little or no money. I am amazed sometimes at the insensitivity some have to the fact that folks who write, draw, act (etc.) do have to pay mortgages, buy groceries, deal with emergencies and so forth. If the creative person is largely unknown, there's the assumption that the exposure and having their work seen should be reward enough. If the creative person is well-known and established, there's the (often erroneous) assumption that they must be flush with cash so they can afford to do freebees. I'll write more about this soon but in the meantime, you might want to read what happened when a hula-hooping wonder named Revolva was asked to work for free…by Oprah Winfrey's company. We all know how Oprah can't afford to pay people.

Today on Stu's Show!

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That's the legendary Cap'n Crunch Bo'sun Whistle that came for a time in Cap'n Crunch cereal back in the sixties.  What was legendary about it?  Well, someone figured out you could use it to make free phone calls anywhere in the world.

Stu's Show today is about Phone Phreaks.  Those are guys who, back when long distance was real expensive, figured out ways to call anywhere for nothing…and an ingenious lot they were.  Ripping off Ma Bell became kind of a fad in some circles and for many, it was not so much a way to save money as it was a way to Beat the System and make a statement for civil disobedience.  Stu has assembled an expert panel to discuss the matter and you'll want to listen in as they discuss this and also some of the amazing telephone lines you could call to get jokes, alternative news, stock tips…all sorts of things.

Stu's Show can be heard live (almost) every Wednesday at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. Webcasts start at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes. They run a minimum of two hours and sometimes go way longer.  Then, not long after a show ends, it's available for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a measly 99 cents each and you can get four shows for the price of three.  It's not as good as swindling the phone company but it's something.

John 'n' Eric

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I'm sure it will surprise absolutely no one that an evening of John Cleese and Eric Idle in conversation would be hilarious…but it was even funnier than that. To promote Mr. Cleese's new book, the two men took the stage this evening and just talked for close to ninety minutes. There seemed to be professional video being shot so perhaps the whole thing will be available somewhere, sometime. I'd sure like to see it again. And again.

They didn't talk a whole lot about Cleese's book. It actually had the feel of two close friends sitting around, telling stories to each other and to a third party, the third party in this case being a packed audience at the Alex Theater in Glendale. Given some of the rumors that have made the rounds, it's probably worth reporting that the two did seem like very close friends and that many compliments flew between them. Cleese was especially effusive about his fellow Python's skills at musical performing and at programming and supervising the big O2 stage show they did as a Farewell Performance.

The funniest thing said will not seem nearly as funny when I type it here but basically, Cleese told about how Graham Chapman — for some ungodly reason — was invited to participate in a debate at Cambridge about nuclear proliferation. Chapman, who knew next to nothing about the topic and had zero to say about it, cheerfully accepted the invite and showed up for the debate dressed as a giant carrot.

Cleese and Idle discussed how they met and how Python came to be, pretty much agreeing on all the details. Both made the point that they always thought of themselves not so much as performers but as writers who got up to perform their own material. Both agreed that while they argued a lot about scripts and what was funny, they never argued over casting and who'd get which roles to play.

Cleese's book, which was available signed but unpersonalized outside the hall, contains the text of several sketches that were written in his pre-Python days. To the delight of everyone, the two men read/performed two of them, which I believe were for At Last, the 1948 Show, a series Cleese did before Python. They had not rehearsed and Idle did not seem terribly familiar with the material but it was very funny and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought, "This must be a lot like how the first reading of a new Monty Python sketch sounded around the table."

Saw a lot of friends there including Paul Dini and Misty Lee, Maurice LaMarche, Billy Riback, Lee Aronsohn, Steve Stoliar, Robert Spina, Jeff Abraham, Howard Green, Arthur Greenwald, Mike Carlin, Eric Goldberg and others I'm forgetting. Kim "Howard" Johnson, who as I mentioned here is traveling with Mr. Cleese, only had a moment to say hi but he did move me and a friend to seats in the third row. I stole the above photo from Kim's Twitter feed which I highly recommend.

About a half-hour after the show let out as I headed for my car, I walked to the back of the Alex and there, not far from my parking space, Mr. Idle was still cheerfully signing autographs for folks and bantering with his fans. I couldn't help but think, "What a nice man."

Soup's On!

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Too much to do today. Looks like I'm not going to have time to blog until later this evening…if then.

Today's Video Link

NBC's live production of Peter Pan airs December 4 and they're now releasing advance clips and behind-the-scenes footage. I don't like to judge something until I experience the finished product but the promotional campaign for this one is going to make that difficult.

To enjoy Peter Pan, the audience has to do a certain amount of pretending. They have to pretend the post-adolescent female in the title role is a boy who never grew up. And they have to pretend they don't see the wires when people fly.

I've probably seen ten different women play Peter, including Mary Martin on the TV versions. Cathy Rigby was the only one who ever managed to make me kinda-forget that I was looking at an adult woman, though Sandy Duncan came close. The shots of Allison Williams make her look to me like a grown lady — or at best, a grown, slightly effeminate man — but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

(Christopher Walken looks and sounds a lot like Christopher Walken. My pal James H. Burns, who sent me this link, wrote, "Is that Chris Walken, or someone doing a Chris Walken impression? I think these days, the answer is "Both.")

You can find the behind-the-scenes videos on your own. Everyone who has ever promoted a production of Peter Pan has shown footage and video of the actors rehearsing in their flying harnesses but I don't recall ever seeing it before I saw the people fly. That will just make it more difficult to not see the wires when the show airs. The way it's supposed to work is that if you must let the audience in on how the magic trick is done, you let them experience it once before you show them the secret and totally demystify things.

I also don't get why Christian Borle is playing Mr. Darling (the father) and Smee. Traditionally, the same actor plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook because the father represents a slightly-villainous authority figure to Wendy, Michael and John. So that connects Dad to the truly-villainous authority figure of Hook they meet in the other reality. Smee doesn't have any corresponding presence in their real lives so why have the same actor double in the two roles? NBC can afford one more SAG-AFTRA member on stage.

Despite it all, I'm still looking forward to this telecast. Here's a peek…

Cosby Comments

Katie McDonough writes about how Bill Cosby is losing control of the narrative; how stonewalling on the allegations against him will no longer work. I think it might if he continues to do concerts and personal appearances without a lot of boycotting and protest demonstrations…but I suspect those are coming soon.

I don't think there's much chance of him appearing for interviews and talk shows unless and until he's willing to deny, confess to or explain the charges. For years, he was a sure-fire guest, a "get" for any program because he was a superstar and he was beloved and he was very funny. But Letterman, for example, is now not going to have the guy on unless he agrees in advance to talk about that topic. Dave doesn't want to be accused of being a timid or compliant interviewer.

I don't know if it's possible for someone under these accusations to "tough it out" but if anyone can, it's probably Cosby. He has money and loads of good will out there. One assumes his announced new NBC show — which might never have reached the air even if these charges hadn't resurfaced — will not happen. If it goes away, his career will just be personal appearances and even without promotion on talk shows, he may be able to continue filling large performance houses. There are a lot of people in this world who don't want to believe he'd do something like that.

Oh…and shouldn't the trashing of the accusers be escalating about now?

Tales of Something or Other #8

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Here's a story I don't think I've told here. For many years, I worked for Hanna-Barbera Studios in two capacities. I was the editor of their comic book department and I was the story editor of the Saturday morning Richie Rich cartoon show. Three capacities, actually, because I also wrote freelance scripts for shows other than Richie Rich.

Those may sound like a few full-time jobs but actually during this time, I was also usually writing a prime-time show or special for (a) Sid and Marty Krofft, (b) Dick Clark or (c) Alan Landsburg and also writing a comic book for DC or a couple for Eclipse or I was working on Groo the Wanderer for whichever company was then publishing it and hadn't yet gone out of business. There were also animation scripts for other studios.

So I was only in the building for maybe ten hours a week, if that much. I actually did most of the comic book work and Richie Rich out of my home (or offices elsewhere) so I told H-B not to give me a big, fancy office in their building. They, of course, gave me a big, fancy office in their building.

That office moved from time to time. At Hanna-Barbera, the floor plan moved more than the cartoons and was often funnier. Where they put me for the longest time was was a good office, well situated between the Xerox room and the office of a wonderful producer-artist named Doug Wildey. Mine sat empty and locked much of the time. In fact, most of the time.

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I kept suggesting I be relocated to some small, crummy spot upstairs and that the big, conveniently-located room go to someone else. This was not just selflessness on my part. I actually thought it would be better for me to be where everyone wouldn't notice how often Mark Evanier's door was locked and he wasn't on the premises. Certain folks would not think, "Oh, he must be doing most of his work at home." They'd think, "Oh, he sure isn't working very hard on our show."

The certain folks who'd think that way would be the people in Business Affairs who were in charge of saying no when a writer's agent asked for more money. Why give them that as a reason to do what they did so well and so often?

The Office Manager Lady did not move me. I mean, physically but also emotionally. Every so often, she'd assign someone to share the place, which was fine with me. It meant my door wouldn't be locked as much when Business Affairs people passed by. It was also usually fine with my roommate since I was so rarely there. Then they'd move that person out and I'd have the place to myself for a while so the door would again be locked a lot.

It was actually a great place during one season when Jonathan Winters was a regular on The Smurfs. When recording sessions let out, everyone exiting the sound studio had to pass by my office. If I was there — and I tried to be when Smurfs was taping — I usually had a gang of other writers in there with me, plotting against management. Mr. Winters loved an audience so he'd appear in my doorway and I'd say something like, "Hello. You were Atilla the Hun's pool boy, right?" Without missing a beat, Jonathan would slide into the appropriate accent and describe the problems of keeping Atilla the Hun's pool clean. One was that it was always full of dead Visigoths.

But that's not the story I wanted to tell. One day, the Office Manager spotted me in the parking lot on the way in and told me, "We just moved someone into your office to share it with you." I said that was fine with me. She didn't tell me who it was so I headed inside to see which lowly, unimportant figure in the animation business was bunking with me now. And there, occupying the west half of what was now our office was Frederick Bean Avery.

You might know him better as Tex Avery, director of some of the funniest, greatest cartoons ever made.

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He had been retired but some combination of restlessness, family problems and money woes had prompted him to get back into the game. He had long had a standing offer from Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera to work for them and he'd taken them up on it.

Tex was a great guy and we got along fine. It didn't bother me that absolutely no one was coming into that office to see me anymore. They flocked there from every corner of the building to meet Tex, to praise Tex, to get a sketch from Tex, to learn from Tex and to be able to say, "I was talking with Tex Avery yesterday…" Bill and Joe had him developing some new shows and adding gags to ones that were currently in production and in need of First Aid. I was almost disappointed he was never assigned to mine.

He worked a lot with another clever old-timer who was on staff, a veteran Disney expatriate named Chuck Couch. One day when I came in, Tex said to me, "Hey, I hope you don't mind but I've asked if they can move me into an office I can share with Chuck. We're doing a bunch of projects together and it makes sense." I said, "Hey, you two can have this place." And off I went to the Office Manager to suggest I take one of the small, cramped offices upstairs and that Tex and Chuck share the big one. She said she'd do just that.

The next time I came in, which was a few days later, I asked the receptionist where my office was now. She said it was in the same place. I went to it and, sure enough, there was all my stuff…and none of Tex's. I found him and Chuck crammed into one of those small, cramped rooms upstairs with no idea what had happened. I went to the Office Manager and she had no idea, either. She gave the order to swap us around.

Chuck, Tex and I went to lunch. By the time we got back, they had the big office downstairs and I had the tiny one upstairs…for real. Done and done.

A few weeks passed. I was almost finished with Richie Rich for the season and the Office Manager came to me and said, "We're going to need your room for someone else. The minute you finish the last script, we'll need you to vacate." She'd forgotten I was still editing the comic books but I did so much of that work at home, I decided I didn't need an office there at all. We settled on a date when I would be out of my little cubicle.

She warned me. "Now, if you leave anything in there after that date, we're going to throw it in the dumpster." I said, "Anything I leave behind, you can throw away."

A week or two later on a Thursday, I handed in the last Richie Rich script and took home everything I needed to take home. On Friday, I got on a plane and flew east to spend a few days in New York.

Some time on Friday, the Office Manager turned to one of the young men who ran errands and moved furniture and supplies about and said, "Check to make sure Mark Evanier is out of his office."

The Young Man was in a rush that day to get everything done so he'd be able to leave on time. He was about to go on vacation, too. He looked at the staff list to determine which office was mine. Unfortunately, the list hadn't been updated for a while so he wound up going to the large office, the one that now housed Tex and Chuck. He peeked in and reported back to the Office Manager. "Evanier's office is full of stuff." She told him to throw it all out.

He went back to the office to do so but noticed that the boxes and drawers were full of a lot of original artwork and sketches and scripts. He went back to the Office Manager and told her that the stuff in Evanier's office looked like it was important and maybe valuable. Exasperated, she told him, "Okay, then. Get his home address from the files. Box it all up and take it over to his house."

And that's what he did. He packed the contents of the office — this is the Tex Avery-Chuck Couch office we're talking about here — in about six large crates and drove it over to my house. No one was home so he left it all in my enclosed patio. Then he went back to Hanna-Barbera, finished his other labors for the day and began driving to Yosemite National Park (not Jellystone) to spend a week.

Monday morning, Tex Avery arrived at work, walked into his office and found…

Nothing. No files. No art. No sketches on the walls. No sign of what he and Chuck had been working on all the previous week.

A few minutes later, Chuck walked in and found his partner standing in a bare office. There were two desks, one waste basket, a battered sofa and nothing else. "Tex," he gasped. "What happened?"

Tex said, "I'm not sure but I think we've been fired."

They hadn't, of course, but throughout the day, no one could figure out what happened to their stuff. They searched everywhere.

Well, everywhere except my front porch. No one knew that's where it all was and, of course, neither did I. My housesitter came on Saturday and Sunday but she'd gone in the back way to put out food for the stray cats and had forgotten to check out front for mail.

Finally, late Monday, someone figured out where Tex's and Chuck's papers and files might be. A different Young Man drove over to my house, found it all on my porch and since no one was home, just took it all back to the studio. He must have left with it all not long before the housesitter came by and did check outside for mail.

I got back late Wednesday night. Thursday morning, I got a call from Tex Avery. He said, "I have a crate of comic books here that belongs to you. It's from Marvel Comics." At the time, I did get a monthly crate of all the new Marvels but I couldn't figure out why they'd sent it to Hanna-Barbera instead of, as usual, my home address. I drove to the studio to get it and was baffled to see that it had my home address on it. It took us a while to figure out why Tex had it.

You see, when the second Young Man went to my porch on Monday afternoon to fetch the boxes from Tex's and Chuck's office, he took all the boxes he found there…