Halloween Script Cavalcade: The Munsters

The following anecdote is from a development / pitch document for The Munsters (1964):

In honor of Halloween, I’m here to make a different kind of pitch for The Munsters. The WGF Archive recently processed a bounty of scripts and materials relating to the zany, ghoulish family. Most of this collection hails from Norm Liebmann who is credited with developing the show alongside his writing partner Ed Haas and creators Allan Burns & Chris Hayward. The Munsters collection is expansive and features many useful highlights like the aforementioned pitch document—items that will appeal to writers of all stripes as well as TV history fans and scholars.

Newspaper clippings from the collection tell us that The Munsters premiered on CBS the very same week in September as another show about a strange, macabre family living in a large and ominous house at the end of a suburban, neighborhood street. That other show was, of course, The Addams Family, which premiered on ABC. As it happens, Bewitched also made its series premiere that same fateful week. It might seem strange or coincidental for three shows of similar ilk and like themes to hit television airwaves within mere days of each other.

David Levy, creator of the TV Addams Family, didn’t seem to think so. In a Los Angeles Times article dated August 11th, 1964, Levy, a former head of programming at NBC, states that:

Ideas float like confetti over Madison Ave. and it is not surprising that when the time is right for a particular type of show that two networks might decide to go with it.

The 1960s in America became a time of counterculture and unprecedented pushes for civil rights. We can see this reflected in shows about unconventional families trying to assimilate with “normal” people in the suburbs. Indeed, the Munsters, the Addams, or Samantha Stephens become stand-ins for any group of people who might feel marginalized or on the outs in American society or family life, calling ideas of normalcy and conformity into question and possibly making an argument for wider acceptance.

In addition to commentary, the idea of monsters or a slightly off-beat, deathy family trying to interact with or fit in with regular folks produces a lot of comedy.

Shows like The Munsters gain legs on the strength of their concepts. What makes the WGF Archives’ Munsters collection so informative is that those who mine it for information and inspiration can see how a show evolves from mere idea to full-fledged television program—how it moves from a successful pitch to a TV microcosm that fans are able to relate to and take part in.

Munsters Concept Illustration, Norman Liebmann Collection, Writers Guild Foundation Archive

Liebmann & Haas put the concept across in such a cogent way on paper that one visualizes the series and how it will work on screen from week to week. Furthermore, most of the episodes from the show’s two-season run, are available as outlines, step outlines, rough drafts and final drafts so one can trace the full process of an episode’s writing. This kind of information can be helpful even to writers working in today’s current streaming atmosphere.

It’s particularly fascinating to examine the evolution of certain jokes within an episode. Having written for such late night and variety show luminaries as Johnny Carson and Jerry Lewis, Liebmann & Haas are quintessential joke masters with endless ideas brought forth onto the page and even more refinements. (See my earlier blog post about Liebmann’s contributions to The Roast of Bette Davis here).

No part of the writing and show-creating process is spared from this collection. In addition to scripts, there’s correspondence and notes from the show’s other writer/producers Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher who, prior to joining The Munsters, produced Amos ‘n Andy and Leave It to Beaver. Because Universal Studios produced The Munsters, the show had almost unfettered access to Universal’s most well-known scary creatures. This is the reason the show was able to include characters like Herman molded on Frankenstein or Grandpa molded on Dracula. In fact, the recognizability of such characters is a likely part of the show’s appeal.

Munsters Promotional Material, Norman Liebmann Collection, Writers Guild Foundation Archive

Norm Liebmann took great care to save most of his writing-related documents. The Munsters materials shine a light on everything from how the writers negotiated their contracts to how early Fred Gwynne had to be in his make-up chair every day on set. There’s even fun paraphernalia from the show’s fan clubs like this membership card from the The Jeepers Keepers Fan Club.

Norman Liebmann Collection, Writers Guild Foundation Library

It’s an ideal collection for anyone looking to gain a greater understanding of a classic sitcom’s evolution from script to screen. For more information on this collection and others available in the WGF Archive, please visit our website.

And if you’re looking for other spooky fair to get you in the mood for Halloween, try checking out some scripts from the library’s collection of features. We recommend:

  • John Carpenter‘s script for Halloween
  • Hocus Pocus written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert
  • Charles Schultz‘s dialogue script for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

WGF Archive: Roasting Bette Davis on The Dean Martin Show

In a recent episode of FX’s Feud, Bette Davis gets nominated for an Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? eliciting extreme jealousy in her co-star Joan Crawford. As payback, Crawford conspires with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper against Davis by convincing two other Best Actress nominees that year – Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft – to let her accept on their behalf should they win. The Oscar ultimately goes to Bancroft, so Crawford gets to saunter across stage to accept the award when Davis loses.

If you’re a fan of the rivalry depicted on Feud, a recent find from the WGF Archive might just pique your interest. In a trove of scripts from The Dean Martin Show, we discovered the “Celebrity Roast of Bette Davis.”

Drawing on the celebrity roasts that first appeared at the New York Friars Club in the early 1910s that later came to be broadcast on the Kraft Music Hall program in the late 60s and early 70s, The Dean Martin Show began celebrity roasts in 1973 with the “Roast of Johnny Carson” (a script we also have). Younger TV viewers might be familiar with roasts from when they were revived on Comedy Central with such celebrities as Joan Rivers, Bob Saget and Justin Bieber.

The format of a roast (think: the opposite of a “toast”) involves guests aiming insult comedy at a celebrity “roastee,” who sits back and takes jokes at their own expense with good grace – knowing that the mockery is meant as praise. Studying classic sketch comedy shows like roasts can be helpful to writers and researchers alike – offering a glimpse into the humor, hot topics, social attitudes and personalities of the era in which they were written. More than simply watching the show, reading the script reinforces the idea that the wit and jokes emanating from the famous faces actually begins with writers.

The Davis Roast includes lovingly insulting tributes from the likes of Pat Buttram, Nipsey Russell, Vincent Price, Henry Fonda, Howard Cosell as well as the roastmaster himself Dean Martin. Not to be outdone, Davis has a chance at rebuttal offering this gem, “I’ve certainly had a lot of fun tonight… It would have been nice to have some of my old male co-stars with me… but then, they’d have to hold the roast at the Hollywood Wax Museum!”

One of the more intriguing parts of the script finds gossip columnist Joyce Haber, who took over Hedda Hopper’s job at the LA Times in 1968, referring to events seen on Feud involving Oscar acceptances and marriages to Pepsi-Cola magnates…

This and many other Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts were found in the Norman Liebmann collection in our archive. Liebmann wrote on many a comedy / variety series in the 60s and 70s including The Jerry Lewis Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. No stranger to comedy, Liebmann is known for writing on sitcoms like Chico and the Man and Diff’rent Strokes as well as developing The Munsters with his longtime writing partner Ed Haas. Liebmann passed away in 2010. His personal papers were donated to the WGF Archive in 2015 and will continue to be processed this year.

Materials from the WGF Archive are available for viewing by both researchers and fans. Find more information here.

WGF Exhibits: The Life and Legacy of Mary McCall, Jr.

Debuting this week in the WGF exhibition cases at the WGAW Headquarters is a look at the life and legacy of screenwriter Mary McCall, Jr., the first woman president of the Screen Writers Guild.  The exhibition traces McCall’s story from her college days as editor of the student newspaper at Vassar through to her early success as a novelist and her career as a screenwriter in the 1930s and 1940s on such movies as Craig’s Wife, Maisie, The Sullivans, and Dancing in the Dark.

The exhibition also shines a light on McCall’s commitment to fighting for the rights of Hollywood’s writers.  Items on display include a ballot, photos and correspondence from the 1940s, when McCall was twice elected president of the SWG, and material from her controversial third term as president in 1951-52, at the height of the blacklisting era.  The exhibition explores how McCall stood up to studio head Howard Hughes when he insisted on denying credit to a writer who had appeared as an unfriendly witness before HUAC, damaging her own career in the process.

Included in the exhibition are rare photographs and personal items on loan from the Mary McCall, Jr. family, as well as materials from the WGF Archives and the Margaret Herrick Library.

Behind the scenes of the set of the film CRAIG’S WIFE (1936). From left, editor Viola Lawrence, star Rosalind Russell, screenwriter Mary McCall, Jr., and director Dorothy Arzner.

Last week, we celebrated women in writing

Last week we held a gathering in the library to celebrate women in writing – from the early days, when writers like Anita Loos, Dorothy Parker and Frances Marion reigned, to modern times, when writers like Robin Swicord (MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, LITTLE WOMEN) and Winnie Holzman (WICKED, MY SO-CALLED LIFE), Veena Sud (THE KILLING), Michelle Ashford (MASTERS OF SEX) and Terri Edda Miller (CASTLE) actually joined the celebration.

We’re always proud to celebrate the milestones made by writers of all stripes. In today’s industry climate, women are underrepresented in just about every profession, so it’s vital that the conversation continue.

And we were thrilled that so many writers and industry professionals showed up to help us celebrate. Take a look:

Georgia Jeffries, associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a member of the WGF board of directors, speaks to the crowd.

Georgia Jeffries, associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a member of the WGF board of directors, speaks to the crowd.

Robert Nelson Jacobs, WGF Board President, also addressed the crowd...

Robert Nelson Jacobs, WGF Board President, also addressed the crowd…

 

...as did WGF Executive Director Katie Buckland.

…as did WGF Executive Director Katie Buckland.

The crowd in question. The library was packed from wall to wall!

The crowd in question. The library was packed from wall to wall!

Everyone came to celebrate women in writing.

Everyone came to celebrate women in writing.

Drinks were served by scotch ambassador Martin Daraz.

Drinks were served by scotch ambassador Martin Daraz.

We were also joined by Miranda Banks, assistant professor at Emerson College's department of media and visual arts. Miranda is author of the book THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD, and performed much of her research for the book in the WGF Archive.

We were also joined by Miranda Banks, assistant professor at Emerson College’s department of media and visual arts. Miranda is author of the book THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD, and performed much of her research for the book in the WGF Archive.

We also featured an exhibit of archival materials spotlighting women in writing - like Lillian Hellman's original application to the Screen Writers Guild.

We also featured an exhibit of archival materials spotlighting women in writing – like Lillian Hellman’s original application to the Screen Writers Guild.

...And this letter to Mary O'Connor from the office of Cecil B. de Mille.

…And this letter to Mary O’Connor from the office of Cecil B. de Mille.

 

The Linda Woolverton Collection

Over the past year, we’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Linda Woolverton. We interviewed her at the 2014 Newport Beach Film Fest, then again at the 2014 Austin Film Fest, and she’s helped us give writing instruction and opportunities to deserving kids through Ghetto Film School. Oh, and she recently donated a screenwriter’s ransom in great materials to our archive.

If her name doesn’t ring a bell, Linda has written and contributed to many of Disney’s most enduring modern classics, like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, MULAN, THE LION KING and more. She also wrote live-action Disney flicks like MALEFICENT and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (as well as its upcoming sequel).

The Linda Woolverton collection includes a wide array of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST materials, including handwritten notes from Jeffrey Katzenberg, a beat outline, character notes, and, presented here in part, an outline of the entire script.

Here are the final three pages of that outline, beginning with Beast’s efforts to woo Belle once he’s realized he’s in love with her, and including Belle’s release and the final battle between Beast and Gaston.

woolverton_5 woolverton_6 woolverton_7

 

To learn more about how you can view items the archive – and, remember, anyone can view these, not just WGA members – click here to contact our team.

Our Online Exhibits: BROADCAST QUALITY

In the days before our entertaining and information-rich blog – which you’re reading right this very second – we commonly posted collections of artifacts from our archive in online exhibits organized around a given theme. We’d focus on things like the early history of the Guild, or the long process of turning a set of notes scribbled on a legal pad into a final draft. We even designed a whole new way to flip through the images – all hi-res, of course – and annotate them.

Those exhibits were pretty cool, and we’re very proud of them.

But guess what? Through the magic of the internet, you can still visit those exhibits right here on our website. Because we still have them! See? Told you we were good at archiving.

Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at each one in turn. This week we’ll focus on BROADCAST QUALITY, an exhibit that offers a look at scripts, pitches, notes and treatments from the top 20 shows in the WGA’s list of the 101 best-written television shows of all time.

Click here to just go on ahead and check out the exhibit. Once you’re in there, use the navigation arrows to flip between pages, and the little magnifying glass tool to zoom in and out.

Everything in the exhibit is just a sample of the physical items we have in the archive. From story notes for ALL IN THE FAMILY…

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..to the show bible for THE WIRE, where McNulty is referred to as McArdle…

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To script pages for amazing shows like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT…

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…BREAKING BAD…

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…THE SIMPSONS…

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…and THE WEST WING.

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Want to see more? We’ve got stuff from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, M*A*S*H*, SEINFELD, HILL STREET BLUES, and much more.

Click here to check out the exhibit. Questions about our archive? Contact our archivists!

 

 

Our Amazing Historical Find: THE PHOTODRAMATIST

Here’s one for the Hollywood history geeks out there. We recently discovered this remarkably pristine copy of the first issue of THE PHOTODRAMATIST from July 1921. THE PHOTODRAMATIST – and we wouldn’t blame you for not knowing this, for reasons that’ll become clear soon – was the official publication of The Screen Writer’s Guild, or the organization that would later become the Writers Guild of America. It’s not in mint condition, but considering it’s nearly a century old, it’s pretty astonishing how well it still hangs together.

But the book’s condition pales in comparison to its role in the history of screenwriting. Prior to discovering this book, we believed THE SCREEN WRITER, which began publication in 1945, was the first official publication of the Guild. We also used to believe that the Guild only existed as a social club, and not as a professional organization for writers, before 1933 – but the existence of THE PHOTODRAMATIST proves otherwise.

Our library and archive director – herself an expert in Guild history – didn’t even know that the Screen Writer’s Guild was referred to as such before 1933. And then we discovered THE PHOTODRAMATIST. Here it is:

photodramatist_cover

And here’s the proof, right on the second page, that it was the “Official Organ of the Screen Writer’s Guild of the Author’s League of America.” No giggling at the word “organ,” please:

photodramatist_official_organ

Like most trade publications, PHOTODRAMATIST was packed with articles about the craft, as well as resources for writers looking for work, like this “photoplay market” listing:

photodramatist_market

And, of course, ads for courses and tools to make you a success in Hollywood:

photodramatist_write_better

…But unlike, say, Plumbing & Heating Contractor News, the Guild’s trade publication had poetry in it:

photodramatist_sonnet

It even had a gossip section:

photodramatist_gossip

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the WGA – and of screenwriting as a job, an industry and a craft – check out our archive.

The David Fury Collection

Last week’s GENRE SMASH! featured TV writer extraordinaire David Fury, who’s written for groundbreaking shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 24 and LOST – not to mention other great stuff like FRINGE and BUFFY spin-off ANGEL. We’ll have a podcast posted soon, but in the meantime, take a look at some of the incredible materials David donated to our library and archive! (UPDATE: Click here to listen to that podcast!)

Major and minor spoilers abound for BUFFY, ANGEL and 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY here, so as our friend Walter White might say: Tread lightly. 

First off is a draft of “Lies My Parents Told Me,” the 17th episode of the final season of BUFFY, featuring more of Spike’s backstory. Here are some images of the first page.

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fury.2.buffy

 

David also gave us his copy of “Parting Gifts,” the tenth episode of ANGEL’s first season. In the episode, Cordelia learns that the recently departed Doyle has passed on his clairvoyant abilities to her.

fury.3.angel

 

Note the silver brads. The BUFFY and ANGEL writers’ rooms used exclusively silver brads as an homage to the supernatural subject matter. No word on whether Seth Green had a problem with this.

fury.4.angel

 

David was invited to work on 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY, the recent chapter in the story of Jack Bauer’s series of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Here are some notes he put together at the beginning of the writing process for the show – note the early stages of modeling Chloe O’Brian’s character development after real-life hacker/journalist/political asylum enthusiast Julian Assange:

fury.5.24

 

Finally, we have pre-production materials for “Walkabout,” the fourth episode of LOST, in which we learn that John Locke… well, if you’re still here, you know that Locke was in a wheelchair before his time on the island.

Locke hunts boar in that first episode, so David provided us with his research.

fury.6.lost

 

Here’s the first page of the outline.

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Finally, here’s the episode’s reveal – again from the outline.

fury.9.lost

All these items are available in our archive.

Like I said, we’ll post the audio of our interview with David soon – he’s hilarious and charming, and if you’re a LOST fan, you’ll learn some pretty amazing stuff. Keep watching this site! And happy holidays!

How To Write For The Talking Pictures

Are you a writer? Do you have access to a time machine? If so, then boy oh boy have we got the resource for you.

Recently we received a truly great donation from retired DGA director Doug Cornish: A pamphlet (published in 1931 or thereabouts) titled HOW TO WRITE FOR THE TALKING PICTURES, written by Charles Klein (not the writer Charles Klein, who – as it turns out – died on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by Germans in World War I, but the director Charles Klein). Klein was a director for the Fox Film Corporation – what we know today as 20th Century Fox.

The pamphlet is a how-to for anyone who wanted to get into the the then-burgeoning art of screenwriting, and how the demands of the writer had changed with the advent of sound. Here’s the cover:

how.to.write.cover

Klein talks about the industry in terms of the then-relatively-new technological advancement, and notes the struggle for producers to find good material. And some things never change! Writes Klein: “Naturally, a picture cannot be better than the story upon which it is based.”

possibilities

Regarding suspense, Klein disparages visceral thrills in favor of emotional ones. He characterizes “old” suspense in terms of the hero rescuing “the girl from the hands of the villain bent on ravaging her.” Which was maybe a powerful blow against sexism? In 1931? Maybe? We’ll take what we can get.

supense

How many of you have taken screenwriting classes where the teacher tells you to think of your characters in terms of the actors who might play them? Klein does the same thing. I don’t know what a “sex yarn” is, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to Google it here at the office.

definite.types

Finally, he offers a piece of advice that’s still incredibly valuable today!

confident

This pamphlet is available to view in our archive. Want to see it? Drop our archivist a line.

Bonus! Here’s a review from the Long Island Daily Press of one of Klein’s films, BLINDFOLD, which opened on January 21, 1939. The plot is a little… circuitous. Thanks to Fulton History for saving the image!

Long Island Daily Press BLINDFOLD review 1929

Austin Was A Blast

You might be wondering why our posting schedule has been a bit off lately. Apparently this is what happens when your entire staff visits the biggest writer-focused film festival in the country and gets – maybe – three hours of sleep per night the whole time you’re there.

Yeah, we can’t recommend the Austin Film Festival highly enough.

No promises yet, but we’re hoping to return next year with another great selection of items from our library and archive.