The First Time I Got Paid For It

Unless you are the Oscar-winner who got kicked off American Idol, the fresh-faced unknown chosen to star opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, or the personal assistant to Matthew Broderick who wrote Little Miss Sunshine, there is no such thing as a meteoric rise to the top. In Hollywood, success comes in dribs and drabs, in a series of little firsts meant to drag and drop your pecking order as though rearranging some great Netflix queue in the sky.

There's the first time someone besides your mother admires your work.

The first time someone besides your mother returns a call to share this opinion.

The first time you get a studio drive-on to the Warner lot. (I shall cherish the memory of mine as though it were my "first time"with one of the actual Warner brothers).

The first time your drive-on is actually there when you reach the gilded gates of Paramount Pictures, so you don't have to pull over and hang your head in shame while they examine your undercarriage for plastic explosives.

The first time you get to valet at Sony rather than park across the street in an underground lot beside the lady who makes the gravy in the commissary.

The first time you get to meet with the actual star rather than his or her D-Girl, who almost invariably bears a striking physical resemblance to the original, only without the veneers, voice training and Swiss skin care regimen.

The first time a famous actor nails a line you wrote.

The first time you get paid to write something, anything.

The first time you unknowingly drop your drawstring skirt on the Disney lot while leaving a meeting, then exit the New Animation Building in the shadow of the giant Sorcerer's Hat exposing your crushed velvet thong to every passing geek with a colored pencil.

See, my first time wasn't writing a script for Mr. Movie Star, as popular legend has it. It was years ago, before I ever went to film school, when a kindly drunken Irishman my brother-in-law met on St. Patty's Day at Tom Bergen's gave me a chance to pitch his Sunday morning cartoon. Writing children's animation certainly wouldn't have been my first choice, since I never cared much for children or animation back then. I'd never seen Shrek, for example. I couldn't understand why there weren't any people in it. If you-re going to re-make The Princess Bride, I say pony up for Mandy Patinkin in the flesh.
On the plus side, this particular cartoon was voiced by a number of comedy legends, including Dabney Coleman, John Astin, Tim Curry, Allyce Beaseley and Glenne Headley. I pitched an episode where the kids went away to summer camp and the grown-ups took over the school. "Picture Lord of the Flies, only with grown-ups," I explained.

"What about the kids?" the producer asked. He was sober now, and not nearly as much fun as he'd been while powering back the Guinness and pretending to have a brogue.

"Haven't we had enough of the kids?" I asked?

He wondered if I had anything else. I didn't. But damn if I was going to tell him that, since I was new in town and still believed in my God-given right to highly overpaid employment. Given my background in comedy improvisation, I knew it was possible to toss off an idea he was certain to like by pausing to let him supply the last part of my sentences. "What if the school principal got fired, and had to..."

"Take a job at the Middle School?"

"Exactly," I said. "Only the guy who replaces him is..."

"Even meaner than the original?"

"You took the words right out of my mouth," I told him. "Anyway, what they have to do is..."

"Find a way to get rid of him and bring the old guy back between six commercials for sugary breakfast cereal!"

"So you like my idea?" I asked.

 He told me to go off and write it, getting up to shake my hand. I'm not sure if this is were I lost my skirt, or if it happened farther down the hall once I was out of his eye line.  I felt a light breeze kissing my nether regions, and found my skirt untied around my ankles. Since we hadn't talked money, I hoped he hadn't viewed the whole performance as a pathetic ploy to earn extra points on the "back end."

Though I'll never know for sure as to why, I was very handsomely paid indeed for what would become my first produced credit. That is, after I was teamed up with some guy on staff who re-wrote it beyond all recognition gave it a little polish.

People think we're a lawless bunch, but Hollywood has all kinds of rules. One is never wear granny panties to a meeting anywhere in the vicinity of 500 Buena Vista. Another is, regardless of personal preference, go ahead and build yourself a great career in family entertainment should that opportunity arise after so much wishing upon so very many stars.

Yes, another thing they won't tell you in film school is whatever happens, wherever it happens and no matter how many people point and laugh, you just pick up your skirt and keep right on walking.

Note: Disney neglected to issue the series in DVD and removed YouTube uploads on licensing grounds. Although it aired again and again in syndication snce this piece was first published in April, 2006, I never grabbed a copy.


  1. I can't believe you wouldn't watch it... even so you could bitch about how they killed it - on your blog of course.

    I'm glad you're back.

  2. Anonymous12:26 PM

    "earn extra points on the back end" no pun intended

  3. No, it was attended. Damn, I hate when I'm subtle.

  4. I sure enjoy reading you. It's good to have you back blogging if only until you next drop trou amid the mice.

  5. That goes on my list of techniques for making it in Hollywood.

    #45, drop your skirt and expose your panties whenever you're in front of someone influential on the lot.

    Right after #44, get as drunk as possible at the premiere of Kickin' it Old Skool.

    Glad you're back.

  6. Funny, camp, retro-cool, sarcastic, I am now a follower and a fan.

    Dr. Al Carlos, Deputy Managing Editor, Herald de Paris et Cie

  7. Thanks so much Al! Please be sure to tell all your fancy French friends!!!

  8. Anonymous11:51 AM

    Great story, and glad you're back. Looking forward to more

  9. Thanks MZ, always happy to have you weigh in!