Life Story VI

During this time, I had a seriously fascinating encounter with a mugger in Oakland, California.

I was walking to my car at about 2 a.m., and a huge man loomed up in front of me.

“Gimme your money, man!” he said.

I looked at him calmly. “What do you really want?” I asked.

His eyes widened. “What?”

“I’m a human being, you’re a human being. If there’s something you need, and I can do it for you, maybe I’d be happy to do it. In which case nothing has happened.”

He looked at me, and time seemed to freeze. Finally he said: “Five dollars?”

“Sure,” I said, opened my wallet, and gave it to him. “Take care of yourself.”

I can’t even say how happy I was with that exchange. I felt no fear. I saw his entire body as one big playground I was going to tap-dance on if he made the wrong move. But for five dollars, not only did I not have to hurt him . . . or risk being hurt myself (always a possibility), but I got a great story I’ve been able to tell for twenty years.

That’s what I call a bargain.

##

Some time around 1990 I taught a science fiction symposium at UCLA with Robert Bloch, Octavia Butler, Larry Niven, and . . . Ray Bradbury.

I picked Ray up at his house, and we went to dinner together in Westwood. Here was my chance to talk with him more personally. I was plagued by the idea that I may have made too many commercial choices in my career. And I unburdened my soul to this great man.

“I’ve written a lot of things that I might not have done if it weren’t for the money. I was just wondering if you think that it is possible to get back on the track.”

He considered carefully, and then said: “Well, let me ask you . . . have you published at this point?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve published six novels, and written for television and so forth.”

Ray burst into laughter. “You’ll have no problem at all,” he said.

##

Going backwards, I wanted to talk about my experience on Baywatch, by far the greatest exposure my ideas ever had to the world. After all, at its peak, it was seen by a billion people every week.

I remember walking out of the first Baywatch meeting and feeling like the world was spinning. I’d pitched ideas, and Michael Berke and Doug Schwartz had actually TRIED to help me find a way to make the ideas work. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I stumbled out to a phone booth and called Toni, telling her with tears streaming down my face. My first script, “Lover’s Cove,” went wonderfully. You know, a lot of people had contempt for Baywatch—felt it was irrelevant fluff. But I found the people to be nice, and fair, and open, smart and creative, and without the slightest pretension. I loved working for them.

David Hasselhoff had a great sense of humor about himself. He didn’t take it all too seriously, and I think everyone knew that they’d stumbled into a money factory and were playing it for all it was worth, for as long as they could. The single most interesting things that happened to me while I was there had to do with Pam Anderson.

Back before she became a sex goddess, she was this gorgeous blond in a one-piece bathing suit, with a killer body. But I remember her as being hard working, friendly, and that she got up at some ungodly hour to work out every day, and watched every spoonful that she ate.

Well, to be honest, I’m not particularly attracted to blonds. Brunettes and redheads are much more to my taste. But one day I was in the Baywatch offices, and sitting on the edge of a desk, engaging in a conversation with Pam. I don’t remember what we were talking about  . . . perhaps some lines in a script I’d written.

What happened is that I still had no conscious thought of finding her particularly attractive, but suddenly I was having trouble pronouncing words. Literally, getting tongue tied. My thoughts were getting confused, and it was harder and harder to put them in proper sequence. It felt as if someone was shooting Freon into my brain, shutting down my frontal lobes, until all that remained was the imperative: WANT WOMAN.

It was bizarre and kind of frightening. The only parallel to it that I can point to was back when I was working at CBS television in the 70s. George Foreman was the heavyweight champion of the world, and he appeared on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. I shook hands with him, and he was so terribly gentle with me; he shook my hand like a grizzly bear who lived in a world of glass people.

That level of male physicality was the rough equivalent of the level of female physicality I felt from Pam Anderson.

Which suggests the lead casting of a porn film that will never, ever be made. But I digress.

##

My experience at Baywatch was great, but it was also incredibly painful. My second script was about a television producer who comes to Baywatch to make a television series about . . . lifeguards. But the lifeguards at Baywatch hate the show, because all the guys are painted at steroid muscle heads while the women are silicon bimbos.

Ahem.

To my amazement, the producers loved my idea, and I wrote it. Comedy has never been my long suit, and the co-producer punched up my script. Then I learned that he had taken me to the Writer’s Guild to try to get co-writer credit on the episode. I panicked. I couldn’t understand how this multimillionaire could try to take my money like that. But even worse, if he lost arbitration, I knew he would find a way to punish me.

And that’s what happened. He lost, and the next thing I knew he had told the head of my agency, “Steve isn’t really a very good writer. We’re just carrying him.”

My heart was just broken. These were the nicest folks I’d met in the industry. And they’d screwed me.

##

The L.A. quake hit not long after this, and my wife Toni decided she was tired of watching me get horse-whipped in Hollywood. We’d discussed moving to the Northwest, and she was going. I had an option: lose my family or lose my career. I chose family, gave my house back to the bank, and headed north.

Unfortunately, our marriage didn’t survive the move. Just too much pain, too much stress, too many years when we’d allowed errors to multiply.

It didn’t help when my father was diagnosed with cancer. I knew that I had to confront him, and did. I had some hard things to say about his absence in my childhood . . . but I also made no secret of the fact that I loved him. Bless him, he was able to hear me, and for the rest of our relationship, our hearts were totally open to each other.

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