We’ve been hard at work the last several months overhauling our entire website and bringing it into the 21st century. In redesigning the site, we wanted to make a few important changes and introduce a new experience for our community!
One of the great pleasures of working in a script archive and library is being exposed to storytelling outside of one’s typical genre or wheelhouse. Because I don’t like getting unnecessarily freaked out, one genre I tend to steer clear of is occult-based horror. At the beginning of this week, I was tasked with processing the archival papers of writer Frank De Felitta. Because De Felitta wrote mostly on spooky, supernatural subjects, the prospect of diving into this script collection scared the hell out of me.
I’m writing this blog post not just because it’s Halloween and I want to brag about conquering my fears, but mostly because I want to emphasize how important it is to look at scripts and brush shoulders with topics outside of your storytelling comfort zone. Even if you write emotional, character-based comedies, you can still learn something from the suspense and curiosity inherent to horror. Just as if you write explosive action stories, it’s important to take in a romance every so often because it’s a genre that can help you to understand character growth.
When you’re developing your ever-evolving story sense, all genres and narrative devices are useful.
Born in 1921, Frank De Felitta became known for his novels as well as his screen and teleplays, mostly during the 1960s and 70s. He’s a rare horror writer who, on several occasions, adapted his best-selling novels into films. Notable examples of this are Audrey Rose (Novel: 1974, Film: 1977) and The Entity (Novel: 1978, Film: 1981). De Felitta’s papers—now housed here at the WGF—include original manuscripts for his novels and then later drafts of his adapted screenplays.
While processing this collection, I became particularly intrigued by Audrey Rose. A best-selling novel in 1974, it tells the story of a couple, Bill and Janice Templeton, who are confronted by a man confident that their daughter Ivy is the reincarnation of his deceased child, Audrey Rose.
On Mondays, when the library is closed to the public, we pull out the contents of dozens of unprocessed boxes (most of which are donated by the writers themselves or their families) and lay them out on our long table to organize them and make them accessible. Pouring through the De Felitta papers, which were recently donated by Frank's son Ray De Felitta, I found the original book manuscript for Audrey Rose, then 12 drafts of the screenplay.
Processing collections from before the heyday of computers is always interesting because you can see before your very eyes and hold in your hands the labor that went into writing a particular project. Even though De Felitta adapted novels that he himself wrote, it still took him 12 drafts to get Audrey Rose right. It proves writing is hard.
When processing collections, sometimes it’s the thoughts and concepts you come across that really stick with you. I call it “accidental research.” You learn something from looking at a script you might have been afraid to look at and you end up with a seed of inquisitiveness that keeps you doing further contemplation or investigation on your own.
From folder-ing Audrey Rose scripts, I’ve become fascinated with the idea of previous lives and reincarnation. Regardless of one’s chosen genre(s) or writing style, the notion of “previous lives” can be very helpful for a writer.
When we take in a story, oftentimes we respond emotionally to the subtext, the subconscious and the things which are going on underneath the narrative that unfolds before our eyes. How useful it is, then, for a writer to consider a character’s previous life when determining their behavior and choices in the present. Maybe the reason we connect with certain people in our waking, day-to-day interactions is because we knew them in a previous existence and our souls still know each other.
You know how some people can’t explain their weird abilities or their night terrors? Maybe it’s a previous life.
I don’t write horror or explore the supernatural in my own writing, but I think considering the previous lives of our characters is a great way to write subtext and navigate the subconscious. For your further rumination, I’ll leave you with this pivotal scene from the first draft of the Audrey Rose screenplay. Ivy Templeton suffers from excruciating, worsening spells, where she seems to enter an altered state. Elliot Hoover, who is convinced the soul of his deceased daughter, Audrey, has been reborn in Ivy, is the only person who is able to calm her down.
More drafts and information on Audrey Rose and many more of Frank De Felitta’s books and screenplays can be found in our archives. Browse the collections here – and always consider that you might find more to inspire you when encountering something outside your specific area of interest.
Fifty years ago this month, the very first episode of Hawaii Five-O (entitled “Cocoon”) aired on CBS as a two-hour television movie. Twelve seasons and one enormously catchy theme song later, the series became the longest-running procedural drama of its day. In turn, Hawaii, which had only become a state in 1959, gained many tourists from the mainland and around the world from the small-screen exposure. Created by Leonard Freeman, the show's concept—a small and scrappy unit of cops solving peculiar crimes in beautiful island locations—had so much fuel in its tank, the show still churns out stories in revival form on CBS today.
New in the display cases leading into the WGF Library is an exhibit honoring 50 Years of “Five-O” and the work of Mr. Freeman. The exhibit shines a light on the painstaking work that goes into developing a series from fledgling idea to a well-oiled story machine that keeps people delighted and engaged, all while simultaneously enriching our entertainment and cultural landscapes. Thanks to Rose Freeman who worked tirelessly to safeguard her husband’s creative legacy, this exhibit features 50 years of treasures.
The items on display include Mr. and Mrs. Freeman’s plane tickets for an initial research trip to Hawaii, scrapbook photos, correspondence, script pages, a piece of concept art from “Cocoon” and a letter from Rose Freeman to the producers of the new Hawaii Five-0, offering them her advice and encouragement. Also on display are a pitch document and annotated script pages from executive producer Peter Lenkov and the revival of Hawaii Five-0.
Archival materials are a kind of living road map for budding writers. From them we can glean inspiration, motivation and the knowledge that we can do it too. Writers engaging with this display can expect to find an elucidating paper trail behind 50 years of a beloved TV series. What could be more motivational when you're walking into the front doors of a library to write your own film or television series?
So, hats off to Hawaii Five-O and special thanks to the Freeman Family and Peter M. Lenkov for loaning their materials for this exhibit. Catch it while it's up and also check out our collection of original Hawaii Five-O scripts as part of the Leonard Freeman collection!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Rosibel Villalobos,18, and her poignant script for the short film Jumbo Shrimp came to us through Ghetto Film School, an award-winning nonprofit that identifies and educates young talent from local communities and provide them with the access, opportunity, and resources to pursue creative careers. Ghetto Film School specifically equips students for top universities and careers in the creative industries through two tracks: an introductory education program for high school students and early-career support for alumni and young professionals.
We were struck by Rosibel's talent and original voice, and not at all surprised to learn that she has been writing her entire life. She has made the transition from short stories to novels to scripts. And this fall, she will continue her journey as a screenwriter and will be attending UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television.
Below is our interview with Rosibel about Jumbo Shrimp and her writing process.
What is this script about? Jumbo Shrimp is the story of Liam, a young boy who pushes himself to grow up too fast in order to help his single mother.
What inspired you to write this story? When I wrote Jumbo Shrimp, I had just gotten back from New York, where I spent two weeks last summer taking a film course. I was thinking a lot about being personal in my work and what that meant for me. I thought a lot about the guilt I felt growing up and the kids that I knew, and so Jumbo Shrimp and its protagonist, Liam, became a vessel for me to express that guilt in a way I never would be able to aloud.
What parts of writing this story did you find particularly challenging and why? When I realized how much I related to what Liam was going through in my script, I suddenly felt like I wanted to stop writing. It was difficult to be so vulnerable and open in my work and to then share that with others. I felt like I was showing everyone an old scar, one that I had hidden for so long, and it was frightening, but also so fulfilling.
What scene or moment are you most proud of in this script? The scene that I’m most proud of is one towards the beginning, where Elara is dropping Liam off at school. Very few words are exchanged by the two, and it’s such an everyday task, dropping your child off at school, but I think that for me it captured who the characters were at their very core. The way Liam takes note of what’s happening around him reflects the shame and guilt he carries with him everywhere, and Elara being late to a job interview, but walking her son to school, is such a small thing that also shows how much she loves him. I think it’s really the little things that count.
When and why did you become interested in writing? Words have always been something that I’ve loved. I’ve always been a writer, it’s a part of me. In elementary school, I’d spend recess writing stories for my friends. In middle school, I’d spend my summers up until 6 a.m. trying to write a novel. My progression into film and screenwriting felt natural.
What makes your voice unique? My experiences make my voice unique. The way I was raised, where I was raised, who I grew up around, the opinions and tastes that I’ve shaped myself—they make me who I am. And the person that I am always seems to sneak her way into the work that I’m producing, even if it isn’t always so obvious.