Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee And The Mulholand Road Racing Association

From My Hollywood MisAdventures


Stan Lee is the only guy I know who looks perfectly natural wearing sunglasses indoors. And here he was now - sitting across from me and Chris - sunglasses, steely gray hair, cool mustache… the whole Stan The Man Magilla.

He looked and acted more like a Southern gentleman than somebody from the tough streets of the Bronx. And when he spoke, his voice was just soft enough to make you bend a little closer to listen.

And he was saying: "I've been wanting to get some Prime Time writers in and when Kenny told me about you two, I thought - This might just might be what I looking for to goose the show."

 Stan was referring to Ken Johnson, exec producer of The Incredible Hulk, a TV series based on the big green angry guy created by Stan and fellow Marvel Comics' genius, Jack Kirby. And the show Stan wanted us to goose was "Defenders Of The Earth" - featuring Buck Rogers, The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician and his trusty sidekick, Lothar, as well as that evil son of a raygun, Ming The Merciless.

"Here's my problem, boys," Stan went on. "We had to make Defenders kid friendly for the network. So besides the adult heroes everyone knows and loves, we had to give them four kid counterparts - adolescent versions of Buck, The Phantom, Mandrake and Lothar."

Chris said, "Do you have a witch by the name of Susan Futterman as your censor?"

Stan puzzled at Chris. Censor? Then the light dawned. "Oh, you mean Program Practices." Shook his head. "No Susan Futterman among them that I'm aware of."

"You'd know," Chris said gloomily, no doubt flashing on our own experiences with Ms Futterman on not one - but two shows. Glenn Rip-Off-Artist Larson's Galactica 1980, and Irwin The-Towering-Toupee Allen's Code Red.

Then he brightened. "Well, you should be okay then." This was followed by a laugh. "Not that you couldn't handle Futterman. After all those years going nose to nose with the Comic Code boyos you've probably got a pretty tough hide.."

"Tough, but scarred," Stan admitted. "But back to our show. With the kid connection there's a danger of writing  down to the audience. Which is why I wanted to get in a couple of Prime Time boys. Thanks to the strike, you two are available."

He was referring to one of the perennial Writers Guild Strikes  - which one, I don't recall. But I do remember getting our butts handed to us by the studios that time out. The main thing is that thanks to Studio machinations, animation writers weren't  Guild members, so it was okay for us to jump genres and grab a few bucks to help finance our novel writing careers. I think we were working on Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousands Suns, about then.

Stan added, "Also, you've written for one of my favorite creations - The Hulk. So, I'm pretty sure you have an idea where I'm coming from."

"It's a fun show," I put in. "But not easy. Chris compares it to Kabuki Theater. One thing out of place and the whole story collapses."

Stan laughed, knowing exactly what we meant. "If you screw up and make Bruce mad at the wrong time, you'll have an inconvenient Hulk appearance."

"They call it a Hulk out," I  said.

"Do they now?" Stan said. "Amusing."

Chris said, "I've been wanting to ask - How come they changed Banner's first name from  Bruce to David? Bruce is what everybody always knew him by until the TV series came along. And that's what you still call him in the comics."

Stan's mustache twitched. "The Network said 'Bruce' didn't sound manly enough. I wanted to point out that there are Biblical scholars who say David was bisexual. But held my tongue."

After we chuckled over this, he added, "Another thing… For some reason Kenny wanted to make the Hulk red, instead of Green. On that score, I put my foot down. He stays green!" (For more about the MisAdventures of Bunch & Cole on The Incredible Hulk, see Episodes #23 through #27. 

After a little more chit-chat, we got down to the all important pitch. Ran two stories past him, which he liked, but didn't pull the "Who's your agent, boys" trigger. No matter. We always pitched the "sure sale" third, for reasons I explained in Episode #9: Buck Rogers Is A Fatty, Ardala Definitely Isn't. 

I said, "This one we call The Carnival of Doctor Kalihari."

"Carnivals!" Stan enthused. "Always loved carnivals. And this Kalihari fella - a mean and evil carnival master, I assume?"

"He could give Ming lessons in mean," Chris said. "A rogue magician - which will put Mandrake's back up."

I said, "The word's out that bad things are happening at the carnival. Our guys investigate - taking the kids with them. While the kids are enjoying the show, Mandrake, Buck, and the others poke around and come across a stash of nasty potions."

Chris said, "One of the bottles tumbles off a shelf, releasing some kind of gas and suddenly our four heroes are shrunk to the size of mice."

"And then it's Land Of The Giants - with Doc Kalihari and his thugs as the giants - and the normal-sized kids trying to rescue their half-pint-sized dads."

"Love it," Stand said. Then, he pulled the trigger: "Who did you say your agent was?"

We reminded him.

Time passed. Wrote the script. Got notes. Did a final draft. Spent as much time as Stan could spare for us to pick his brains about animation and super heroes… and all the things any red-blooded Marvel fan would ask if given the chance.

Over lunch one day, Chris asked: "What frosts your ass the most in your line of work?"

Stan's answer was instant. "Artists with no imagination," he said. "They get stuck in a copycat rut. The latest hot comic or animated film, and that's all they can talk about. Then they start trying to change my projects so they resemble the other guys'. They sit around second-guessing my every move until I can't bear it any longer then I have to crack the big damned black whip!"

"There's a lot of people on staff in Prime Time with the same disease," I observed. "Especially on new shows. You write the script based on the show Bible, then when you come in for second draft notes you get all kinds of strange demands. Things that make no sense. The main character, for example, might be a smooth, wise-cracking detective. But then you find out they just saw some big Clint Eastwood movie and the guy is suddenly a 'Make my day… Do you feel lucky, punk?' kind of guy."

"At least in live action," Stan said, "if the writer describes the hero as 'handsome,' and the love interest as  'sexy,' the casting director pulls out all stops to find a handsome actor and sexy actress. But with an imagination-impaired artist you're just as likely to end up with a thug and a plain-Jane girlfriend."

"Let me guess," Chris said. "When you bitch they blame it on the writer."

Stan lifted one edge of his mustache in a wry grin. "You must have been eavesdropping on our production meeting, " he said.

Although the strike ended not long afterward and we went back to prime time work, we still hung out with Stan whenever possible, learning all we could about animation.

We discovered, for instance, that only a small portion of the artwork was done at Stan's studio. In an action sequence, his artists would sketch the figures and the background in a series of key poses. These would then be shipped to South Korean animation factories where low wage artists - mostly women - would complete the hundreds upon hundreds of frames it took to make the characters walk, talk, run, fight and save the day at the end. Recently, I saw a hilarious, but disturbing, episode of  "The Simpsons" self-mocking this very same process.

Over time we occasionally dipped into animation again, writing bibles for new shows and key episodes of long-running ones. Most of them at Stan's recommendation. We even wrote a two-part Scrooge McDuck takeoff on Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves for Disney. They later turned it into a straight to DVD movie, leaving us uncredited and unpaid for all but the initial episodes. (I mentioned, did I not, that in those days animation writing was non-union?)

Then, just about the time that Ronald Reagan was removing the Communist threat from the mighty Citadel that was Grenada, we got the call.

It was Stan Lee. We both got on the line. 

"Boys, I've got a problem that not even The Silver Surfer can solve," he said. "Program Practices has reared its hydra head." 

"You've been Futtermaned," Chris guessed, a verb he had coined back in our Galactica days.

"Not her, exactly," Stan said. "But several of her counterparts." He paused, then said: "I suppose you've heard about Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign? "

Having spotted an item in Variety a few days before, I said: "Let me guess. The Network's license is up for renewal before the FCC?"

"Right," Stan said.

"And they need to kiss White House ass?" I added.

Stan sighed. "That's about the size of it. Then he added: "In our case, we've got to do it twice. Once for drugs. The other for alcohol. I've got a writer to do drugs…  and I was hoping I could put you guys down for booze."

"Shit, Stan," Chris said, "we'd feel like hypocrites."

"It pays double," Stan said.

"Suddenly, the feeling vanished - didn't it partner?" I suggested.

After a long pause, Chris said, "I just had an idea that might do the trick, Stan."

"Let's hear it," Stan said.

Chris said, "Did you ever hear of the Mulholland Road Racing Association?"


Over the noise of a powerful engine, the kid shouted: "You're Stan Lee!"

Instead of trying to compete with a full-throated muscle car, Stan just nodded that he was.

"Far fucking out," the kid shouted, then turned and made a chopping noise to the driver. The engine noise stopped. He called out to his friend: "It's Stan Lee, man! Spiderman's daddy."

Stan made an apologetic shrug. "I get a lot of that," he told us. "In fact, Spiderman is just as much Steve Ditko's baby as mine. But Steve is pretty shy when it comes to publicity."

The kid didn't give a damn. He shoved a grease pen at Stan. "You wouldn't autograph our car, would you, Mr. Lee?" He indicated the left fender of the muscle car.

Stan kindly blessed the car with his distinctive signature. The kid thanked him, then jumped into the passenger's seat and they took off down Mulholland for the starting line, the big engine rumbling impatiently and the sweet smell of gasoline drifting back to us.

It was about ten o'clock on either a Wednesday or Friday night. I forget which, but the Mulholland Racing Association always met on those nights. As we explained to Stan, it wasn't a formal association at all - just a bunch of guys, and even a few ladies, who got together to put pedal to the metal to test their nerves against the fifty miles of twists and hairpin curves that was Mulholland Drive.

The two-lane blacktop runs from the Hollywood Hills, over the Santa Monica Mountains all the way to Ventura County and then some. James Dean was a regular Mulholland daredevil in his Porsche Super Speedster, which he called "The Little Bastard."

"One time Eartha Kitt gave Dean a ration of shit for scaring hell out of her on this road," Chris told Stan. "Some say he raced the 'Little Bastard' against a couple of hot rods on Mulholland the night before he ate the big one out on Route 466."

Chris indicated the lights of the city below us. "You should see them flashing by you at 90 per," he said. "No guard rails most of the way. Just a sheer drop into the canyon. It's like a roller coaster ride, coming down the hills into short straight-aways and then it's all you can do to keep from breaking loose and going over the side."

"What about the cops?" Stan asked.

"About the only time you see a cop on Mulholland," Chris said, "is when they've sweet-talked some honey to take a drive up here with them in their cruisers."

"Some of the residents get pissed off at all the noise," I put in. "We used to get calls at the newspaper I worked at. But it didn't do much good."

Chris said, "They get so frustrated they hose down the curves in front of their house to make the road too slippery for the racers."

"Does it stop them?" Stan asked.

Chris laughed. "Not if they're all beered up, it doesn't," he said. "The only effect is that if they're going for pinks, they might end up with nothing but a wreck when they win."

Stan puzzled at him. "Go for pinks?"

"That's when they're drunk enough, or trying to impress some chick… or both… and bet their cars on the outcome," Chris explained. "Put their pink ownership slips on the line."

"When I was at the paper," I said, "some civic-minded types got together with the cops to lure some of the kids away from Mulholland. They set up a whole racing thing out at one of the speedways. It was legal. Supervised. And they even got some of the NASCAR stars to come out and give the kids driving tips."

"Did it work?" Stan asked.

I shrugged. "Some say it did. The kids loved it - especially with the NASCAR angle. But then the speedway got into financial difficulty and the program ended."

Chris pointed to a group of kids down at the bend in the road. They were all swilling beer and hooting and hollering and gunning their engines. "Bet those kids would go for it in a second. I talked to some of them for a Car And Driver piece. Sometimes they scare hell out of themselves and would dearly love a chance to beg off without losing face."

"Okay, boys," Stan said. "I already bought the story, but I like it even better now that I've seen for myself."

There came the thunder of big engines. We moved well back from the tarmac as two hot cars came rumbling past. One was a by God 1974 Pontiac GTO - A Goat. The other was a ridiculous looking little thing - a 1960's Nash Metro, painted a bright orange. But the ridiculousness ended at the engine compartment, into which had been stuffed a big-fat Chevy V8.

"What the hell?" Stan laughed.

"The Goat better watch out," Chris said. "That little Nash might eat his dinner big time."

Stan gave Chris a curious look. "You ever race on Mulholland?" he asked.

"I used to run my bike on it," Chris said. "But, Cole won't let me anymore..."
We wrote the episode in two days flat, thanks to some heavy nips from a bottle of Scotch to help get our "Just Say No To Driving And Racing" mojo on. With plenty of "Defenders Of The Earth" type action wrapped around the plot to help the medicine go down.

Time passed. Phone rang. It was Stan.

"You'll never believe this, boys," he said. "Your episode was not only nominated for a Humanitas Award, but it made it all the way to the Finals."

"No shit," Chris said. "Hell, and that was just on one bottle of Scotch. Imagine what we could have done on two."


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Meatballs In Space


Coming Soon: Sten And The Pirate Queen

Episode 15

Watch Thy Airspeed, Lest The Ground
Rise Up And Meet Thee

We were munching rare steak sandwiches - with scotch and water backs - when the little Cessna came into view. 

Her wings were wobbling and she was heading for the tarmac too fast, so we knew the guy flying it was at least 39-1/2 hours short of the 40 required for a pilot's license.

The three of us watched in awful fascination as the plane came down and down and down, the instructor probably freezing his student's stick and pulling back like a son of a bitch on his own. The Cessna bounced once, then twice - skidded to the right a little - then straightened out and powered up, up and away and out sight.

"Shit," Chris said. "Guy flies like Glen Larson writes. Fast, bad and not a fucking clue where he's going."

Al Godfrey - our producer/mentor - just grunted and called for more drinks. He was there to give us badly needed job advice on Galactica 1980, so lunch was our treat. No problem, since as story editors we were making a shitload of money - which did little to alleviate our misery for being stuck on such an awful show, much less our fear of being indentured to Universal Studios for seven soul-killing years.

94th Aero Squadron
Lunch was at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, situated on the back runway of Burbank Airport in Van Nuys. 

It had a World War One d├ęcor and although we normally avoided theme restaurants like the Bubonic, we had to admit that Godfrey hadn't steered us wrong. The food was good. The drinks strong. The prices moderate. 

Plus, the restaurant sat right on the edge of the runway, offering widow seats to everything from rookies practicing touch-and-goes, to Air National Guard cargo behemoths, to the colorful Lindbergh-era biplanes flown by the stunt pilot members of the Confederate Air Force.

Godfrey said, "I heard Larson was doing paybacks like a son of a bitch. Calling everybody he knows and owes and making them producers on Galactica." He collected his drink from the waiter, then grinned at us, "Any of them actually show up to work?"

"Not one swinging dick," Chris said. "Every damned day Dolly (our life-saving secretary, Dolly Brown) gives us a new GL-80 staff list, and there's always at least one other name under the producer's column. But we've never actually seen any of them."

Godfrey chuckled. "Don't blame him. If I were running the most expensive show in television history I'd be calling in everybody who'd ever done me a favor." He finished his sandwich and pushed the plate away. "Sort of like a Mob bust out, but legal," he said. "Get a building contract down at the harbor. Put everybody and his cousin and his cousin's cousin on the payroll. But only two or three actually show up to swing a hammer."

"The thing I get a laugh out of," I said, "is that our names keep getting shoved down further and further on the list. Larson's name is at the top. Then Lupo and Freilick, who actually do the production work. Followed by many, many producers. Followed by the cast and crew. Then the secretaries. Then the janitors. Then, at the very bottom are the writers - me, Chris and Bob McCullough." (As you'll soon see, McCullough's script - Space Croppers - was the only non-Larson script to make it on the air.)

Godfrey said, "So, you're learning firsthand what I've been telling you all along. In this town, writers are like a chick you meet at a bar when you are half in the bag and horny." He lit a cigarette. Blew two perfect smoke rings, then said. "At first they seem terribly important to you. You need their words in the worst way. But then after you collect the script and wake up the next morning, you wonder what the fuck you were ever thinking of and kick them out of bed."

Chris and I laughed, but now that I think back on it there was too much truth in what Godfrey said for it to be funny.

Then Godfrey said, "Here's the bottom line, boys. You are in the middle of a big fucking tug of war. So are the writers, actors, and directors on every other show in This Town. You guys actually care about getting something decent on the air. But the guys who run things firmly believe that the public will watch whatever garbage they put in front of them. And the only thing they give a shit about is winning their own personal war."

He lifted a hand and began ticking off each finger. "First, there's the Network Veep who bought the show. He's already won his fight because he got one over on those other sons of bitches who are trying to elbow him out of the way. But, after that, he has no dog in the fight and he's off the show."

Vice President
Of Screwups
Godfrey ticked off another finger. "Second, there's the Production Veep and his crew. They think the guy who bought the show was a brainless dick head of the first order, but they're stuck with his stupid mistake. It's their job to get ratings, and they'll do anything legal to get them. Max out the T&A. Max out the violence. Car chases up the wazoo. Shove any nonsense they can down the throats of the writers, because what the fuck does the writer know about stories?

He bent over a third finger. "But, hold on. The production Veep has got a deadly enemy from his own network. That's the Program Practices Vice President. Susan Futterman, in your case. And the way she gets to look good to her boss is to squelch anything vaguely controversial. To her, the perfect story would start with a nice clean problem about Billy doing his homework, and in the end, Billy's best friend, Sally, would make him see the error of his ways without ever flashing her white cotton undies."

"Shit," I said. "They're all light years apart. In fact, they're running at cross purposes to one another."

"And that's not the end of it," Godfrey said, displaying a fourth finger. "Now you have the Studio. Their only concern is the money. The Network is putting up a set fee. Maybe $750,000 an episode for Galactica. But the only reason they bought the show, is because the Studio agreed to deficit finance the show to the tune of three, four hundred thousand an episode. They won't make that back until they sell the show into syndication. But you need at least three years worth of episodes before the syndicators are interested. So, the Studio Veep - in your case, Peter Thompson - has to keep all those opposing forces sweet. It's his job to kiss every shitty ass in sight, or else he'll get the blame for blowing all that money without a chance of getting a return."

Chris said, "Fuck a bunch of writing. I should have gone to work with daddy at the pump flange factory. At least it's honest labor." (A joke: his "daddy" was head of the tech writing department at Hughes Aircraft.)

Godfrey said, "Look, boys - I know you're frustrated. But, just sit tight. Things will work themselves out. Trust in your talent and you'll get through it. And remember, in This Town it's the assholes who rule. Get used to it."

Chris sighed."We keep waiting for Larson to make one big fat fucking mistake. One so bad the backblast will blow the whole fucking shebang off the lot."

Godfrey grimaced. "Boys, the other thing you have to understand about The Business, is that the guy who fucks up last wins."

Chris and I eyed him suspiciously. Was he pulling our leg? Chris gave me the look: your turn in the barrel, Cole.

So, I sighed, stubbed out my smoke, and said, "Okay, Al, I'll bite. How come the last fuck up wins? In chess - as in most things - it's the other way around. The guy who makes second to the last mistake wins."

Godfrey shook his head, "Uh, uh," he said, sounding a bit like the racetrack tout who bedeviled Jack Benny. "That's your problem. You're playing chess. The rest of these assholes are playing television."

"I still don't get it," I admitted. "Explain, please."

Godfrey said, "The guy who fucks up last is the guy who gets the last word. And the last word is what gets on the fucking air."

The conversation came to a halt when we saw the student pilot come back around. Still too fast. Still out of position. Bump, fucking bump. Skitter, skitter. Then off he went again. We all sighed in relief.

Chris said, "I know there's a lesson in there someplace, but for the life of me I don't fucking see it."

Godfrey said, "Not to worry. It'll kick you in the ass by and by."


That was a Friday. On the following Monday, the ass-kicking commenced.

In short, Susan Futterman showed up at our door.

"Fuck," Chris said when Dolly buzzed to announce her surprise visit.

I said, "Watch the 'fucks,' for Chrissakes. She's the censor."

Chris put both hands on the desk. Looked up at the ceiling. And said, fast as he could: "Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck."

Then he sighed, and said, "There, I got it out of my fucking system."

Sister Scary - Third Grade
The only thing I remember about Ms Futterman is that she immediately reminded me of my Third Grade nun. Everything about that nun was severe. She had a severe face, set with severe eyes and her lips were always pursed in a severe manner and she had this look about her that said she knew every sin residing in your nasty little boy's soul and if you crossed her one bit she'd whack your hands with her yardstick until you couldn't get a grip on a spitball for the rest of the afternoon, and so were at the mercy of your nasty little boy enemies.

Futterman sat, knees tight together, skirt pulled well down over them and tried to force a smile of collegial greeting. It was like watching the scum part on a polllywog pond. She accepted a cup of herbal tea from Dolly with muttered thanks and gave Chris a warning look when he nervously reached for a cigarette. He snatched back his hand as if it had been burned.

Looking satisfied about something, she pulled a legal pad from her oversized purse and started flipping pages.

"I wanted to discuss some problems that I have with the scripts I have been receiving, " she said.

I said, "We have seen your notes, Ms. Futterman, and-"

She snapped. "Call me, Susan," she ordered.

I stuttered, "Oh. Okay. Uh, Ms - I mean, Susan… We have seen your notes and addressed all the issues that are within our authority. If there's anything else - well, have you talked to Jeff or Frank? Or, Mr. Larson? All the scripts were written by him."

She said, "It's my understanding that you two have been writing the required educational beats. And those are your responsibility."


Unfortunately, Futterman had me there. The only writing we were allowed to do up to this point was to insert what Program Practices called "Educational Beats." Since our show fell into the Children's Hour - 7 p.m. Sunday - there were so many "educational beats" required for each episode. And they had to be spread out - so many in the first act, so many in the second act, and so forth.

By necessity, these were deadly dull teaching moments. Any attempts at making them entertaining were immediately squelched by Futterman, who insisted that kids had to KNOW when they were being taught.

Galactica was already a boring show that made no sense, and the educational beats just made things worse. Futterman would make insertion marks at the worst possible moments. In the middle of a (hopefully) exciting car chase, for example, the principals would have to stop and one would ask the other what strange, barbaric power made these Earth vehicles go. And the other would explain in painful details, the workings of a combustion engine.

Oh, and because it was a kid's show, only so many violence beats were allowed. This might make sense, except for Futterman's definition of violence. For example, in one episode a school bus is about to crash through the railing of a bridge into the river. One of our heroes blasts a tree with his laser gun, and it falls over to block the path of the bus - saving all the kids. In Futterman's world, shooting that tree was a naughty - an act of violence.

Got it? Good, then explain it to me.

Give up? Also good, because it is way past time to:


As it happened, one of the first things she hit us with was the above-mentioned combustion engine business.

She said, "This information here about the workings of the combustion engine?"

We said, Yes, ma'am. What about it?

She said, "On what sources did you rely?"

Chris said, "We relied on me. I used to write and edit magazines on the subject."

This drew an actual sneer. "I suppose you wrote for Car And Driver," she said, no doubt thinking such a publication - which must be classy if she knew of it - would never hire the likes of Christopher Renshaw Bunch.

"As a matter of fact," Chris said, "I was a regular contributor." (It's true. He was.)

Futterman's eyebrows rose. "Oh," she said. Then - "Oh."

Back to the notes. Flip, flip. Found another quibble.

"This business here at the Planetarium," she said. "Where you have the children address the issue of how many stars there are in the night sky."

She was speaking of an episode where the Galactica kids mingle unnoticed with a group of Earthling kids at the planetarium. Some Earthling kid asks the teacher how many stars there are in the sky. He replies. But, one of the Galactica kids rolls his eyes at his companion and whispers another number - presumably the correct one because these are Space kids and must know, right? Giggle. Giggle. Another educational beat. Check.

"What about it?" I asked.

"Where did you get the number?" she asked, no doubt thinking we plucked the number from thin air. "What's your source?"

I said, "the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica," pointing proudly at the set that Chris and I had purchased to use on the show.

"That's not good enough," Futterman snapped.

This pissed us off to no end. Only a few months before Chris and I had been journalists - he in magazines, me in newspapers - and we weren't accustomed to this kind of treatment.

Chris picked up the phone and buzzed Dolly. "Dolly," he said, "Could you get us name and  phone number of the head of public relations at Encyclopedia Britannica. We need it right away, please."

He put the phone down and told Susan, "Shouldn't take more than a minute."

Futterman looked alarmed. "What - what - what do you need that for?"

Chris said, "Well, I thought while we had you here we'd let you explain why an executive at ABC's Program Practices has determined that information in the latest Encyclopedia Britannica… quote: 'Isn't good enough'… end quote."

Futterman sputtered. (Been waiting years to put those two words together.) "I… I… Well, I didn't mean that. I mean, I was only raising… uh, the uh, issue-"

I broke in. "We really need to get this settled, Susan," I said. "Is the Encyclopedia Britannica a satisfactory source for ABC, or isn't it?"

"It is," she said quickly. Flipped pages. "Let's move on."

We moved on, feeling a little better about things. That's how young and dumb we were. Because now we'd made the censor mad. As it turned out, she was already mad. And we'd just made things worse.

She hit a page, pretended to study her notes, then looked up at us - Tongue darting out in a manner that made me think of a snake.

Jabbing a finger at some obviously offending passage, Futterman said, "This script here. The one with the unseemly joke about meatballs."

Chris and I looked at each other. Puzzled. I don't remember now which script had the meatball joke in it, but I do remember that although the joke was unfunny to the extreme, that there was nothing unseemly about it.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked.

Futterman's eyebrows rose. She said, "Come now. Meatballs? What's Glen trying to get past me?"

Chris and I dug out the script. Ran over the scene. And came up empty.

"It's just an eating scene," I said. "A good Samaritan has rescued our guys and is dishing them up some meatball sandwiches. And our guys have never heard of meatballs, much less tasted any."

"Oh, you can't fool me," Futterman said. "I know he's up to something."

Chris said, "Hey, Susan. Cole and I have dirtiest minds in town. Ask anybody. But, honest to God, Glen's just talking about meatballs."

"Regular meatballs," I said. "Definitely not of the testicular variety."

"Well, I don't care what you say," Futterman said. "Take it out."

I said, "Uh, Susan. We can't just take it out. It's a stupid joke, but Glen Larson thought well of it enough to write it. And he's our boss. If you want to delete the reference, you'll have to speak to Jeff, or Frank - or even Glen."

"Glen won't discuss it with me," she said.

Then Chris and I got it. She'd already raised the meatball issue with our superiors and was trying to do an end run on them. With meatballs, for crying out loud.

I said, "Well, that's nothing to do with us, Susan. We're sorry you feel this way. All we can do is assure you that there are no hidden meanings."

"Sometimes," Chris said - with maybe a little too much enjoyment - "a meatball is just a meatball."

"We'll just see about that," Susan said, abruptly coming to her feet and shoving the legal pad back into the oversize purse.

And then she stalked out. A minute later Dolly poked her head in. "What was she so mad about?" Dolly asked. "You guys didn't let an Eff-bomb drop or anything, did you?"

"No, Dolly," I said. "Nothing to do with us. She's mad Glen Larson's meatballs."

Dolly wisely withdrew while Chris and I mixed a couple of drinks, then called the bosses to kick the meatball problem up the line.

Later in the day, Frank Lupo called us back. "Guys," he said, "the shit's hitting the fan."

"About the meatballs?" I said.

"Yeah, yeah," Frank said. "Susan's going to war over it."

"What can we do?" I asked.

"Nothing," Frank said. "Stay the fuck out of it. Keep your heads down and if anybody calls you about fucking meatballs refer them to me."

We said, okay, boss. And then gave Dolly careful instructions to beware of anything that involved meatballs.

Space Croppers
And it was during this whole mess - which only got worse - that Fate intervened to allow Bob McCullough's Space Croppers story earn the dubious honor of being the only non-Glen Larson written script to make it on the air.

Not because it was brilliant. No one who saw the episode will ever accuse it of brilliance. This was not Bob’s fault. Like we told Godfrey, generally speaking, we were all under strict orders to take out all the comedy, action, drama and common sense in a script before it was shot.

How Bob’s script got on the air will illustrate pretty much everything that was wrong about GL-80.

Glen Larson would write a script like this: He’d put a piece of paper in his typewriter and type: Fade In. Scratch his head (or, whatever) then start making up stuff, typing away madly as it came to him.

Along about page 60 he’d realized he’d just run out of time. (Very roughly speaking the running time of a script is one page a minute and GL-80 was an hour-long show). So at the bottom of the script, he’d type: TO BE CONTINUED.

Now, sometimes he would actually continue as promised, and sometimes he’d get a little - you, know - blocked. Then we’d have to start stretching deadlines and manfully inoculate ourselves against panic and general hysteria via applications of carefully measured quantities of writerly inducements.

Once or twice he blocked so badly he jumped on another script, reached the TO BE CONTINUED, point and stopped. Shipped it. Then moved back to the first unfinished mess. Once we had Part One of a story appear. The following week, Part One of another story. Then the following week Part Two of the first. And so on.

It was during one of those To Be Continued Vacuums that the meatballs hit the fan. I don't know how or why Larson came up with his meatball joke. Maybe Glen had meatballs for dinner. Maybe his sister married a meatball. Who knows?

Futterman refused to believe that Glen was not up to something filthy. She insisted there was some hidden meaning. Although she couldn’t explain to anyone what nastiness she thought Larson was trying to slip past her.

Eventually, she made Larson so mad that he took the script back and inserted meatball references willy-nilly everywhere. (Stop what you're thinking! That's not a naughty, either!)

Then Larson called his actors and crew together and shot the damned script.

One million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars just like that! According to my handy dandy cost of living calculator, that’d be $3,023,361.65 in today’s money. And that's a lot of meatballs in any day and age.

Even so, Futterman said that shot or not - no way, Jose, was that perversion-glorifying episode going on the air. Over her dead body and so on and so forth.

Panic city.

What to do?

Ah, ha. Here’s Bob McCullough’s fine script, Space Croppers. To placate Futterman, Bob told her that the major influence for the story was the kid's book (actually a very original novel-in-verse) "Harvest Home," by Jane Yolen. In the privacy of our trailer offices we all called it Space Crappers, and wondered if Futterman would ever realize that Bob, with our help, had gotten one over on her.

And so, while the meatballs argument raged, they slipped in Bob's episode and they shot it and it actually got on the air.


Believe it or not, after that the Meatball War intensified.

Another week passed. Futterman and Larson were still at loggerheads. Except, this time Larson said screw all of you and refused to shoot another episode. (Chris and I had an approved script titled Earthquake waiting in the wings. And there it languished.)

As far as Larson was concerned, either his meatball story would go on, or ABC would be forced to broadcast blank air time, or reruns of one of those exciting documentaries about the plight of urban minority males that networks have to show every now and again to get the FCC off their backs about Eff-word goofs, costume malfunctions, and other lies.

Larson dug in his heels. Had them load up the episode to get ready to satellite to New York for national airing.

Futterman said she would never give permission.

Never, ever, ever.

The clocked ticked.

And ticked.

And ticked some more.


... Futterman blinked.

Sometimes A Meatball
Is Just A Meatball
At the very last possible second the show, meatballs and all, was beamed into space. And history... or something vaguely similar to history... was made.

It was a rotten episode - a bullet to the heart of our already wounded ratings. But, screwup though it might have been, Larson was victorious.

Proving Godfrey's point that in the business of television, he who fucks up last wins.


Between February and May of 1942, German U-boats operated with impunity off the Florida coast, sinking scores of freighters from Cape Canaveral to Key West and killing nearly five thousand people. Residents were horrified witnesses of the attacks—the night skies were aflame and in the morning the beaches were covered with oil and tar, ship parts and charred corpses. The Germans even landed teams of saboteurs charged with disrupting war efforts in the factories of the North. This novel is based on those events. For my own purposes, I set the tale in the fictitious town of Juno Beach on the banks of the equally fictitious Seminole River—all in the very real Palm Beach County, a veritable wilderness in those long ago days. Among the witnesses were my grandfather and grandmother, who operated an orchard and ranch in the area. 


The year is 1778 and the Revolutionary War has young America trapped in the crossfire of hatred and fear. Diana, an indentured servant, escapes her abusive master with the help of Emmett Shannon, a deserter from the desperate army at Valley Forge. They fall in love and marry, but their happiness is shattered and Diana Shannon must learn to survive on her own. From that moment on she will become a true woman of her times, blazing a path from lawless lands in the grips of the Revolution, to plague-stricken Philadelphia, to the burning of Washington in the War Of 1812.

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.


THE TIMURA TRILOGY: When The Gods Slept, Wolves Of The Gods and The Gods Awaken. This best selling fantasy series now available as trade paperbacks, e-books (in all varieties) and as audiobooks. Visit The Timura Trilogy page for links to all the editions. 

NEWLY REVISED KINDLE EDITIONS OF THE TIMURA TRILOGY NOW AVAILABLE. (1) When The Gods Slept;(2) Wolves Of The Gods; (3) The Gods Awaken.


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.



What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)


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. 



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.