Susan Silver was one of the original writers for some of the most iconic TV sitcoms.: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart Show, and Maude, among others. In fact in her first season, she had what was a record breaking number of assignments for the time, thirteen half hours! She also wrote two top ten Nielsen rated Movies of the Week.
I have worked on and off as Susan’s agent, and I can tell you it’s been a hoot. I’ve always wondered whether comedy writers are as funny in life as they are on the page. And Susan proves they are.
Andy: Hi Susan. Welcome to “Ask the Agent”. You have just released your new memoir, Hot Pants in Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms.” Could you tell us a little more about it?
Well, it’s about show biz, of course, but also about being able to reinvent yourself throughout your life. Looking for love, in right and wrong places, finding continuous passion in whatever you do. Oh yeah and it’s got a surprise ending and it’s funny and sexy too…(she said modestly only blushing a little.)
Andy: As one of the first women in what was a man’s world in the seventies, what was it like ‘back in the day?’
Susan: Well, as I told The New York Times, who did an article about gender discrimination, when I worked on casting for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In back in 1969, I wanted to be a writer, but the men didn’t want any women in their office which was in an apartment. They wore underwear and wanted to fart…yeah you are hearing that right. So for the first time, I bet, The New York Times used the word “fart” when they quoted me as saying: “farting almost cost me my career.”
But I prevailed. With a partner, Iris Rainer Dart, who later wrote “Beaches,” we were managed by the great comedy icon, the late Garry Marshall. He helped us break down the glass ceiling in 1970 for a show called “Love American Style.” Then Iris took a break to have a baby, and I went on to write alone for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which had just started mid season. I told Garry I could do that show because I was from the midwest too and had worked in a small TV station. Because he backed me, they let me pitch stories, which was really a break. They said if we get picked up, you’ll be hired. It was my first script and the best possible place to start.
Andy: Love American Style. Now that’s a walk down memory lane. So, what made Mary’s show so great to work on?
Susan: The guys there, and they were all guys, Allan Burns, Jim Brooks were actively seeking women writers. They knew they wanted an authentic female point of view. I went in with stories from my own life that most women could have shared, but they hadn’t heard them before. Standing up for a wedding for someone you don’t like that much and wearing an awful dress…was my first. Or even in the closest of relationships, maybe wanting not to share your office with your best friend, wanting your own space. Ed Asner’s Lou Grant character told Mary she was as “rotten as the rest of us.” Of course, Mary immediately felt guilty and told Rhoda, whom she had lied to about the job…which Rhoda didn’t want anyway!
Andy: In your new book, Hot Pants in Hollywood, you say you are like a female Zelig, the Woody Allen character who stood next to every famous person in history. Other than myself, tell me some more of these iconic figures.
Susan: Well, very few measure up to you, Andy. It’s kind of wild. Because of my career, interest in politics, and incredible luck even before that, I’ve crossed paths with the likes of:
Jim Morrison of the Doors, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, Presidents Nixon, Bush 2 and Clinton…and I could go on. I actually do in my book. I was fixed up with Lenny Bruce when I was in college — by his mother! I worked for Mort Sahl in one of my first jobs. And of course on Laugh In, every one from Tiny Tim to then candidate Nixon passed through and I had to greet then and get them to sign their contracts…so that was a real feast.
I also have a gift…not a very valuable one but…I can spot a star at two blocks away. And I always know the place to stand in a room where they might come in. So..that helps. Also I’m not afraid to say hi to anyone. In fact, I saw Michael Caine the other day on the street and talked to him. He was very nice and much taller than I thought. His wife was pretty and not as interested in our conversation.
Andy: You also had a dating column for a while. Tell us about that.
Susan: Well, I’ve been divorced a very as in…verrrrrry long time. I’ve gone out with a lot of people. Ok, ok over 500 people. But hey, I’ve been divorced since the last century. Anyway, I had a column on the New York Social Diary called, “The Search For Mr. Adequate.” The premise is there is no Prince, there is no Perfect guy. I had an “Adequacy Scale” and the hope was you’d find someone more than Adequate and make him into the one.
I’m still looking.
Andy: Would you like to tell us about any of the famous men you dated?
Susan: Actually, I do have a free bonus chapter about a rock and roll star that I’d like to offer your readers. If you go on the website www.hotpantsinhollywood.com and send your email, I’ll send you the chapter. It’s a little naughty, so fair warning.
Andy: I’m intrigued. Do you reveal how large his………… Oh. Never mind. To continue, though, in writing a memoir, what were some of the surprises you learned about your own life.
Susan: Andy, are you asking a penile question? Right… Never mind. I learned a lot. It was a hard, hard thing, actually…Oh… I thought we weren’t discussing penile questions. Rephrase…it was very emotional to relive the bad times, the hard times that we all go through, divorce, illness, death of parents. And yet it was hopeful. I found I’m a lot more resilient then I ever realized. I’m grateful for all the good times. The fun times still make me laugh. And as I say, ”I’m still here.!”
Andy: What do you think about the state of TV comedy today?
Susan: Well, the best thing is the prevalence of great talented women. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer …the list goes on and they are not only working, they are running the show. Women’s lives are portrayed in varied ways And of course, success breeds success. So it’s a good time for us.
Andy: Susan, thank you so much. I’m really excited about reading Hot Pants in Hollywood and learning about your rock and roll star lover….uh….I mean your experiences writing comedy. The book is out now and in the bookstores.