The Lone Arranger: Inside The Magic Cottage

In this new blog series, WGF Archivist Hilary Swett gives you a glimpse inside the WGF Archives, from newly unearthed treasures to her tips for preserving a writer’s collections. 

Hello there, boys and girls! In this age of reboots and re-imaginings, what’s old is new again. But back in the late 1940s, TV was just beginning and the landscape of shows and genres that we are so familiar with now were just being developed. Children’s shows are no exception. We all know the names of the famous shows and possibly grew up watching them—Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and more. These friendly adults taught us lessons on how to live and how to get along with one another. One of the earliest examples of this is the subject of today’s blog post. Kids visited faraway lands, encountered talking creatures and learned lessons via The Magic Cottage.

Creator Hal Cooper was a prolific television director and worked on every famous sitcom from the 1960s through the 1980s. But before this, he helped solidify a template for TV children’s shows that still exists today. Along with his first wife, Pat Meikle, they were hired by the now defunct DuMont Network to produce a show aimed at preschoolers called Your Television Babysitter. It aired weekday mornings and was intended to give mothers a half hour where they could do housework uninterrupted. This show was such a success that the network asked them to create another show for older kids, which aired during primetime. The Magic Cottage aired on DuMont from 1949-1952 and then locally on WABD in New York from 1953-1955. Pat Meikle hosted the show and all of the episodes were written and produced by Hal Cooper. Each episode began with the almanac segment—a fact from that day in history. Then the fun would start. Meikle would begin by sketching a scene for the audience, and then the characters and fantasy scenarios would be acted out onscreen.

This episode synopsis was created for publicity purposes. Don’t you want to know more about the adventures of Barnaby Bobble and Clutchwell T. Gluefinger?

A story was broken up to span the five days of the week and were always fantastic fables and fairy tales, some well-known and some made up for the series. Like shows of today, there would be a moral lesson embedded in the story. This was revealed on Fridays, accompanied by a short song.

The series stuck with this format throughout its run, with episodes broken into three basic segments.

In the beginning of TV, everything was performed live, so recordings, also known as kinescopes, are rare. Only two for The Magic Cottage are known to exist: one episode is at the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the other is located at the Paley Center for Media.

Magic Cottage merchandise

Fortunately, Hal Cooper’s family has just donated 1,000 scripts to the WGF Library and Archive. This collection contains scripts for every episode that aired from 1950-1955 when Cooper worked on the show, all of which were written by him. Aside from scripts, the collection contains a small assortment of merchandise created for the show called “premiums.” There are several children’s stationery sets, pins, and “encoded” messages from one of the show’s sponsors, the Cocoa Marsh snack company.

For those of you who want to write for children (or are young at heart), visit and peruse the Magic Cottage Collection to be steeped in fairy tales and get inspired to create your own fairy tale worlds. We have lots of current kids’ shows too—just take a look in the catalog! And to hear more anecdotes about the making of these shows, you can watch the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences oral history with Hal Cooper, recorded in 2003.

The Library also has a selection of other scripts for lost TV recordings. Check out:

  • My Living Doll – Several teleplays from this 1960s sitcom, including Episode 22, written and shot after the departure of star Bob Cummings
  • Major Dell Conway of the Flying Tigers – another DuMont series, from 1951
  • Curiosity Shop – A 1970s ABC children’s show from creator Chuck Jones (of Looney Tunes fame)
  • Meet Millie – a 1950s precursor to Mary Tyler Moore. Only a few episodes survive but we have 113 scripts!

Celebrating National Library Week with a full torso apparition in the NYPL

Two iconic lions guard the main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Mayor LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude as encouragement to his citizens during the Great Depression. The library, as a building and as an idea, is a tribute to knowledge and culture and boundless human endeavor. We decided to celebrate National Library Week by highlighting a classic cinematic library scene and paying tribute to one fine example of human endeavor. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984), written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, opens with an external shot of the famous lions and then reveals the strange phenomena happening in the stacks.  It’s Doctors Venkman, Stantz and Spengler to the rescue.

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Librarian Eleanor Twitty, Class IV Semi-Anchored Entity

Below are four pages from the third draft, dated September 30, 1983.  The guys encounter the ghost of an older female librarian who turns into a demon and scares them off.  But they are inspired to become the Ghostbusters, much to the delight and happiness of audiences worldwide.

While we are not as big as the NYPL (and we don’t have cool marble lions), the WGF Library is the largest library dedicated to screenwriting and we want to share what we have with you.  So come and celebrate libraries with us!

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THE WRITER SPEAKS: ALLAN MANINGS

Eden Fury is a Communications Intern at the Writers Guild Foundation.

Allan Manings is best known for creating the Norman Lear-produced series ONE DAY AT A TIME with his writing partner and wife, actress Whitney Blake. ONE DAY was based on Blake’s life as a single mother, before she met Manings. He then went on to write and produce another Lear show, GOOD TIMES. Manings also worked as a writer and script supervisor on ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN, for which he received an Emmy, and wrote episodes for McHALE’S NAVY and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

After his death in 2010, the Manings family donated several original scripts (complete with margin notes) to the Foundation’s library for most of the shows mentioned above, as well as BUSTIN’ LOOSE, THE DAVID FROST REVUE and many others. The donation was so extensive that we’re still in the process of, well, processing it – but much of it is already available in our library and archive. And if there’s some aspect of Manings’ work you’re interested in, contact our library and we’ll try to help you out.

Here’s Manings telling his life story as part of our ongoing oral history series THE WRITER SPEAKS.

SCREENPLAY 101: ADAPTATION

Keri Marken is an MLIS candidate at UCLA, and a Writers Guild Foundation archival intern.

With three scripts on the WGA’s list of 101 Greatest Screenplays, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman appears to have this writing thing down pat. Kaufman has garnered critical acclaim for crafting some of the most original and imaginative storylines, centered on some of the most interesting and awkwardly funny characters. However, Kaufman’s screenplay, ADAPTATION, based on the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean, is unique in that the central character happens to be Charlie Kaufman himself.

Positioned at number 77 on WGA’s list, ADAPTATION brings two storylines together—one is Kaufman’s struggle to adapt Susan Orlean’s book for the screen, while the other focuses on the actual plot and characters of the book itself. Kaufman’s writer’s block is a main element in the story, which provides the audience with a glimpse into the writer’s world…one that is fraught with impending deadlines, a lack of motivation, and general feelings of inferiority.

In order to illustrate his struggle, Kaufman employs a fictitious twin brother, Donald, who becomes a constant source of annoyance for Charlie due to his seemingly effortless attempt to launch a screenwriting career. Donald’s inexperience, cliché story ideas, and general naivety contribute to Charlie’s growing neurosis. Kaufman’s impatience is evident in the pages below, when Donald suggests the benefits of attending a screenwriting seminar. Yet, even though Donald represents the frustration that often accompanies the writing process, he is still an integral part of the finished product and as such, earns his own writing credit in this collaborative effort.

Here are four pages from our April 2, 2001 draft:

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

Screenplay 101: THE PRODUCERS

Combine a sleazy Broadway producer taking advantage of little old ladies with one extremely nervous accountant cajoled into performing some “creative accounting.” Mix in a hippie actor named Lorenzo St. Du Bois – or LSD – and a fanatic former Nazi who loves Hitler with all his heart. Blend it all up into a Broadway musical praising the Third Reich. It’s sure to flop, at least if Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) have anything to do with it.

#79 on the WGA’s list of the 101 best screenplays is the 1968 film THE PRODUCERS, written and directed by Mel Brooks. This was Brooks’ directorial debut; he won an Oscar as well as WGA Award for best screenplay.

Max and Leo spend the film scheming to produce the worst musical ever made, intending to keep all the investors’ money. There is no way they can fail with a musical written as a love letter to Adolf Hitler. They don’t count on the audience thinking it’s a farce and loving the show!

Brooks’ eccentric characters and the absurd situations are so far over the top that they almost seem plausible. The pages below, from a 1967 draft, show our producers sucking up to the musical’s writer Franz Liebkind to get into business with him. They involve the unwitting and unhinged Liebkind in their plan, even as Franz reveals his deep admiration for Hitler in a monologue, ending with the declaration that Hitler could “dance the pants off Churchill!” Brooks boldly goes all out on every joke. While the risk of our two titular producers resulted only in jail sentences, the risk Brooks took in making fun of Hitler and the Nazis just 23 years after WWII paid off for him in spades. Bialystock and Bloom’s loss was certainly our gain.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SCREENPLAY 101: HAROLD AND MAUDE

Released in 1971, HAROLD AND MAUDE originated from, of all places, writer Colin Higgins’ masters thesis at UCLA.  Its dark humor and unique exploration of the meaning of life are still moving and relevant, even after 40 years.  Join us as we look at #86 on the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays.

The relationship between 20-year-old Harold and 80-year-old Maude is probably one of the most unusual romances ever seen onscreen.  Harold has no direction in life, sees a therapist, attends funerals for fun, and has performed seventeen fake “suicides” by the time we meet him.  Having had enough, his mother arranges dates for him throughout the film – but the only woman who catches his eye is the vivacious and optimistic (not to mention elderly) Maude.  Beyond their common interest in funerals, Maude brings some spontaneity and laughter into Harold’s life – she steals cars, sits nude for a sculptor, evades a cop and appreciates the tiniest differences from one flower to the next.

In these four pages from a May 1970 draft, Maude speaks beautifully about the grandness of life and we see Harold learning to loosen up.  Indicating their growing intimacy, Harold holds Maude’s hand and kisses it.  He notices a number tattooed on her skin, alluding to her past as a Nazi prisoner.  In this short and tender moment, we feel the depth of Maude’s history and begin to understand the reasons for her unconventional behavior, which makes the rest of the film that much more moving.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).