“Follow Your (Intuitive) Leader”
Follow Your (Intuitive ) Leader
Cynthia’s Column March 2006
I believe that our inner creative writing minds weave with threads that are only partially revealed to us in the conscious waking world. Some of these threads weave back into our childhoods and tug at things that moved us or awakened us to other worlds and possibilities. The “stuff that dreams are made of” is how Shakespeare put it.
A few things surfaced this month that got me to thinking about this. Let me grab hold of a few threads from my own childhood, pull them and see what is caught and pulled up onto the writing dock here.
I recently found the first television script I ever wrote. I was thirteen and it was a Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode written on notebook paper in the last section of my junior high school notebook. Behind the script I had scotch-taped pictures cut from newspapers of the men from U.N.C.L.E. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Not surprisingly my episode was called “The Babysitter Affair” and also not surprisingly in my script both Solo and Kuryakin seemed to find the thirteen-year-old babysitter pretty fascinating. I guess I had heard that you should write what you know and as a seasoned professional, I knew babysitting. And I also knew my favorite TV show. In this unfinished 21 page script I also found a small envelope tucked in with a postmark from Beverly Hills and a 4 cent stamp on it and inside an autographed picture of David McCallum. I had forgotten that I had ever written a fan letter, but I must have done. So I learned early on that writing can bring some exciting, romantic rewards.
Here’s what this thread pulled up: U.N.C.L.E. led me to Hamlet. Robert Vaughn (AKA Napoleon Solo) was playing Hamlet at the Pasadena Playhouse. I grew up in Pasadena so he was coming to my town! I asked my parents for a ticket to Hamlet for my 14th birthday which, luck (or as I preferred to call it “Fate”) would have it, occurred during the limited run. Dad gave me the money for a ticket in the balcony. I pulled together my babysitting stash and upgraded to a fourth row seat. David McCallum sat two rows directly behind me so I got a bit of whiplash with my head spinning back and forth between my two uncles. I don’t know how I knew to do it, but I was right at the stage door afterwards to greet my Solo Hamlet and get an autographed U.N.C.L.E. card.
It was certainly not the best Hamlet I’ve seen (that would have to be a tie between Roger Rees, RSC Stratford and John Vickery at Berkeley Rep) but it was my first Hamlet and it fueled a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare. The gravedigger in this Hamlet was played by William Davis, a real cockney who, a couple of years later, would be my 10th grade drama teacher at P.H.S.
Another thread that crosses over this one: In junior high I was also a huge fan of the show Combat which starred Vic Morrow. For the last two years of high school I was deeply enmeshed in the drama department of Abel Franco at Pasadena High School and Vic Morrow had been one of “Franco’s Kids” graduating years before me, but here I was studying with the same teacher as an actor I’d seen fighting in WWII France every week in my living room. Years later, my best friend and roommate, Hilary, was working as an assistant director on the Twilight Zone movie and was with Vic Morrow at the moments of his death. Things like this make me feel, not that the world is small, but that there are some sort of invisible threads tying us together in groups. Maybe something like Kurt Vonnegut described as a kaross in Cat’s Cradle.
I recently bought season one of Combat on DVD. I love that now you can buy your favorite shows from when you were a kid and own them. Some are a huge disappointment. The Monkees are unwatchable. And we’re still waiting for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But Combat was not disappointing. I hadn’t realized at the time how they had intercut black and white newsreel footage of WWII with the actors and the stories. I thought the guys in the woods were really seeing tanks and bombs. And Combat was directed by people like Robert Altman and Richard Donner.
Watching Combat this winter triggered a compulsive need to see Band of Brothers again. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m a pacifist. During Vietnam and again now, I am strongly against war. But when my inner creative heart says “Watch WWII! Now!” I don’t hesitate or question it. I do it. It inevitably means I’m going to be needing it. And sure enough, not a month later, I’m pitching a WW II project with a producer in L.A. involving a major European battle.
Jumping back even further, when I was ten, I was reading a small children’s magazine they carried in the elementary school library called Children’s Digest and found a story about a nationwide search for a girl of ten to play Scout in the movie of To Kill A Mockingbird. And that they had found a little girl named Mary Badham to play it. I was devastated that they hadn’t come to my town and let me try out. I was a ten year-old-girl, after all.
I didn’t see this movie until years later. (We were Nazarene and didn’t go to movies.) But when I finally did, it was clear that they’d done the right thing. Mary Badham was Scout. The book and the movie have both become important to me. I show the scene of Atticus walking out of the courtroom as the best example of “less is more.” A few years ago at the end of my class, one of my students gave me a small wrapped present that felt like a book and said, “Open it later.” When I got home, I found a hardback replica of the first edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” signed “To Cynthia, Best wishes, Harper Lee.” One of my most prized possessions. (Thank you, Charles!)
Another thread that would later intersect with this one began with a Life magazine cover story about Truman Capote and In Cold Blood. On the cover was the author flanked by the actors (Robert Blake and Scott Wilson) who were playing the killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock in the film. I was only eleven or so at the time, but I read this story over and over. I pinned the cover on my bulletin board. I still have these worn pages. Capote became an icon to me. This article was like a flashlight shining through a hole in a wall, showing me a narrow glimpse of a whole different world where serious writers lived and worked. It became a talisman that had some sort of magic writer energy to it. I would stare at the pictures of Truman Capote’s world and imagine going through the picture window into that world. It had a Writer Vibe and my spirit hummed to that vibration.
I had no idea that Truman Capote was Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird. And now Capote is a terrific film and there are Harper Lee and Truman Capote onscreen larger than life, tying those threads together nicely for me.
When I got home from seeing Capote, I rushed to the bookshelf and pulled my paperback copy of In Cold Blood. One of the few books I bought in those days. (Babysitters made 50 cents an hour.) The pages are now so old and brown that it is unreadable. So I jumped on abebooks.com and in ten minutes had ordered a first edition hardback in excellent condition for $35. And I treasure it. It stands beside Harper Lee’s reproduction first. (They had signed first editions of ICB for $1,500. If you’ve got the money, you should go for it!)
The Inner Creative Writing Mind is a living thing. It needs to be fed. And like any pregnant person (it is continually pregnant or giving birth, isn’t it?) it has cravings. If you are smart, you’ll feed the ICWM whatever it is craving and trust it to use this fuel to magically create literature.
On a side note, I had some surprising good news recently. A script that I wrote (and sold to CBS) in 1988, has just been picked up by Lifetime Television and will shoot in Calgary in March. It’s a mystery called Dream Me A Murder. When Selma, Lord, Selma was picked up as a Wonderful World of Disney in 1999, when it had been written for NBC in 1980, I said 19 years was a record I didn’t want to break. I take it back. There is no statute of limitations. And if producers and networks want to dig into my trunk for ancient treasure, come on ahead. The lid is wide open.