|Lorne Greene - That Voice!|
Chris and I were in our back office, bemoaning our fates and cursing the Black Tower in general, and Glen Larson in particular, for not only creating such a sorry ass show but fouling America's airwaves with it. (Someday, Gentle Reader, scientists will discover that it was on Jan. 27, 1980 at exactly 7 p.m. - when GL80 was first broadcast - that the whole nasty business of Global Warming, Economic Meltdown, and the Tribble-like proliferation of the cellphone was set in motion. In short, the end of Civilization as we knew it.)
Our first sign of his coming was a mighty knock on the main door of the double-wide that served as our headquarters. Then there was a heavy tread of footsteps, a low resonate voice that made the very walls tremble, and the melodious voice of our secretary, Dolly Brown, replying.
Beat, beat - and the phone buzzed. I answered.
Dolly could barely contain her excitement, announcing: "Lorne Greene is here to see you, Allan."
I said to give us a beat, then send him in. Immediately Chris and I scrambled out of the desks in our back office, pushed a bookcase aside and entered our official office. Pushed the bookcase back, and turned in time to greet Lorne (That Voice!) Greene.
(The reason for all the hidden office business was because we had a book overdue - the first novel in the Sten series - and were writing it on the sly. Front office, GL-80 business. Behind the bookcase office, Sten.)
Lorne had to bend his handsome head under the door frame to enter. He blessed us with that fabulous smile of his, shook our hands - his grip was firm, but not overpowering - then lowered himself into a director's chair between our two desks.
"Boys," he said, "it's good to finally get together with you in an informal setting."
|Yikes! Another Larson Script|
Lorne looked around our office, decorated with a crazy assortment of posters featuring everything from WWII-era "Loose Lips Sink Ships" propaganda, to crazy Big Daddy Roth artwork Chris had scored in his motorcycle and car magazine editor days.
He laughed. "Very informal," he rumbled.
We'd met before, of course. At the start of the show in a get-together with the whole cast and crew, on the set for quick script-doctoring work, and at the commissary during rare group lunches.
After mixing him a drink, we chatted for awhile. We told him a little bit about ourselves and he regaled us with tales of his early career, his days on Bonanza, shooting the mega-hit miniseries Roots, and the delightful time he had doing a syndicated show on nature - Lorne Greene's Last Of The Wild. He even made a few jokes about his time as a spokesman for Alpo.
"I'll was kidded more about that on Johnny Carson, than all the days I spent as Ben Cartwright with three sons by three different very dead wives," he said.
Finally, there a pause. It was time for him to tell us why he was here, other than for the pleasure of our scintillating company.
A troubled look creased his noble brow. Then he sighed and ran a large, muscular hand through the steely locks that glistened on his handsome head.
And he said, in that booming Bonanza voice of his: "Boys, what the fuck are we going to do about this show?"
FREEZE SCENE FOR SOME FANCY BG-TYPE FOOTWORK
It's like this, Gentle Reader: Chris and I and poor Mr. Greene were stuck firmly in the center of a humongous disaster-in-the-making created by the Champion Schlockmeister Of The Universe, Glen Larson.
Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't all the nice Mr. Larson's fault. He was being pulled by devils from every side.
Side one: Avarice. He wanted to make as much money as he could as quickly as he could before they canceled the piece of #$%$# he called a science fiction show.
Side two: There was his artistic side.
|Wanna Go To Catalina, Little Girl?|
No, really. I mean, after all, this was the guy who as a youthful member of The Four Preps had crafted and made a hit song out of Twenty Six Miles Across The Sea, Santa Catalina For You And Me, Romance, Romance...
Bring a tear to your eye? A hairy blob to the back of your throat?
Federal Communications Commission Politics and the loss of the last remaining brain cells of the Suits at ABC (the Anything But Class network) conspired to pay Larson a zillion dollars to produce a sequel to a show that had already failed once. It was to be a Children's Hour Show, overseen by a censor placed high in the network food chain, and scheduled against 60 Minutes, which has always killed any competition set against it.
Immediately, the show began to take on water. Experienced old round heels that he was, Larson panicked for probably the first time in his career. Adding to that panic was the fact that the network – and Universal Studios – was insisting that he not only produce but do most of the writing.
From everything anyone ever told us, Larson was the most reluctant of writers. He avoided actual writing like the plague. On the other hand, Larson’s genius was imitative. So if he could only free up his mind with whatever inducements the studio and the network might provide, perhaps he could, you know, get his stream-of-conscious pseudo-plagiarism mojo going.
In other words, give him enough money and comforts and he could blast out bullshit forever. To that end, Glen Larson – like Kubla Khan of old – decreed his own pleasure dome.
In other-other words, certain expensive comforts were required if he was going to write his head off and deal with censors, stupid scheduling decisions, and a premise that flat didn't work. We were told that Universal picked up most of his expenses for his home in LA, including entertainment, box seats at sporting events, plus a cool beach condo in Honolulu, where he could shake out his writerly kinks and dictate to a bevy of pretty maids in scanty beach wear. Which he flew back and forth in the Universal Company Jet from his beach condo in Hawaii to his beach house in Malibu.
Dolly assured us that she knew all the ladies in question and that they all had excellent secretarial skills.
Well, of course, they did.
Anyway, that was the (ahem)lay of the land three episodes in when Lorne Green came calling. And so now we'll….
Lorne said: "Boys, what the fuck are we going to do about this show?
He let this sink in - right to our very toes - then went on: "The scripts are awful. The directing is awful. The acting is as good as it can be, under the circumstances. But we're getting stinker lines that Lord Lawrence, himself, couldn't rescue from the lavatory."
I flashed on our mentor, Al Godfrey, who'd once told us: "A good actor can make a shitty script better. But it'll still smell like shit."
"There's only one way out," Chris said, “We have to make Glen Larson quit writing.”
Loren’s eyebrows rose to Ponderosa heights as he turned his gaze on me.
I shrugged. “Chris is right,” I said. “Larson has become this non-stop bad writing machine."
He gave a heavy sigh, accepting the drink we made for him. "Don't you have any influence?" he asked. "After all, you're story editors on the show."
Lorne had been around the block a lot more than we had, so he knew the answer before it was asked - which showed you the measure of his frustration. To lighten the mood - or, perhaps to darken it even more - Chris handed Lorne something we had knocked out in our copious non-writing spare time. As it happens, I found a yellowed copy in a Bunch & Cole memorabilia box the other day and here is what we had written:
* * *
|GL-80 Story Editors|
How To Boil A Story Editor GL-80 Style
Step 1: Like mushrooms, you must keep writers in a dark room and feed them only on horseshit.
Step 2: Before sustenance (the above horseshit) is delivered, a pre-determined number of Glen Larson PAGES must be shoved under the door. Withhold all but one ounce of HS until pages are read.
Step 3: Render pages unto Caesar and render unto Art, Story, Social Consciousness, Drama, Action, Adventure, Plain Common Sense – absolutely nothing.
Step 4: At all costs, avoid allowing the writers to write anything original at all, at all.
* * *
Lorne chuckled, then asked. "Is this true? You're not allowed to write anything of your own?"
"Sure, we can write it," Chris said.
"We've got a two-script guarantee," I added. "Pay or play." Meaning they had to pay us, whether they shot the scripts or not.
"But Glen is never going to actually expose frigging film on them," Chris said. "Not until hell grows icicles, that is."
Lorne sighed, drained his glass, and stood. He laughed a little at the predicament we were all in.
"I'd like to say something like, 'Cheer up, boys, I've seen worse,'" Lorne said.
Chris held up a hand. "Nobody wants to ever hear Ben Cartwright lie," he said.
Another rumble of a laugh. "Did you know," he said, "that there is some kind of story going around that a damned alligator bit my nipple off when I was doing the nature show? A few say it was the right nipple. But, the majority claim it was the left one that got it."
We both looked at him. We'd heard the stories. Well? Was it bullshit, or not?
"I'll never tell," Lorne said.
Then he made his way out of our office, paused long enough to say something gentlemanly to Dolly, and left.
We looked out the window and saw his Teamster driver taking him away in a gleaming limo.
Chris turned to me. "How much bigger do you think this *blivet is fucking going to get, Cole?" (Definition of a blivet. Ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.)
I said, "My guess would be - a whole lot bigger."
And there was nothing for it but to go make a couple more drinks.
NEXT: MEATBALLS IN SPACE
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Tales Sometimes Tall, but always true, of Allan Cole's years in Hollywood with his late partner, Chris Bunch. How a naked lady almost became our first agent. How we survived La-La Land with only the loss of half our brain cells. How Bunch & Cole became the ultimate Fix-It Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.
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A NATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF: In Book Three Of The Shannon Trilogy, young Patrick Shannon is the heir-apparent to the Shannon fortune, but murder and betrayal at a family gathering send him fleeing into the American frontier, with only the last words of a wise old woman to arm him against what would come. And when the outbreak of the Civil War comes he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of those he loves the most. In The Wars Of The Shannons we see the conflict, both on the battlefield and the homefront, through the eyes of Patrick and the members of his extended Irish-American family as they struggle to survive the conflict that ripped the new nation apart, and yet, offered a dim beacon of hope.
LUCKY IN CYPRUS:
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LUCKY IN CYPRUS is a coming-of-age story set in the Middle East during the height of the Cold War. An American teenager – son of a CIA operative – is inspired by grand events and a Greek Cypriot teacher.
He witnesses earthquakes and riots and terrorist attacks, but in the end it is his teacher’s gentle lessons that keep him whole.
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THE SPYMASTER'S DAUGHTER:
A novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan
After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm- ravaged night.
BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization.
TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE
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Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is "The Blue Meanie," a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself.
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