Showbiz Stories From The Vault — Buck Henry Died Today; I’m Proud To Say I “Put Words Into His Mouth”

Back in the day, I ran a show for HBO called “Tales From The Crypt”. My creative partner and I were hired to take over the show’s third season after its second season went a million dollars over budget. We ran “Tales” through four more seasons (60 plus episodes) and two “Tales From The Crypt” feature films (“Demon Knight” and “Bordello Of Blood“).

Making Tales was a hoot from start to finish (I absolutely do NOT include the making of Bordello in the ‘hoot’ part; making Bordello was literally the stupidest experience of my life). Gil (my partner) and I pushed hard to take Tales back to its ironic roots and to make the Crypt Keeper more of a franchise character than he was. We also pushed hard to get the biggest, best names we could get for our silly little horror TV show. And we succeeded.

We got to work with Tom Hanks (first thing he ever directed — an episode of Tales), Brad Pitt (a very young Brad Pitt), Michael J. Fox, Kirk Douglass, Dan Ackroyd, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Friedkin, John Frankenheimer, Isabella Rosselini, Ewan MacGregor & Daniel Craig (among many others). I’m not a star-effer by nature. I might be a fan — but if you screw up a day’s work and make life hard for everyone, you’re useless to me. The quality of the work is my bottomest line. Celebrity is twaddle.

But — funny thing about even mega-celebrities? Even THEY have someone they get goofy over. My executive producers on Tales were huge names: Bob Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Dick Donner, Walter Hill. I learned a ton from each of them. I wrote two of the three Tales episodes Bob Z directed (about which I am very, very proud).

And yet — for all the “big names” I got to work with and for, the one person I got to work about whom I felt… awe — there’s no other word — was Buck Henry who died today at 88 years of age. You can find Buck’s credits here. He was a giant in American comedy writing. A Giant.

“Get Smart” was seminal. “The Graduate” was transcendent. Buck Henry didn’t write the book (Charles Webb did that) but Buck Henry (along with director Mike Nichols) made “The Graduate” iconic by capturing something ineffable about Benjamin Braddock’s dilemma. “The Graduate” didn’t cast stones from outside Benjamin’s experience, it cast stones from inside. It identified white middle class alienation and spoke to a generation of kids (white, suburban) about the terrible contradiction they faced going forward between what they felt in their guts about life and the utter bullshit their parents (and the rest of the adults) were selling them about life.

“The Graduate” didn’t “solve” Benjamin’s problem, it simply pointed out that he had one.

I write screenplays — occasionally for a living even. I bow down before superb writing. Buck Henry’s work in “The Graduate” is superb.

We cast Buck in an episode called “Beauty Rest” wherein Mimi Rogers kills roommate Kathy Ireland to take her place in a beauty contest where she’s guaranteed to win — unaware that the contest is for a Miss Mortuary & the winner is going to get killed as part of her “prize”. It’s goofy, I know. That was Tales — it was more black comedy than horror. Our casting director Victoria Burrows suggested Buck Henry to play the strange beauty contest’s strange emcee.

He said yes.

My job on Tales was to rewrite every script (in addition to writing my own) until it was ready for production — and fit our franchise. The original script (credited to “Donald Longtooth” but actually Terry Black — Terry resented being rewritten) needed massaging as all scripts did. We added a musical number for the emcee character to perform and I wrote that part of the episode.

Writing dialogue for a great screenwriter is both tricky and (when they seem happy with it) gratifying. This isn’t just another writer reading your stuff and nodding at it — they’re having to take your words into their mouth — and speak them. They’re going to have faith in them as an actor — the words make sense to them and they feel they’ll look okay speaking them.

A screenwriter I deeply respected had faith in the words I was writing specifically for him to say. He had enough faith to sing some of the words I wrote for him. That’s a huge indication of “faith”.

He was a lovely man. I wish I had been less star-struck. I wish I had had more confidence in myself as a writer; I’d have talked way better shop than I talked. I don’t think we talked shop at all actually; I was waaaaaaaaaay to intimidated.

Rest In Peace, Buck.

You made the world a better place than it deserved to be. Thank you.

Wouldn’t Ya Just LOVE To Give Conservatives The World They REALLY Want?

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Remember this guy?  The Crypt Keeper?  Friend of mine actually.  For real.  He used to say “Be careful what you wish for, kiddies, you may just get it!”  Then the Crypt Keeper would laugh — kinda like this —

And then he’d get on with the episode.

Now, of course, when the Crypt Keeper warned that you’d ‘get’ it, he didn’t mean that you’d ‘receive the thing you wanted’.  He meant, ironically, the opposite.  You’d ‘GET IT’ and wish like hell you hadn’t.

That’s how republicans would feel — in a very short amount of time — about The World they have been trying to foist upon the rest of us:  “Wait — we didn’t realize THIS would happen if we had our way — send it back to the kitchen!  Is it too late to order something else off the menu?”

American conservatives — if we take them at their word — want to CONSERVE a world where:

  • The Rich Get Richer
  • Everyone else gets poorer
  • A dwindling Social Safety Net (to pay for the rich guys)
  • White Christian Male Cultural Hegemony rules
  • Abortion is illegal & so is Birth Control
  • All non-European immigration is illegal
  • The Free Press is not Free
  • Guns are even MORE ubiquitous than they are already
  • Anyone who isn’t Straight, white, Christian & male is automatically suspicious.
  • Might makes Right
  • Ignorance is bliss

A lot of conservatives want to bring religion (theirs) back to a Central position it really never had in American Life — except in Currier & Ives prints.

A lot of conservatives want to restrict education to ‘special white people’ only.  Everyone else is going to work the gig economy while their faltering, compromised standard of living gets harder and harder to maintain.

A lot of conservatives think guns should be everywhere.  Literally EVERYWHERE (except republican party events).

American Conservatives now think conspiring with a hostile foreign power is no different than cleaning hand and finger prints off a gun you just used to murder someone.   No prints, no crime.

Uh huh.  Let’s see if Mr Mueller goes along with that…

If one could really pull off ‘Thought Experiments’, I would LOVE to give Conservatives the world they crave.

First, of course (because it’s a thought experiment), we’d put all the Conservatives in one part of the country (one that’s already hard core red) and — irony — PUT A WALL AROUND IT.

Then we, the progressive world, would go do our thing for, say, A GENERATION while our conservative chums did the same thing inside their world.  Then, at a certain pre-determined time and place, we’d all get together and COMPARE NOTES.  Question:  How would Conservative World have done in contrast to Progressive World?

If we realistically laid out Each World’s approach to education, to diversity, to health care, to birth control & abortion, to financing the commonweal itself, we would find very distinct countries:  One — Conservative Land — would be lots of fun to live in if you were straight and white.  More of a daily grind if you weren’t but that’s by design.

For anyone else, Conservative Land would be the ‘spark’ in their lives going out.  It’d be the voice of Reason sputtering.

For us, it’s just another day in TrumpLand…

Conservative Land would NOT be a place that innovated anything because innovative people would have been dissuaded from going there.  Conservatives figuring that THEIR gene pool would make up the difference are going to be mighty shocked when they discover that White People — fine as they are — aren’t an more innovative than anyone else.  In a world though where few new ideas gain purchase (because thinking the SAME is encouraged), innovation fails to ignite.

Thinking the same promotes acting the same promotes being the same.

And yet — as it teetered toward ruin — because bankrupt, because horrible standard of living, because dwindling tax base — Conservative World would still THINK it was succeeding.  What everyone else called failure, they’d call ‘doing things their way’.  But, no — it’s failure.  Total failure by EVERY other name.

Conservative World would probably attend the meet-up as spiffed up as it could be — but unable to hide how hard things have been.  Holding out their hand to Progressive World — after the hand-shaking was done — probably gave the WHOLE GAME away:  They needed help.

And they knew Progressive world 1) could help and 2) probably would help.

Progressive World would be a very different place — where anything can happen because so many people are creating so many things and thinking so many exciting new thoughts.  Diversity challenges everyone to compete against everyone else on the levelest possible playing field.

Diversity of opinion and process, diversity of point of view, diversity of problem-solving.  The human genome works by favoring strong attributes over weak ones — strong attributes being the ones where you’ll ‘survive better’ for having them.  The irony (cause you can never have too much irony) is that White Supremacists are under the mistaken impression that they can ‘fine tune’ and ‘purify’ their white genes by excluding everything else from their gene pool.

One more dumb white person idea gets revealed for the dumb white person idea that it is.  White Supremacists aren’t stupid.  The aren’t incompetent.  But they do cling on to bad information like it was their last dollar — which is stupid.

While Progressives could never, would never have a place in Conservative World, the opposite is almost never true.  It’s not true now.

One of the most important aspects about Progressive World — what really sets it apart from Conservative World — is that it evolves.  All the time.  It allows people to evolve.  To grow up and mature.  To live and LEARN.  And then to come back to the fold and contribute — hopefully having LEARNED from their mistakes.

There wouldn’t be a single attribute about Conservative World that wasn’t a thousand times better in Progressive World — Food, Entertainment, Art, Technology, Governance.

The only question remaining after this Thought Experiment — if it could be made real?  What to do about the fence we’ve built around Conservative World.  We’re not tearing it down — that’s for sure.  Hell — the question I’m thinking of is — do we build it even higher?  Or do we must mine the damn thing and enjoy the fireworks?