Another Story You Won't Believe
As close friends of mine will attest, things happen to me…bizarre coincidences that defy common or even uncommon logic. Back in this post, I told a story about an amazing one that involved a wonderful friend of mine, Kristine Greco. Kristine figured into another incredible bit of impossible synchronicity in my life. I told the tale recently to a friend of mine who suggested it belonged on this blog so okay, here it is. If I didn't know me as well as I do, I might have a tough time buying it…
I started writing professionally in 1969…mostly magazine articles. The following year, I began writing comic books and in 1976, I broke into television work, teamed with a clever gent named Dennis Palumbo who I've mentioned here often. Our most lucrative gig was the one season we did as story editors of the TV series, Welcome Back, Kotter. It was an amazing experience — fun, educational, prestigious, even lucrative. (It was the last time I knew I was making more money than John Travolta.) It was also an exhausting job that merely consumed every waking moment of my life. For months, I could be found either at the ABC Studios or at Gabe Kaplan's house, getting home only long enough to sleep, shower and dash back to one of those two venues to write and rewrite and then rewrite the rewrites.
In the final weeks of that season, Dennis and I decided amicably to go in separate career directions and neither one of us wanted to go back and do another year of Kotter. It was pretty much the same reason that neither of us wanted to sit around in the hot sun all day breaking cinder blocks over our heads. I wasn't sure exactly what I did want to do but I knew it wasn't another season of that show, however beneficial the job had been.
Immediately following the taping of that season's final episode, there was a huge wrap party on the stage where, knowing I wouldn't be returning, I said my goodbyes to the cast and crew. Kristine was at the party since she had appeared several times in bit parts on the show and as an extra in Mr. Kotter's classroom. We had kept our relationship secret around the Kotter offices and stage because she didn't want anyone to think she'd gotten her job on the show by dating one of the writers. (In truth, that couldn't have been the case because she was hired on the show before I was.) We left the party around 2 AM and went back to my apartment.
The next morning, I woke up and realized something stunning: I was out of work. For the first time since I started writing for money, I had no assignment to write something for someone…and after my fatiguing year on Kotter, it felt good. I mentioned it to Kristine and she asked, "Well, if you could have any job in the world, what would it be?"
"That's too big a question to answer," I told her. "There are way too many possibilities."
"Then if you could get back any job you had in the past, what would it be?"
I thought for a few seconds and it was an easy answer. After all, at that point I hadn't had that many jobs. A few years earlier, I'd had a very brief-but-happy experience writing the Scooby Doo comic book for Gold Key Comics. The editor was a fine gentleman named Chase Craig, who was very nice to me and something of a mentor. The artist was one of my long-time favorites — also a fine gentleman — named Dan Spiegle. It was the first of many times Dan and I would be teamed up and every Scooby script I wrote for him was a challenge (for me) of the enjoyable kind. I had to figure out how to bring something different to that property and I had to write something that was reasonably close to worthy of being drawn by Dan Spiegle.
It was also the first time in my career I felt reasonably "in charge" of a comic. I'd written many by then but when I wrote Bugs Bunny, I was one of several guys writing Bugs Bunny, trying to roughly approximate the way everyone wrote Bugs Bunny. I was one of several guys writing Woody Woodpecker, etc. Even though I didn't consult with the others (or even know some of them) it felt highly collaborative. There's nothing wrong with collaborating on some projects but every so often, I get the urge to work alone; to create a finished product — at least, as "finished" as it gets at my end of the process — before others start discussing the joke on page eight or the plot twist on page eleven. Writing Bugs Bunny, as wonderful as the wabbit can be, I didn't feel free to interject my own sensibilites and to reshape the feature. But when I was writing Scooby Doo for Chase, I was the only person writing Scooby Doo for Chase. I'm not thrilled with those stories today but I sure enjoyed them then…and so I felt a great sense of loss when Gold Key decided not to renew their license with Hanna-Barbera, thereby ending the comic.
After all those months on Kotter — discussing every line with the producers, every line with the director, every line with the cast members, every line with the network — I guess I wanted that feeling again. So I told Kristine that what I would do if I had such a magic wish was to write Scooby Doo comics for Chase Craig to edit, Dan Spiegle to draw and Gold Key to publish. That would not be my choice today but it was on that morning. She said, "Well, why don't you call up and see if you can get that job back?"
"Would that I could," I told her…and I then explained that (a) Chase Craig had retired, so that let him out of the mix, and I didn't get along with his successor at Gold Key; (b) Dan Spiegle was now busily working for DC Comics; and (c) Gold Key no longer published any Hanna-Barbera comics. Another company, Charlton, now had the license and for a wide array of reasons, I didn't want to work for Charlton. So going back to that was simply not possible.
She shrugged and we went on to other topics. It was less than a half-hour later that my phone rang and there on the other end of the line was Chase…
"Hey, I've come out of retirement to edit a small line of comics for Hanna-Barbera. They've taken the license away from Charlton and we're doing them here out of the studio. One of the four books we're doing is Scooby Doo and I managed to get Spiegle to draw it. He asked if there was any way you could be persuaded to write it. I know you're busy working in television now…"
I asked him what the other three comics were. He said they were The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and Dynomutt. I asked him who he had writing them. He replied, "Well, no one yet. I'm just getting started on this project."
I said, "I'll write Scooby Doo if I can write the other three, as well."
He said, "You got 'em. Hey, you free for lunch today?"
The above-quoted conversation with Kristine occurred around 9:45 AM. The call from Chase was around 10:10. I met him for lunch at 12:30. And by 3 PM, I was home writing Scooby Doo comics for Chase that would be drawn by Dan Spiegle.
I've never believed that if you wish for something hard enough, it will happen. Quite the opposite. I think you have to make things happen or they usually don't. I know people who expend a lot of effort wishing for a dream…and since they confuse that with actually doing something about it, the dream doesn't have much of a chance. But in this case — and admittedly, this was a pretty small dream — I didn't lift a finger to make it happen because I didn't think it could. And it not only happened, it happened right on cue. Literally, as I rolled out of bed, it was there waiting for me.
It turned out to be a very nice bit of employment. After a year or so, the H-B comic book output was increased — more comics for America but also comics to be printed overseas. We never (for instance) did a Jabberjaw comic book for this country because the show was no longer airing here. But it was on in France so we did Jabberjaw comics that were translated and printed in France. Chase, who didn't want to work that hard, had them hire me as the editor of everything he wasn't doing. Not long after, he decided to take his retirement back into full-time mode and suddenly, I was the editor of Hanna-Barbera's comic book division. I did that for about six years while writing other things for them and other studios. One of these days, I'll post some tales here about that chapter of my silly existence.
And I'll tell more stories about the odd coincidences that have dotted that existence. I don't understand why they happen, either. I briefly thought they had something to do with hanging about Kristine but then realized they started before that…and they've continued since we broke up late in the seventies. I know these occur in lives other than mine (no need to write and tell me yours) but I guess they just feel more amazing when they happen to you.