Saturday, September 21, 2013

Memorable Meets: Sherwood Schwartz

In the course of researching and writing four books, I've had the chance to interview some people I never expected to meet. One memorable example was Sherwood Schwartz, the veteran comedy writer/producer most closely associated with his eternally popular shows Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. 

I wrote to Mr. Schwartz in 2006 asking for an interview because he was one of the few people still around who could tell me first-hand about Joan Davis (1912-1961), the radio and television comedienne who was the subject of a chapter in my first book, The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Mr. Schwartz spent three years as a staff writer on Davis' popular NBC sitcom, I Married Joan (which co-starred Jim Backus, later "Thurston Howell III.")

Thinking back more than fifty years from the day I interviewed him, Mr. Schwartz had admirable recall of what it was like to work with Ms. Davis. In his study at home, he kept copies of the many scripts he'd written over the years, and he retrieved a couple from Joan to refresh his memory. I was also impressed with the fact that he was honest about her without being unkind. He certainly could have slapped her around some had he chosen to do so; she'd been dead for a number of years, and wasn't around to defend herself. Instead, without whitewashing anything ("She was tough," he said frankly), he spoke with admiration for her talent, and gave me a good feel for what it was like to work with her. He told me an anecdote about the making of an I Married Joan episode called "Mountain Lodge" and her impromptu revamping of a scene he'd written. Later, I was able to see that episode, and was impressed that his memory of the scene -- and what she did to it! -- was accurate.

Mr. Schwartz died on July 12, 2011, at the age of 94, after a long and storied career. His passing, like that of a few other people I've interviewed in the past several years, reminded me there is a limited window of opportunity to preserve memories like his. I don't think the accomplishments of people like him -- and Joan Davis -- will be forgotten.


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