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A Clean-Shaven Girl In A Bearded Comedy World

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Marlo Thomas became the first young, single woman in television in 1966. At the same time, I became one of the first young single women writing for television and "That Girl." My debut was not the news that Marlo's was, but someone at her network, ABC, took notice, since I was asked to appear with Marlo on a new series called "The Dating Game." Years later, it was revived in a much sexier version, but there was no sex on television in 1966. Recently, I talked to Saul Turteltaub, who co-produced "That Girl" in its later years, and he couldn't remember Anne Marie and her boyfriend, Don Hollinger, even exchanging a goodnight kiss in five years.

Marlo and her "date" were given a fabulous night on the town, but the guy I selected and I were told we could ride on a float at the Burro Festival in Bakersfield. Was that because I was supposed to be funny? We both opted for a toaster oven instead and never saw each other again.

Some people suggested that entering the male profession of comedy was a great way to meet guys. Burro festivals, aside, that simply didn't happen. The writing teams I worked with were all family men in their 30s and 40s, who considered me and my partner, Ed Scharlach, "the kids" (all comedy writers had to have two heads). Once the boys realized that Ed was my pal and not my boyfriend, they did try to fix me up: with Bill Dana, who portrayed the non politically-correct "My name Jose Jimenez," and Dick Martin, of Laugh-In fame. Nice guys, but I was already spending most of my time around guys constantly cracking jokes, and it could be exhausting.

But the real problem lay in the fact that the only people at story conferences who didn't have a beard, mustache, or creative combinations of both were me and my partner -- and, come to think of it, that probably had something to do with Ed and I getting along so well. I am not attracted to men with facial hair. It's not really a phobia, though I confess I am somewhat ambivalent about both Santa Claus and Jesus. It is all because of my childhood Pediatrician -- my parents called him a baby doctor -- who had a mustache exactly like Adolf Hitler's. You'd think someone would have told him that this was not a good move. I had seen Donald Duck imitate Hitler, with a toothbrush mustache, but my parents didn't seem to think it was funny. They told me Hitler was the worst human being the world had ever known. I equated him with his lookalike who poked me with needles every time I saw him, and imagined them both lurking under my bed.

As the Beatles entered their Maharishi stage and the hippie era blossomed, every male I worked with became more and more hirsute, I was so glad that Ed still looked Ivy League, even though he had graduated from Berkeley. We tried to use my quirk as the premise for a sitcom episode, but none of the bearded, mustachioed and side-burned story editors thought it was very funny.

The two of us had a good working relationship with Leonard Stern, the creator of "Get Smart" and "McMillan and Wife." Lenny had the most beautiful silver mustache and closely trimmed beard in town. I admired him, and even admired them both from afar as perfection of their class. Of course, his entire production staff also had beards and/or mustaches, though not as elegant as Lenny's.

Ed and I were writing for a new series Lenny had developed, "He and She," with Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin, husband and wife in real life. As a joke, we decided to wear fake beards to our next story conference. They were cheap, hot and scratchy, but it was worth the pain to get a reaction from Lenny when we walked into his office.

Lenny greeted us cordially as always, but didn't bat an eye at our beards. We pulled chairs up to his desk and he proceeded to go through notes on our first draft. The conference went on and on. We were determined not to crack first. I was dying of thirst, but couldn't figure out how to drink a glass of water through the beard without blowing things. Finally, the notes were over, we all got up, Lenny shook our hands and even kissed me on my bearded cheek, and we went on our way. We knew when we had been topped. The only thing to do was to keep going back for more and hope that Lenny would eventually call a truce and acknowledge what had happened -- but "He and She" led to another series, "The Hero," and silence still reigned.

My eventual (clean-shaven) husband and I became close personal friends of Lenny and his wife, Gloria Strook. For many years, we saw them at least once a week. Lenny never brought up our mutually bearded story conference, and my lips remained sealed until he gave me the nod. He passed away a couple of years ago, still without acknowledging that there was anything unusual about that long-ago day.

Now that's the way to bring off a joke!

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