I am including two versions of my biography, a long one which details my career as best as I can remember it, and a short version that can be used in a playbill if you are doing a production of one of my plays. Feel free to make it even shorter.
THE LONG VERSION — I was born in Chicago in 1932 where I immediately showed no signs of any meaningful achievement. Nineteen years later when trying to learn accounting in Junior College proved futile, I joined the Air Force and of course was immediately put in the accounting department. After a year of screwing up and getting yelled at constantly by my superiors, I was reassigned and spent the rest of my enlistment in charge of a library on a small, remote and very unimportant Air Force Base in Ohio. It was there that I began my writing career as the editor and sole contributor of a bi-monthly politically incorrect base newspaper, THE TRIBE SCRIBE, which I filled with jokes, base gossip and sarcastic editorials and while it was very popular with the troops, I unashamedly admit it was the lowest rated publications in military history. After three years, nine months and twenty-three days of bravely serving our country I was honorably discharged and went on to attend and graduate from the University of Illinois with a degree in Journalism.
After graduating, I moved to New York City where even though I was tone deaf and played no musical instrument, I began my career as a songwriter. My first hit song, THE GIRL OF MY BEST FRIEND, which I co-wrote with Beverly Ross was recorded by Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, it also proved to be my last hit song and after a year or so of living on hot dogs and jelly donuts, I decided to give writing a try and after a year of writing for radio talk shows and TV game shows I landed one of the best jobs I ever had, working on the children's classic CAPTAIN KANGAROO. It was an amazing experience. Everyone on the show was nice, the working conditions were great, the producer loved what I was doing and I could have stayed on the show for ten years. Yet, something always seemed to be missing for me. I soon realized what it was - abuse and insecurity. Without those two elements in my life there seemed to be no reason to try to accomplish anything more.
In 1962 I moved to Los Angeles and partnered with Billy Idelson, we wrote for THE FLINTSTONES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, GET SMART and BEWITCHED, all very popular TV shows. In 1967, I was hired as a writer on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR where I was partnered with Ron Clark. Ron and I hit it off instantly and we remain good friends to this day. He comes over every Tuesday for coffee and we compare failing body parts. THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR was a great experience for a number of reasons. We got to make fun of the government and point out this country's societal ills. While today it's done all the time and with few repercussions, back in the late sixties there were censors and some very frightened executives and there were many lines one could not cross. Ron and I once pitched a TV series about a divorced couple and almost got thrown out of a window.
In 1968, Ron and I moved to New York with our families to do a summer variety series THE KRAFT SUMMER MUSIC HALL, a weekly variety show with mostly singing and which we very soon discovered could be written in a single day. That's when we decided to write our first play.
NORMAN IS THAT YOU? was the first gay comedy on Broadway. While the audiences howled from beginning to end and we thought we had a big hit, the critics were stunned by the audacity to treat homosexuality with humor and understanding and not the torturous journey they felt it should be and weren't too kind to it. Also, outside of Neil Simon, in those days they weren't very fond of TV writers. Although it closed in a few weeks it ran in Paris for five years and continues to be produced around the world. Incidentally, the night our play opened in New York, there was a horrendous murder in an office building. A woman was stabbed and thrown down an elevator shaft. Fortunately, they caught the guy who did it but when I read that story and then read our review I realized they were nicer to the murderer than they were to us.
Ron and I went back to Los Angeles and continued writing shows for Tim Conway, Paul Lynde and Alan King but we always found time to write another play and went back to New York with three more, NO HARD FEELINGS, MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON'S and WALLY'S CAFE. But because we were stuck with the stigma of being TV writers, they all met with the same fate at the hands of the critics as our first play. I must say, though, that I take great pleasure in the fact that these plays continue to be produced and enjoyed by the public and all the New York critics who I thought were mostly assholes are dead. Yes, I am a bit of a vindictive jerk myself, but I feel it's okay for a critic not to like a play but some of them were mean for no good reason. Actually, I welcome a critic who will tell me what they think is wrong with a play so that I might be able to fix it. The late Elliot Norton, a critic in Boston was one like that. Of course, I absolutely love the critics who give me good reviews, but who wouldn't. They are obviously geniuses.
Although I always try to put my best effort into everything I write, I must admit that the plays I've written are more important to me than all my other writing accomplishments. I loved being called a playwright. Once while Ron Clark and I were flying back to L.A. from New York I made the observation that if the plane went down east of the Mississippi we would be remembered as playwrights but if we went down west of the Mississippi we would just be called gag writers.
There comes a time when a successful writing team feels a need to take different directions. Fortunately Ron and I were able to do that while remaining good friends. Ron wanted to do movies and I wanted to write plays. Now and then we would get back together for a project. We both had success in our endeavors.
I began to treat TV writing as scholarship money. I would write enough TV to have the income to take time off to write a play. Even though I was married with three kids, I was fortunate to be able to do that.
Although there was nothing I wanted more than to get back to Broadway, with four flops I knew that was going to be an impossible task and while it bothered me at first I saw a bumper sticker that said, I FOUND HAPPINESS WHEN I GAVE UP HOPE, and for some reason that bumper sticker made everything seem okay. Fortunately Samuel French decided to publish many of my plays that didn't go to Broadway and they all seem to be doing very well. By the way, another bumper sticker that helped set it all straight for me is, IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO HAVE A HAPPY CHILDHOOD. Every time that one comes to mind I help myself to a cookie.
Meanwhile, I'm not sure of the exact dates, but some time in the seventies, 20th Century Fox hired me to doctor THE WIZ before it opened on Broadway. I also created the TV series SAVED BY THE BELL. Both gave me a little more independence.
In 1992 when I turned 60, I did my last TV show. It was a pilot for Dudley Moore. It did not sell but I had made up my mind that would be the last one for me. For some reason at 60 I started to feel death was around the corner and I knew I had more plays to write. My family was grown and gone as well as my first wife of 26 years and I decided that the rest of my life should belong to me. It was a wise choice.
So here I am at 86. My magnificent second wife, Julie and I have been happily together for twenty- eight years now. My children and grandchildren come see us quite often and I've always had at least two wonderful dogs to pee on my lawn at all times. Looking back at my life and career, which I don't do very often, I must say it hasn't been a bad ride. Sure, there have been some bumpy times, but no gets away without having some of those. On the plus side I've been able to turn a lot of them into plays. Oh, one more thing. Since I still have about sixteen reams of three-hole-punch paper left in my closet, I have to continue to write.