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How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island

And Other Misadventures of a Hollywood Writer-Producer

William Froug

Publication Year: 2005

    In the early 1950s writers were leaving radio en masse to try their hand at another promising medium—television. William Froug was in the thick of that exodus, a young man full of ideas in a Hollywood bursting with opportunities. In his forty-year career Froug would write and/or produce many of the shows that America has grown up with. From the drama of Playhouse 90 and the mind-bending premises of The Twilight Zone to the escapist scenarios of Adventures in Paradise, Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, and Charlie’s Angels, Froug played a role in shaping his trade. He crossed paths with some of the memorable personalities in the industry, including Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Agnes Moorehead, Elizabeth Montgomery, Robert Blake, Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, Aaron Spelling, and Sherwood Schwartz.

    Froug reveals a post-WWII America giddy with the success of its newest medium—yet sobered at moments by strikes and union politics, McCarthyism and anti-Semitism. It was a world of hastily written scripts, sudden firings, thwarted creativity, and fickle tastes. And yet, while clearly exasperated with many aspects of Hollywood, Froug was a man utterly in his element, his frustration with the industry ultimately eclipsed by his dedication to his craft.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-2

“I get by with a lot of help from my friends.” The Beatles will surely forgive the amplification. So many family members and friends have helped me during this arduous two-year journey down memory lane, I could not list them all. But several must be pointed out, not necessarily in order of importance: Gretchen Thorson entered my life as a computer teacher years ago but continued as a close friend, confidant, and guide, without whom...

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Introduction

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pp. 3-9

The single most arresting aspect of Hollywood is its unpredictability. It is a business built on the rock-solid foundation of a floating crap game, which is appropriate since the motion picture and television businesses (identical in many ways) are floating crap games. The players come and go, they win or lose and hope the next roll of the dice will change their luck. And change it will. Overnight stardom is commonplace for people who have...

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1: Welcome to Hollywood

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pp. 10-15

Late one afternoon in April of 1946, the aging DC-3 touched down on the runway of Burbank Airport in the San Fernando Valley and taxied toward the terminal. Exiting the plane, I saw white wisps of gently drifting gold-tinged clouds brushed by the fading sunlight. The deepening blue sky was crystal clear. In the distance the Santa Monica mountains guarding Los Angeles seemed aflame in the last...

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2: Hello, I Must Be Going

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pp. 16-36

Fats Waller’s megahit of the 1930s not only spawned a hit Broadway musical review that toured the nation, it also expressed lyrically our national obsession with the new medium of radio. Invented in the twenties, radio and the later development of network programs heard nationwide on either NBC or CBS (they had no significant competition) in the thirties unified the nation. Listening to Jack Benny on Sunday nights on NBC was practically...

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3: Going, Going, Gone

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pp. 36-71

On April 9, 1949, a tragic event took place in San Marino, California, that had a surprising impact on the entertainment industry in Hollywood. A three-year-old child named Kathy Fiscus fell down an abandoned well. In answer to her parents calls for help, volunteer rescuers began arriving along with big lights, digging rigs, rescue paraphernalia, and workers by the score. Within hours big trucks bearing new remote television broad-...

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4: Volcano Man

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pp. 71-95

In June of 1957 I reported to Billy Sackheim at Screen Gems.Their offices were located in an old three-story walk-up apartment building facing the service entrance to Columbia Pictures studios, just off Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, two short blocks from my former CBS Radio office. Yet, in Hollywood’s thinking, it was the distance to Mars. Entering his office I discovered Sackheim wearing...

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5: The King of Game Shows or “Shoot Her in the Stomach”

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pp. 96-107

Mark Goodson, an intelligent, sophisticated, entrepreneur, mingled with the New York showbiz elite. The world of entertainment is a meritocracy. Nobody cares if you murdered your mother, if you can come up with a showbiz winner. Goodson did not murder his mother or his father. He was born of poor Russian immigrants in Sacramento, California, and his parents...

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6: Paradise Found, Paradise Lost

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pp. 108-117

Being fired by Mark Goodson at that exact moment in time was one of the luckiest timings in my career. Twentieth Century Fox had sold a new one-hour series to ABC called Adventures in Paradise. It was about a young ex-Korean War veteran named Adam Troy who ran a freight and taxi service among the islands of the South Pacific aboard his sail boat Tiki. The noted novelist James Michener had created the series...

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7: Skinny Knows

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pp. 118-129

My agent phoned to tell me that Dick Powell had offered me a one-year contract to write and produce one-hour shows for his Dick Powell Show, one of the few remaining anthologies in television. What distinguished this series was Powell as the ongoing host. His was a likable, down-to-earth persona, and he had a rich history as a popular movie star. This job had a very special attraction for me...

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8: Bombs on the Left, Cannon on the Right

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pp. 130-162

In April 1962 I was asked by my old college roommate, E. Jack Neuman, to produce Sam Benedict, an MGM Television one-hour series for NBC. Neuman had created, written, and produced the pilot, which NBC bought with an extraordinary order for site thirty-five new episodes. The network had slotted the program for Saturday night opposite CBS’s Jackie Gleason Show—a suicide time slot. The network...

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9: Chew Vass Hexpectin Mebbe Too Loose Latrek?

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pp. 163-176

In the spring of 1963, as NBC’s one-hour drama series Sam Benedict was unspooling on the nation’s screens every Saturday night, I was cleaning out my desk at MGM making ready for whatever job would be available. I had completed the production of thirty-five episodes for MGM Television and had brought the show in considerably under budget. While the series was well received by both MGM management and the network, it did not generate the kind of...

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10: The Sunset of The Twilight Zone

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pp. 177-197

Throughout the summer of 1963 I discovered that Rod Serling seemed to have total recall of every joke he had ever heard and an unmatchable range of ethnic accents to use in telling them: Greek, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese,Yiddish, Cockney, English upper class, all were in his memory bank. I am a born straight man, capable of great guffaws, easily collapsing with laughter, tears pouring down my cheeks, begging for mercy until...

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11: Banished to Gilligan’s Island

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pp. 198-228

James Thomas Aubrey Jr. stood more than six feet tall, was thin as a reed, handsome in an angular way, and born to privilege. He graduated from the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy and Princeton University. Yet he had the surest feel for the mass audience’s taste in TV programs of anyone in broadcasting history. In a remarkably short period of time he became the most powerful president of a television network in the history of the medium. Soon, the press dubbed...

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12: Bewitched . . . Plenty Bothered and Bewildered

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pp. 229-244

In the spring of 1966 my agent informed me that he had received an offer from Harry Ackerman, vice president of Screen Gems, for me to produce the third season of the half-hour sitcom Bewitched. It was already the reigning hit of television, debuting at number two in the ratings and remaining in that slot for an entire year. It was the only sitcom capable of knocking out James...

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13: One Subchaser Missing in Action

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pp. 245-253

In the summer of 1970, I reported to work on the Sam Goldwyn lot just off Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa, in Hollywood where the Mirisch Company kept offices and made many of their films. The Mirisch brothers were revolutionizing the way Hollywood made pictures. Walter, Lawrence, and Marvin Mirisch realized they didn’t need to own a studio in order to become major players in Hollywood and produce a full slate of features.They merely leased space from Goldwyn...

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14: So You Want to Be in Pictures?

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pp. 254-261

One evening after my USC class was over, one of my students approached me. Thin, emaciated, skin too pale, he looked like death lurking. He said his name was Dan O’Bannon. His cheeks were sunken, his color pallid, his eyes dull. He handed me a screenplay and asked if I would read it. I assured him I would and asked him if he was ill. “I haven’t eaten in two days,” he replied, his voice quiet as a tomb. “I have enough O’Bannon. His dialogue was often brilliant, but his storytelling...

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15: One Last Fling

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pp. 262-273

That summer of 1971 I received a call from my agent telling me that Allen Courtney, the president of MGM Television, had a commitment for an ABC Movie of the Week he wanted me to produce. All he had to show me was a one-page treatment by a New York writer, Lewis John Carlino. Carlino’s story was called In Search of America. It was about an upper-middle-class American family who buys an old school bus, refurbishes it as a mobile home, and sets out with their teenage son...

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16: Free at Last

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pp. 274-280

In January 1971 I reported to work at the University of California, Los Angeles, as a lecturer in the Department of Theater Arts, Film, and Television. Walking onto the campus from the mammoth parking structure to McGowan Hall where my office was located was a ten minute stroll past bulletin boards jammed with messages and announcements. Students hurried past on their way...

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17: Hollywood, UCLA

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pp. 281-299

I had learned in my first year that USC’s Film School and UCLA’s Department of Theater Arts film school were as different as night and day. While equally outstanding in the education they offered students, their fundamental approach could not have been more opposite. USC cultivated close ties with Hollywood and the entertainment industry. UCLA eschewed any connection with it. For obscure reasons lost to history, UCLA wanted no part of...

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18: Fun and Games in TV Land

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pp. 300-316

In the spring of 1975, I was eligible for two quarters of sabbatical. By parlaying a spring quarter with the following fall and including the usual summer quarter hiatus, I was able to put together nine months of free time. Along with two other couples, my girlfriend and I booked passage aboard a barge for a cruise through the canals of the south of France. The trip was for only two weeks, but it was to be my first nonworking vacation since I had started...

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19: Only Sometimes a Happy Ending

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pp. 317-327

There was a sense of dissatisfaction slowly building among Hollywood’s contract hyphenates. More and more they were beginning to be treated like, well, writers. Many of them were getting no respect. An example of one of the causes of our resentment was a young actor named Robert Blake, a highly experienced former child actor with a multitude of credits as an adult. He had received excellent reviews for his work as one of the two...

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20: Scenes from the Life of a Teacher

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pp. 328-334

Although I enjoyed my activist role in union politics, my primary focus was on teaching. One afternoon during my UCLA office hours, I answered a knock on my door to discover a liveried chauffeur, in shiny black boots, standing between two preteens in black suits, white shirts, black ties, like two bar mitzvah boys. They were Mel Brooks in miniature. “Mr. Brooks asked me to bring his sons to you,” the chauffeur...

Index

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pp. 335-348


E-ISBN-13: 9780299250638
Print-ISBN-13: 9780879728731

Publication Year: 2005