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Peggy Elliott

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Famous People I Have Known - But Didn't Know It

Posted: 07/08/2013 3:30 pm

I am looking at a picture of a very young Richard Dreyfus. It is a frame captured from an episode my partner, Ed Scharlach, and I wrote for the TV sitcom, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in 1972, and sent to me by a GAMMie -- as the fans of the series term themselves. He is sporting a paintbrush mustache, and I wonder: did he grow it for the role of a young newspaperman, thinking the character would want to look older? Did he, as an actor, grow it in the hopes that he would look older? Or, was it just the '70s, where everyone had a mustache?

I have no idea, because, when he was cast, I didn't know that Richard Dreyfus would be become Richard Dreyfus, so was only pleased at how well he brought off the intention of the part, which was a rare guest role in a series that mostly featured the running characters. It was a good part: Ed and I came from what we called "The Carl Reiner School of Writing." We were still in college when the Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air, but had the opportunity to work with more experienced writers who had been trained by Reiner, the producer of the show, and one of the rules of thumb was that every part, no matter how small, had to be a fleshed-out character; something an actor could get their chops into -- and who knew? Perhaps it would be their lucky break.

Was it a lucky break for Dreyfus? Once again, I have no idea. I only know that he went on to be Duddy Kravitz in 1974 and, interesting to me, co-starred with Marilyn Mason in The Goodbye Girl, based on the play by the great Neil Simon, in 1977. It is interesting to me because Marilyn Mason, before she became Marlyn Mason, played a featured role in an episode Ed and I wrote for "Hey Landlord" our freshman year as comedy writers in 1966. It must have been a good role - as a matter of fact, it was the crux of the plot - because in 1972, she repeated the same role and the same plot, but with different stars in an episode we wrote for The Odd Couple.

Yes, we did steal from ourselves occasionally, but only when we were asked nicely. In this case, we were asked by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson, who produced both series. "Hey, Landlord" only ran for one season, so, alas, it is not a regular on TV, which is a shame, because it was a show about young people written by young people, at a time when TV was just emerging from the '50s and Father Knows Best -- which I loved, by the way. We also repeated ourselves with a "Hey, Landlord" episode on Happy Days, but that is another story, though the fact that Sally Field played the sister of the lead character in Hey Landlord counts. Rob Reiner also made his debut in Hey, Landlord, playing a dim frat guy named "Moose," and Michael Constantine popped up in a guest role long before either Room 222, which Ed and I also wrote, or the windex-toting dad in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.

I like to think that the Carl Reiner School of Writing guest roles we created also helped to cast Laugh-In. Ruth Buzzi was Anne Marie's friend in That Girl, which, along with Hey Landlord, launched our careers in 1966, and Paul Lynde had one of his first TV roles as well in an episode we wrote for That Girl about a disreputable door-to-door shoe salesman -- and doesn't that sound in character? Goldie Hawn appeared on Good Morning, World, the next series that Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, the producers of That Girl created (and they were veterans of The Dick Van Dyke Show). I think that she was the only future star that all of us recognized at the time would become a star.

I ran into Richard Dreyfus several years ago at the Sun Valley, Idaho airport. Our flight to Los Angeles had been cancelled. I knew that he had a home in the Valley (where I now live), but I was more concerned with finding alternatives than star-gazing. He didn't know who I was -- hey, I am a writer -- but he knew that I was a single woman, stranded. He had made arrangements for a private plane, and came over and asked me, a complete stranger, if I would like to come along. By this time, I had committed to a car/van pool to Boise with four other people, so I declined, but what a nice gesture.

I wish now that I had been contemplating that frame from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and was wondering what I am wondering now, and could have gotten some answers from him. It is summertime in Sun Valley at this moment and glorious, with the sun shining and all flights running on time. But if the weather hits this winter, and I spy a familiar face in the airport, with or without mustache, I am going to take the initiative and ask: did that role on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, so long ago, lead to better things?

 
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