PART TWO: Three time Emmy-winning comedy writer Bill Richmond talks with Justin Bozung for TV STORE ONLINE about his start with Frank Sinatra, working with Jerry Lewis as his writing partner on such films as THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, THE LADIES' MAN and THE PATSY as well as his work on such classic television series as Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Carol Burnett Show, Three's Company and Welcome Back, Kotter.
PART ONE of this interview is here.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going back to THE LADIES' MAN, could you talk about the size and scope of that film's set? The dollhouse?
BILL RICHMOND: Sure. It was incredibly interesting. That set was three stories high, and about fifty yards wide or so. And it's premise was based on the Hollywood Studio Club, which was an actual place in Hollywood where up and coming starlets would live at when they came to town. Jerry's idea was that he could move his camera around room-to-room when it was on a crane. Each room was individually lit and wired for sound.
It was a busy set. Everywhere you went on the Paramount lot, you'd see signs outside of sound stages that read, "NO ADMITTANCE." But Jerry's set was different. He put up a sign that said, "Sure, c'mon on in." He even put bleachers in, so visitors could come in and watch the shoot. That was copied in this town, you know. Universal Studios has that now.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you have a favorite gag or bit from THE LADIES' MAN?
BILL RICHMOND: Yeah, I do. I wrote a scene in there which I'll tell you was featured in that Peter Bogdanovich book where he interviewed Orson Welles at length. Welles said it was his favorite scene in THE LADIES' MAN. A gangster who is played by Buddy Lester comes and knocks on the door. Jerry answers the door. Buddy Lester comes in and asks to see his girlfriend. He tells Jerry, "Don't look her, don't talk to her. Don't do this, don't do that, or I'll kill ya!" So Jerry goes to get the girl, and on his way Kathleen Freeman stops him, thanks him for something, and kisses him on his cheek. So now Jerry has lipstick on his cheek.
He goes and gets the girl, and goes back to see Buddy Lester. Buddy Lester sees the lipstick on her cheek and threatens Jerry with instant death. For the next three minutes Jerry and Buddy Lester do an ad-lid with Buddy Lester's hat that is the funniest thing you will ever see. It's just hysterical. My point being: I wrote everything up to what was the funniest thing in the world. I set those two great comedians up--and they were very close friends by the way. I set them up for that ad-lib and I'm very proud of it.
They did one take of that scene: with Buddy, Jerry, and that hat. And it was so hysterical that everybody on the set would put things over their mouths to keep from laughing.
TV STORE ONLINE: Right...that scene features my very favorite line in THE LADIES' MAN. The line where Buddy Lester says, "I'm Willard C. Gainsborough, and the C stands for killer."
BILL RICHMOND: That's right...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: So let's talk about THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963). Was the creation of Buddy Love something easy for you and Jerry Lewis?
BILL RICHMOND: To be clear, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR was Jerry's idea. Jerry came up with Buddy Love. He wrote and created Buddy Love alone. I didn't really understand the character to be honest. I thought the idea of Buddy Love was crazy.
TV STORE ONLINE: So with not understanding the character of Buddy Love-- was it difficult to approach the writing of the character's dialogue?
BILL RICHMOND: I wrote only one scene with Buddy Love. I wrote the scene where Buddy Love walks into the bar and orders the drink from the bartender, who again was played by Buddy Lester. Buddy Love goes over to the bar and orders a drink with a bad attitude. He orders an "Alaskan Polar Bear Heater." Buddy Love tells the bartender how to make the drink. The bartender makes it, and he then asks Buddy Love if he can try it. Buddy Love says, "Be my guest." So the bartender takes a sip, and then fall over on the floor...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Right...laughing Where in the hell does the "Alaskan Polar Bear Heater" name come from?
BILL RICHMOND: Oh, I just made it up...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: How long did it take you and Jerry to write THE NUTTY PROFESSOR script?
BILL RICHMOND: Not long, like three or four months. It went pretty fast.
TV STORE ONLINE: What I find so interesting about a film like THE NUTTY PROFESSOR besides the obvious is just how different it was in comparison to the previous episodic films you and Jerry had done like THE ERRAND BOY (1961) and THE LADIES MAN (1961) before it.
BILL RICHMOND: Yeah, there's a story to THE NUTTY PROFESSOR.
TV STORE ONLINE: Right, was there some sort of conscious decision there in terms of changing the format and shifting towards narrative based story-telling versus doing the episodic sight-gag stuff again, or was it like a natural progression?
|Jerry Lewis shooting THE ERRAND BOY (1961)
BILL RICHMOND: Well, Paramount was concerned that Jerry's audience was slowly getting older. So the question became: How can we write a movie that not only kids would like but that the parents would like to go see as well? So, I started working on some things that were more story-oriented and that had meaning to them. So I feel that I was influential right or wrong in trying to take everything in that direction. Episodic pictures like THE BELLBOY were sort of too easy to do for us, and adults wanted to be more involved in the story. So that's how pictures like THE PATSY (1964), THE FAMILY JEWELS (1965) and THE BIG MOUTH (1967) came about.
TV STORE ONLINE: You know that I'm a huge admirer of THE BIG MOUTH (1967). No one wants to talk about that film for some reason. I've never seen Jerry say much about it even. You never read anything about it either in any of the books about Jerry's films that have been published to date.
BILL RICHMOND: That movie had a strong premise to it. I didn't like premises like "Love Conquers All" or "Keep Your Nose To The Grind Stone." The premise of THE BIG MOUTH was "Nobody Ever Listens." Jerry goes through that movie trying to tell everyone that he's just seen a murder and nobody hears him. I really like that premise. In fact, I liked it so much that it kind of became a favorite premise of mine, and I wrote several other things with that premise as well afterwards.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then what about THE FAMILY JEWELS (1965)?
BILL RICHMOND: THE FAMILY JEWELS is one of my favorites. I wrote the premise almost on my own, but I needed Jerry's help, because I knew he was going to have to play all of those characters. Jerry had already developed most of those characters by then, so I just stuck them in there. THE FAMILY JEWELS had such a strong premise, that I sold it again a few years later when I was asked to write an episode of All In The Family. I had to go through that premise in my own life with my kids. Everyone has to go through it, when you make out a will, you have to decide who will take care of your kids if you die? So I wrote THE FAMILY JEWELS because of that dilemma.
TV STORE ONLINE: I really love that episode of All In The Family (1971-79) too. There's nothing more Bill Richmond surreal than having that scene in that episode where Carol O'Connor is running around his living room with that toy machine gun firing on his family.
BILL RICHMOND: laughing...Exactly. Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers were going to leave their baby to 'Archie Bunker'? I pitched that to them, and they bought it immediately.
TV STORE ONLINE: So how does that work for you? Obviously, you're already an established writer by the time you write that episode of All In The Family, but do you worry going into something like All In The Family if you'll be able to maintain the already established tone of a series and characters as the guest writer?
BILL RICHMOND: Yeah, you do. But it's really not that hard to do. After I left The Carol Burnett Show I went to work as the lead writer and producer on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79). Before Kotter I had never even worked on a sitcom. In fact, I didn't even really like sitcoms before I worked on Kotter. You can go home and study twenty different sitcoms and analyze each of them, and if you can't write a sitcom from doing that, I don't think you're really a writer. It's different if you're starting from scratch on something, but writing something like that episode of All In The Family wasn't that hard because everything was already established.
TV STORE ONLINE: Looking back at films like THE LADIES' MAN and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR for example, do you think that films like those were innovative or ahead of their time in terms of comedy?
BILL RICHMOND: I guess I do. I don't know. When I think about that, I think back about the Broadway show Hellzapoppin (1938). Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In was Hellzapoppin or Hellzapoppin was Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In--or however way you want to look at it.
I don't know how ahead of their time they were, but I think they may come across like that because that type of comedy hadn't been done for almost thirty years when we made those pictures.
TV STORE ONLINE: I guess I look at a film like THE LADIES' MAN for example or any of the other films you wrote with Jerry Lewis like that because of the way that you guys were always breaking the fourth wall and making the audience an extension of the film. I get the impression that both you and Jerry were very conscious of something like that.
BILL RICHMOND: No, not really. I think we were more conscious of just the episodic approach I think that we took on that film. I don't think we thought much beyond that. I remember when THE LADIES' MAN came out there were critics that compared it to this movie and that movie, and I remember Jerry and I just looking at each other and thinking that we didn't even know the movies that they were referencing. We just laughed it off, because we had just put together a bunch of bits that we thought were funny is all...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: What's your favorite movie?
BILL RICHMOND: I really like Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE (1964). In fact, in my office I have a huge poster for the film hanging up that my wife bought me some years ago in Spain. Jerry and I went and saw the film together when it first came out. We were down in San Diego working on a movie when it came out, and we decided to go and see it. So we went to see it, and I was spellbound by it. Halfway through it, Jerry turns to me and says, "This is a piece of shit, it's not funny - I'm outta here." And he left... laughing Satire wasn't something that Jerry appreciated.
TV STORE ONLINE: Do you think that THE NUTTY PROFESSOR is the best work of the Lewis and Richmond team?
BILL RICHMOND: Yeah, I think so. I think it came out that way because the story was so good. I'm a strong believer in how important story is to anything. I didn't realize that at first, but I learned that once I started writing for television. I give Jerry all the credit in the world for creating the character of Buddy Love. That character was so difficult for him.
When it came time to shoot the scene where Buddy Love is shown on screen for the first time, Jerry set up the shot he wanted, then he went into his dressing room and closed the door and said "Don't come in." He wouldn't even let me in to see him, which surprised me, because his door was always open to me--I never had to knock. He was in there for about thirty minutes. Then from his dressing room he yelled, "ROLL 'EM!" and he walked out right past me as Buddy Love and onto the set and did the scene. He didn't want anybody, not even me, to see what he was going to look like as Buddy Love.
TV STORE ONLINE: There was that awful film critic in the '60s, Andew Sarris, that wrote that Buddy Love was an attack by Jerry Lewis on Dean Martin. While we know that wasn't the case--so where do you think that the Buddy Love character came from inside of Jerry?
BILL RICHMOND: I never thought Buddy Love was an attack on Dean. Jerry had a thing that I think was epitomized by the Rat Pack later on in which Dean Martin became a part of. That was that women liked to be treated rough. They liked to be treated badly. If you want to get into a girl's pants--you treat her poorly. That's what Buddy Love was based on. It was that Rat Pack attitude. "You love me baby, you want me, don't you baby? Look at that broad! That's a good-looking broad." I thought that was just a completely stupid outlook.
TV STORE ONLINE: One of the most incredible aspects for me of the films that you did with Jerry Lewis is the wonderful use of pathos on screen. Were there ever any discussions with Jerry as you were working on a screenplay about the pathos behind some of these characters that Jerry would eventually play in a film like THE NUTTY PROFESSOR?
BILL RICHMOND: No, not really. With Jerry it was just presenting him with stuff that you thought he could do, and stuff that you knew he'd like to do. On something like The Carol Burnett Show, for example, you'd take an idea and present it to them and they'd break it down and they would say to each other "I can do this, I know how to do that, I'll be this, I'll do that, I'm good at doing this," because they knew what they could do and what would work for themselves already. You're kind of placing yourself in the hands of God as a writer because actors always want to go their own way.
Earlier in my career I had very little respect for actors. I used to think, "Just say the lines, and you'll get laughs. I don't care about your motivation." It wasn't till much later in my career that I had to deal with real actors and actually pay attention to what was being said and how important what was being said was to a character. That's when I started to appreciate them. Episodic television is great for a writer because you write something and then you give it to an actor, and then they ask for more, and then you write something else, and then you give that to them and you see it come to life right in front of you.
TV STORE ONLINE: The studio gave you and Jerry a bunch of trouble while you were making THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, didn't they?
BILL RICHMOND: That's right. They didn't understand it. Jerry's attitude toward the studio was "Don't pay attention to any of them, they are all full of shit. They don't know anything. If they say anything to you, let it go in one ear and out the other." Those studio people make their living by pointing out exactly what you're doing wrong. So if they don't find something wrong with what you're doing they'll get fired...laughing So Jerry was in the unique position, God bless him, of not having to listen to anybody at the studio.
|Bob Denver: My Son, the Genie as Harold
TV STORE ONLINE: You also got the opportunity to write an episode of I Dream Of Jeannie (1965-1970) as well, right?
BILL RICHMOND: That's right. Jackie Cooper was one of the executive producers on the show and I knew him a little bit. I Dream Of Jeannie was shot on the Columbia lot, and Jerry and I were there working on a film. So I went over to say hello to Jackie and he asked me if I wanted to write an episode. It took me about a week to write that, and they really liked it.
TV STORE ONLINE: I adore that episode, again, because it has that Bill Richmond surrealist tone to it that I love. Especially those bits that bookend the episode with Bob Denver exploding out through the brick fireplaces.
BILL RICHMOND: Right, yeah...laughing I was so proud of myself when I finished that script. I met Sydney Sheldon not long after that and he was a very nice guy.
Sydney had created I Dream Of Jeannie and when it first started he used to write two episodes in one weekend, he'd walk around his house dictating them, that's how prolific he was...laughing It was a different era for sitcoms then, it was easy to write for them in the Pre-Norman Lear era. When Norman can into it, it became very hard. There were all-night meetings and rewrites and rewrites. "Change this, take this out, rewrite that..." There were constant rewrites on everything. I worked on Three's Company too. It wasn't a Norman Lear show, but all of the people that worked on it came from the Norman Lear school of thought. Whether rewriting made things better--I don't know. I found that the first things I'd put down on paper where usually the best. You rewrite them and it screws them up....however I've been proved wrong on that count many times so I wouldn't go to the wall on that...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: I really love the episodes from the Fourth Season that you wrote for Three's Company (1977-84). One thing that never gets pointed out is exactly how much a character like 'Jack Tripper' on Three's Company is exactly like 'The Kid' character that Jerry Lewis played in the movies that you did together. Was it easy for you to write on Company because of a similarity like that.
BILL RICHMOND: Yeah it was. You bring up a good point about Three's Company. Here's the problem I had transitioning from movies to sitcoms like Three's Company: When I did things like the Jerry Lewis movies or Laugh-In or The Burnett Show--there wasn't any need for reality. A sketch is a sketch. A sketch is an exaggeration. There was a sketch I wrote for The Burnett Show which had Tim Conway as an escaped convict who was running from the police across the top of a building. When he got up there, Carol was there, and Tim grabs her and holds her hostage so the police won't shoot him. But what no one knows is that the character Carol is playing in the sketch went up on the roof in the first place to commit suicide...laughing There's no reality in that.
When I did Three's Company--the producers were always telling me that they wanted "real stories" about life. I'd say to myself, "This is a series about a guy who pretends he's gay so he can live with these two girls. Yeah, that's a real scenario. This makes no sense to me whatsoever."
TV STORE ONLINE: There's nothing based in reality in Three's Company--it's the quintessential male fantasy!
BILL RICHMOND: Right, yeah, I know. There's zero reality...laughing The producers would read my script and say to me, "Bill, this is too sketchy, we want real stories." So I had a hard time with that. I ran into that on Welcome Back, Kotter too. On Kotter they wanted to do a show about high school suicide. That was an interesting idea I thought. So I said, "Here's what you've got to do. A girl goes out on a window ledge. The obvious solution would be that someone needs to talk her down. So what if the "Sweathogs" go out there and try to talk her down and be funny too?"
TV STORE ONLINE: laughing...Keep "Epstein" away from that scenario!
BILL RICHMOND: laughing...So that was the problem I had with sitcoms. I didn't like the reality of them. But I'm not complaining, I was happy as a lark to be working on them. You get one and it's your house money.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going back to Three's Company for a second. You started writing for that show in it's fourth season, which also was the same season that Don Knotts was introduced onto the show as the character, "Mr. Farley." What was your experience working with Don?
BILL RICHMOND: Absolutely delightful. One of the sweetest men to ever walk the planet. It's interesting. In fact, here's a great story about Don: Don was involved in the only time in my career that I've ever committed plagiarism. I went out one day to play golf at Bel Air Country Club with Dick Martin of Rowan & Martin. Dick knew Don Knotts, and he had invited him to play golf with us. So Dick introduced us. Don says, "Oh, I know Bill. He wrote that thing for me on The Jerry Lewis Show that was one of the funniest I've ever done in my life..." I couldn't remember what it was that he was talking about, so I just accepted the complement. Then Bob Newhart shows up, and I was a huge fan of Bob Newhart. So Don introduces me to Bob Newhart and says to Bob, "Bill Richmond wrote one of the funniest things I've ever done in my life on the Jerry Lewis talk show." Newhart says, " Oh, what was it?" So Don tells him, " Well it was a thing where my character had won an award and they gave me a big cup and I was nervous and I started tearing it apart when I was making my acceptance speech."
Now, right when he said that; I knew that not only had I not written that, but I actually knew who the writer was that had written it for Don on Jerry's talk show. But I didn't say anything, and at that moment I had committed plagiarism. I let them think that I had written it. Long story short, this kept coming up every time I'd see Don. When I got Three's Company, I went in on the first day and Don was there. Don introduces me around the table to everyone saying, "This is Bill Richmond. He wrote this thing for me..." I mean, this is a story that just won't die...laughing It was too late to tell him the truth, so I just kept it going...laughing
So Don says to me later, "Why don't you join the Lakeside Country Club, I'm a member out there and I can get you in. We'll just have to go in front of the membership committee and introduce you..." It was a bunch of stiff-looking businessman actually. So we did it and Don introduced me by saying, "This is Bill Richmond. He wrote this thing for me that was the funniest thing I've ever done in my life..." I mean, this fucking lie has haunted me my whole life, and I've never been able to pull it back...laughing The writer who actually wrote the bit for Don on the show passed away a long time ago so I'm clearing the air now...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Bill, can we talk about THE ERRAND BOY (1961)?
BILL RICHMOND: Sure, that was Jerry's idea. Basically the idea was that we could do a very cheap movie. We'd just go around on the back lot and pick out things that we could build bits around. The premise was that the studio wanted a guy to be a snitch and go around the studio and report back where all of their money was being spent. That was basically it. We just went around the studio and did bits until we had ninety minutes.
TV STORE ONLINE: But there's no snitching in the movie...laughing
BILL RICHMOND: laughing....Yeah, it was a terrible premise. But it was a very fun movie to make.
TV STORE ONLINE: I adore THE ERRAND BOY very much regardless of it's flaws. It's a wonderful film, that seems like it's just such a honest and sincere love letter to film-making. You can tell it was made by a guy who really loved movies.
BILL RICHMOND: Oh, right - it is, it is. It was a lot of fun, and there are some wonderful bits in the movie. There's the elevator scene which I'm in with the gum stuck on me. That was fun.
TV STORE ONLINE: I love that scene. But what about that final scene in the film with that New York director who launches into that big speech about art and criticism. Was that an intentional stab at the critics that had previously attacked these Jerry Lewis films by the two of you?
BILL RICHMOND: Well, I suppose there was some of that. I'd hate to take credit for doing anything in that movie that was meaningful to the world or to showbiz or anything else like that. It seemed to me when we were doing it, that we were just going along doing one bit after another until we decided that it was time to end the movie and we needed a way to end it, so why not a speech of some kind like "Win one for the Gipper" or something like that.
TV STORE ONLINE: So you know that I consider THE NUTTY PROFESSOR to be a utter masterpiece, but I also consider THE PATSY (1964) to be a masterpiece as well. Could you tell me about how THE PATSY came about?
BILL RICHMOND: Thank you. THE PATSY is entirely mine, and I'm very proud of it and the premise of it. It was Pygmalion in some respect, but that wasn't the intention. What really happened was that-- I used to observe and joke around about being Jerry's writer to people. I would say to people in Jerry's presence, "I'm Jerry's writer. I write everything he does. When Jerry gets up in the morning, I write what he says to his wife. 'Good morning dear, what's for breakfast?' I write all of that. Every time you hear Jerry talking, I write all that. He can't say a fucking word without me." I used to joke about that...laughing
We had a press agent, a delightful man, named Jack Keller. He worked for us and he used to work for Frank Sinatra. He handled everything for Jerry. I said to him one time, "You have a tough job, don't you Jack. You represent the biggest film star in the country and your job is to get his name in the newspapers--boy, that's a tough job, isn't it?" I said, "Why don't you try and get my name in the paper? Then you'll be doing something."
Two days later, my name was in the New York Times. It was saying something about how Jerry Lewis was in Chicago years earlier, and how he had met me, and that I was an usher at a Chicago theater at the time we met and that the two of us had become fast friends and how--now I write for him...laughing It was a long story about me, but it was a lie.
Jerry also had a secretary that wrote letters for him. He had Sy Devore who made every bit of clothing for him, right down to his pajamas. Then he had a barber that he would fly into all parts of the globe to cut his hair. So I speculated to myself that if Jerry died, you could go get anybody off the street and put him in there, and these people would go to work, writing his letters, putting his name in the paper, dressing him, cutting his hair, they would do exactly the same thing for him that they had did for Jerry and maybe he'd be a big star. I thought it was a great idea and it worked out pretty well. I love that picture very much.
TV STORE ONLINE: Why do you think that the American film critics were so harsh toward the films that you and Jerry Lewis did together?
BILL RICHMOND: I don't really now. Jerry tends to be his own worst enemy in one respect. He says things off the top of his head like, "Women aren't funny." He said that not too long ago. I mean, you've got people like Ellen Degeneres out there and a whole flock of women comedians out there that are awfully funny. Someone once accused Jerry of not liking women, and Jerry's response was something like, "I love women, I use them every chance I get...."
Jerry once had a card made up that read something like, "A critic is like a eunuch. He's seen it done, he knows how's it's done, he knows what to do, but for the life of him he can't do it himself...laughing I think stuff like that gets out to critics. If you're a critic you might say, "Screw him. I don't care if the picture is good. He's not." I think critics are too sophisticated to give any meaningful credit to films like these. Jerry wasn't well liked by the Hollywood community if you didn't already know that, but that was probably because he didn't like them that much either.
TV STORE ONLINE: One of my favorite scenes in THE PATSY is the Hans Conried singing lesson scene. Before that scene there's that little segway in the film which features a cameo by you. It's where Jerry does that invisible rope lasso bit with you. How long did it take you and Jerry to orchestra that?
BILL RICHMOND: Not long. Unfortunately, the crew and the studio hates it when you're in the middle of a scene and you break-up and start laughing and then you have to stop, set everything up again, and do it all over. But that was typical of Jerry and I. We'd just look at each other and laugh. I could just look at him a certain way and he'd laugh. We had a lot of fun together. The Hans Conried scene was probably one of the better things I've ever written. Hans Conried and Jerry played the shit out of that...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: My favorite part of that scene is when Jerry and Ina Balin knock on the door, and Hans Conried opens it, and half of the door stays in Jerry's hand...laughing
BILL RICHMOND: laughing...Exactly.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then how did you come to work on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In?
BILL RICHMOND: My agent got me that. I think, I can't remember now for sure. I do remember that I went up to Las Vegas to met with Rowan & Martin to discuss the show with them. I had never met them before. I went to see their live show in Las Vegas, and let me tell you that it was one of the funniest show's I've ever seen in my life, and I didn't expect it from them. While I was meeting with them, they seriously smoked like eight pounds of grass while I was sitting there with them...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: How long did you write for Laugh-In?
BILL RICHMOND: Just for two seasons. 1969 and 1970 I think. My partner at that time, Allan Katz and I wrote all of their monologues. Dick Martin was one of the sweetest guys to ever walk the world. I liked working on that show. I thought it was a perfect show because you could get up, go out to the kitchen and get a beer, come back and the jokes would still be coming at you.
TV STORE ONLINE: It was important to always be socially conscious if you were a writer on that show at that time, right?
|Nixon said: "Sock it to me.." on Laugh-In on Sept. 16, 1968
BILL RICHMOND: Oh yeah, but it was fun. We got to pick on Richard Nixon, what do you think could've been more fun than that at that time?
TV STORE ONLINE: Nixon was on Laugh-In to great effect I remember. I always wondered how that happened in the first place.
BILL RICHMOND: Well, Nixon was friends with the producer of the show, in fact the producer might have been Nixon's only friend actually...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: You also wrote for a series that I really like tremendously, the 1968 NBC Jerry Lewis variety show.
BILL RICHMOND: Right, and I wrote for Jerry on his 1963 ABC talk show as well. Did you know that Dick Cavett and I were the writers on that ABC show? The 1968 series was fun, and I thought that those shows were pretty good, even though the variety show was going out of style on television at that time.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going back to The Carol Burnett Show quickly, transitioning onto that show, did you need any time to acclimate into your position there?
One in the series of "The Hollow Hero" sketches on Burnett
penned by Richmond
BILL RICHMOND: No, they were very welcoming. That was what they did. They were such wonderful people. Everything and everyone on that show was great. A very creative atmosphere on that show from top to bottom. It was the best way to work.
TV STORE ONLINE: Of all the dozens and dozens of amazing guest stars that came through the wings there do you have a favorite in which you worked with or wrote for on The Carol Burnett Show?
BILL RICHMOND: You're just gonna love this. They got Jack Benny and that was a big deal for them, because he wasn't doing very much by that time, and he didn't have to because he had a great reputation. So they called me and said, "We want you to write a sketch for Jack Benny including the opening of the show for him, because we want to present him in a big way. "
So I wrote a whole thing for him, and Jack Benny calls over and says, " I just love what your boy Bill has done over there. I think it's just sensational." So they put me on the phone with him and he tells me the same thing and then asks me if I can come over to his office because he's got some notes for me. So I told him I would. I put on a suit and tie and went over to his office. I go in and Jack's there with his manager Milton Fine and right away he starts in: "Bill, this is so wonderful, it's such great work." Then he says, "One little thing... When I come down that hall...I've already done that, and I've seen it done before. Then when I come on the stage, you have the flowers there and the whole thing and I don't like that..." He kept going on like that about these little things. He was just nit-picking.
|"Mama's Family" was a spin-off of a sketch from The Burnett Show
So after a few minutes of that, Jack stops and looks at his manager and says, "Why am I doing this goddamn show anyway? Why do I need to do this? I don't want to do this fucking thing. This is a pain in the ass, I gotta go over to this damn studio and rehearse the entire day. Get me off of this fucking show..."
So I went back to the offices at CBS. Carol and her husband Joe Hamilton call me into their office and they tell me that Jack has just quit the show. I was devastated. I was thinking, "My God, I'm never going to work in this town again, I'm finished. It's over..." But to Carol and Joe's great credit, they just looked at me, and said, "Who needs him? We don't need an asshole like that on our show." They had real class. They were great people.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you come to work on Welcome Back, Kotter?
BILL RICHMOND: I had the greatest agent in the world, and he got me that. After Three's Company, I got an offer to go and write for a one hour show based around Tim Conway. So I did that, and that lasted for two seasons. Then once that was over I went and did Welcome Back, Kotter.
TV STORE ONLINE: You've mentioned in the past that it was important to you to create a working environment that was similar to a family unit on Welcome Back, Kotter, why was that so important to you?
That was a conscious decision that I made earlier on that helped to keep a good creative atmosphere. With writers for example, it's an atmosphere where you don't need to be afraid to tell an old joke, or write a line, that everybody's read before. Don't be afraid to say anything, not matter what it is. Just say it, whether we buy it or put it down on paper--just say it. It goes back to Jerry Lewis. That's the way Jerry ran his set. They were loose, happy, and fun sets. Everybody was always joking around and having fun always.
TV STORE ONLINE: Of all the wonderful work you did over your career.. Is there one project or script or show that you feel is your best work or favorite?
BILL RICHMOND: I suppose The Carol Burnett Show. If you worked on that show you were spoiled forever afterward. Carol used to say, "I can't believe that people pay me to do this. I'd do it for nothing." That's always been my mantra too, and when Carol said that--she really meant it. People used to say, "If you go to work for Carol Burnett you'll never turn your car lights on." Meaning: On all other shows, and for example, with Welcome Back, Kotter; I went in at 10 a.m. to work on a Tuesday and didn't leave for home until the next day on Wednesday at 8 a.m. You'd have meeting after meetings, and you'd get: "We need a new script right away." You never had that with Carol.
TV STORE ONLINE: Are there any unrealized Bill Richmond projects or scripts out there? Did you ever have any aspirations to direct?
|The Dentist Sketch; a Burnett Show classic
BILL RICHMOND: No I didn't. I do wish that I could've had the opportunity to write for The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78 and 1983-90). I would've loved that. I wrote a screenplay in the early '80s that we almost got produced but couldn't quite get it going. It was called DICK. It was a wonderful screenplay about a guy that tries to screw his wife to death. I really wanted to get it made, but everyone just seemed to be afraid of it. We just couldn't get it going--it was a heart breaker.
TV STORE ONLINE: Last question. What is the greatest joke that you've ever heard?
BILL RICHMOND: Let's see...I have so many Jew jokes that you just wouldn't believe it. Are you Jewish? Well, don't worry, you'll get it anyway. Two Jews walk by a Catholic church, and there's a sign out that reads "Convert to Catholicism and we'll give you a thousand dollars." So one of the guys goes into the church and after about 15 minutes he comes back out. The other guy asks him, "Are you a Catholic? Did you convert?" The guy says, "Yes I am, I converted." So the other guy then says, "Well, did you get the money?" And the guy responds, "Jesus Christ! Is that all you Jews think about?"
How about this one? There's a Chinese couple that owns a restaurant, and they live above it. They are asleep one night. The husband wakes up. He's feeling a little horny, so he nudges his wife a little bit. The wife says, "No, I'm too tired." So the husband says, "How about a little 69?" So the wife says, "Beef and Broccoli at this time at night?"
Interview Conducted by: Justin Bozung