Saturday, December 27, 2008

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodnight!

No doubt about it. 2008 was a tough one. The industry took some major hits. Some long held-alliances fractured. Our numbers went down. Writers took to the streets. Actors threatened to. TV panicked. Advertisers closed their wallets. Independent film lost its lease. New Media came to town like the James Gang; scaring the shit out of everybody. And then the economy collapsed. Still, there were a few bright spots.

It was great to see a terrific, critically acclaimed film like “The Dark Knight” almost topple “Titanic’s” box office record. Meanwhile, “Wall-E” pulled off the most amazing balancing act of art, storytelling and morality I’ve ever seen in piece of popular entertainment. On TV, “In Treatment” turned therapy into riveting drama and “Desperate Housewives” got good again. Even Britney managed to pull 2008 out of the crapper by producing a well-received album. The election provided fertilizer for the best crop of political comedy in 20 years. Letterman, Leno, SNL, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, The Onion and especially Tina Fey gave us comic commentary that was as hilarious as it was smart. And, oh yeah, we in the media played no small part in electing the first African-American President of the United States. Go team.

Speaking for myself, this was sort of a crappy year as far as business was concerned. I pitched on a number of jobs that I didn’t get. My spec pilot went nowhere and I didn’t get many auditions. I also lost a friendship (which was a bummer) but met a ton of great new people. I dated. I became a better networker. I took a huge gamble (that paid off). I let go of a distant dream and replaced it something that was handily right in front of me. I reaffirmed my belief in the power of work. I joined a new church. I worked for democracy. I walked a picket line and marched for gay rights. I changed agents. I sold an option. I mentored some young writers. I created a blog about my life (You’re reading it right now). I dipped into my savings. I tightened my belt. I postponed my vacation. I found time to hang out with my 82 year-old neighbor so we could (as he likes to put it) “shoot the shit.” I decided to teach. I briefly regretted a few of my choices, but then decided that was a big, fat, stupid waste of time. And I wrote.

Goodbyes are hard. Although 2008 was not my favorite year, it's still been tricky to let go of. Conceding that certain things didn’t (or may never) happen can be a little rough. Fortunately, December 31st comes 'round each year to remind me that life is lived in chapters and the goal is to rack up as many as one can (in the hope that in the final tally, the good will outnumber the bad). Oddly, even in the years when I don’t make a lot of money, I still feel lucky. By choosing to create for a living, I became linked to an amazing, unwieldy (and sometimes tawdry) legacy of entertaining people. As new stars emerged this year, a few favorites faded into the mist. I decided to use my last entry of 2008 to share what I will always remember about them:

The first paperback I ever bought with my own money (at age twelve) was Michael Crichton's “Andromeda Strain.” Stud Terkel's “Working” is the story of America. I wonder if Harold Pinter ever enjoyed the fact that he had his own adjective ("Pinteresque"). "Kojak” (created by Oscar-winner Abby Mann) was Queen Elizabeth II's favorite TV show. Anthony Minghella actually made a decent movie out of “The English Patient.” David Foster Wallace's sadness overtook his brilliance. Tony Hillerman reinvented the literary Southwest. Evelyn Keyes wasn't much of a writer, but had great taste in ex-husbands. Aleksandr Solzhenenitzyn's work intimidated me. Sydney Pollack: My personal faves: “Tootsie” & “Out of Africa.” Stan Winston: Movie creatures will never the same. Michael Kidd's dances for “Hello, Dolly!” came back to life in “Wall-E.” Bernie Brillstein knew talent when he saw it.

Heath Ledger's “Ennis” was a revelation & his "Joker” was stunning. Yma Sumac was a “camp” legend. Brad Renfro just got lost. Richard Widmark was the classic tough guy. Eartha Kitt: The best “Catwoman” of them all. I think of Edie Adams every time I see a Muriel cigar. I think of Charlton Heston every time I read about someone being shot with a handgun. Cyd Charisse had legs, baby! I never knew what a "Bippie" was, but every time Dick Martin said it, I felt dirty. Ivan Dixon was the black guy on “Hogan’s Heroes." Paul Benedict was the white guy on “The Jeffersons." David Groh married "Rhoda.” I still remember Robert Prosky's stage work in New York. I can still remember Suzanne Pleshette lying on the steps of the schoolhouse with her eyes pecked-out in “The Birds." Bernie Mac once thought he wanted to do a movie I wrote. Nina Foch was always good. I always noticed her. Dodi Goodman was funny, without even trying. Isaac Hayes was "Shaft" before he was "Chef." My family loved Eddy Arnold almost as much as they loved Jerry Reed. Why did Richard Blackwell base his entire career on being catty? I bought one of Miriam Makeba's albums at a garage sale in '83. Paul Scofield should have had a bigger career. Gerald Schoenfeld loved Broadway. Jo Stafford had a really pretty voice. I play Odetta's Christmas CD every year. I loved it when Harvey Korman couldn't keep a straight face. Vampira: Proof that anybody can make it show business. Lois Nettleton glowed. Roy Scheider should never have had that facelift. Estelle Getty "made it" at age 60. My Uncle Merl once shook hands with Van Johnson after a dinner theatre show. He never forgot it.

When I saw Paul Newman in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” I knew I was gay. I actually got to meet and talk with George Carlin about two weeks before his death. Bettie Page: In a word… “Hot!” Yves Saint Laurent changed fashion. Bo Diddley: One of the founding fathers of Rock & Roll. William F. Buckley always seemed like an alien. Arthur C. Clarke's stories scared me. Sen. Jesse Helms scared me even more. Forrest J. Ackerman invented the term “Sci-Fi”. Alexander Courage wrote the original music for “Star Trek”. Majel Barrett Roddenberry was the only actor to be involved in every incarnation of “Star Trek” from 1965 through 2009 (proving that it never hurts to marry the boss). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi inspired me to secretly take TM classes when I was 16. Albert Hofmann created LSD (Good Work, Al!) And Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Everest in '53 (before it became a tourist attraction).

These people (each in their own way) inspired the imaginations of a world-wide audience. It's a great legacy that now rests in our hands. Yeah, I know it's a little confusing out there right now, but once, about a hundred years ago, a few intrepid souls trekked out to California, bought a barn and called it a "studio." They didn't know what they were doing either. It's a New Year, Hollywood. Let's do something with it.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at

1 comment:

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Amen. So looking forward to the new year.