Darrell Vickers: Thicke of the Night Part Two – Location, Location, Location.

darrell-vickers-1

Part One can be found here.

When poised, teetering precariously on the very edge of a vast and black eternity, most of us will gaze back reflectively upon those pivotal moments in our brief time on this green Earth. The roads taken and the byways left untraveled. The friends made and the bastards who stole your girl. The victories briefly celebrated and the losses bitterly mourned and gone over and over and over again in your head until foul and ugly thoughts begin to rage like a demonic Jovian storm within you. Your cranial synapses start to explode like overcooked popcorn and all sense and reason is frantically cast aside as you are sucked down, flailing and screaming into a soul-shredding vortex of irreversible madness…but I digress.

In brief (how uncommon of me), you perpend the very largest plus and minus signs that make up the equation of your existence.

chicken flavored icecreamThese points of drastic life refraction, that unalterably redirect the course of our days, may be good (meeting your future spouse at a party you almost didn’t attend) or bad (deciding to invest your entire pension fund in a brand of chicken-flavored ice cream).

When I retrace my own squiggly line of transformative events, nothing can really compare to a phone call Andrew and I received from Alan Thicke, inviting us to hie on down to Los Angeles to work for him on a ten week contract.

Thick of the night ad

Our Address with History:

The television event of the century, also known as Thicke of the Night, was due to be produced at KTTV studios at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and abject squalor. It was a disastrously out of date facility, even back then.

KTTVstudio2

When you saw Fred Flintstone sitting down to watch the evening news on his rock television, it wasn’t hard to imagine that that signal was coming from metallic testiclesKTTV with the exact same equipment they were using in 1983.

Just in front of our office complex, in the studio’s concourse, stood a 35 foot metallic man-statue, complete with a righteous hanging metallic nutsack. It was affectionately known by the studio employees as “Old Silver Balls”. It was an absolutely inexplicable “objet d’art” but far more pleasing to the ocular nerve than the other piece of shit they had chosen to display on the studio roof which looked like a fallen down and mangled TV antenna.

KTTV rooftop art

KTTV had a freeway to the east of it, a way better television studio to the west and a Denny’s where the Sunset hookers used to eat their meals just to the north. No one even considered venturing south of the studio lot.

denny's

Andrew and I had never worked in a proper office environment before. We’d mostly performed our whimsical lucubrations in my sub-hovel-level UNFIRE28  5  MCNISHapartment, within easy-breathing distance of the GM smokestacks. An area so poor, local thieves and muggers were forced to commute to make a living. I inhabited an abode so humble; bridge trolls would often scoff at me. Luckily for our tender Oshawarian psyches, these new professional accommodations did not differ appreciably from the shithole surroundings we had just waved a fond farewell to.

thicke of the night

Chez “Thicke De la Nuit” was teaming with young, pleasing-to-the-eye people, practically effervescing with hope and joy (boy, was that effervescing going to be short-lived). These inestimably smiled-upon individuals had been meticulously selected to pilot the televisual Luxury Liner nonpareil that would forever be known as the crown jewel of the entertainment ocean. And Andrew and I were being invited on board to help sail this diamond encrusted turd in a punchbowlship to glory!

Alas, there were a few turds in this glittering crystal punchbowl we found ourselves floating in.

– We weren’t writers on the show (technically).

– Our official daytime job title was “Researchers”. This was before the internet when all information had to be retrieved from those heavy, folded paper things.

canadian dollar

– Because we were Canadians and didn’t have fancy schmancy documented permission to work legally in the United States of A., we were paid in lowly Canuck Bucks (and in those days, you could get a better exchange rate on Triskelion Quatloos).

lone portable fan– We endured stress-filled, back-breaking hours 6 days a week for coolie wages and on our day off we had to attend endless, sweltering meetings at Alan’s house with the lone portable fan in the cramped and oven-like room pointed solely at the star of our show. I don’t remember a life-saving beverage or snacks ever being offered.

The bustling office production headquarters consisted of two long and wide hallways in an “L” shape (What an appropriate letter that turned out to be!). There were offices on one side (for the swells) and desks for the worker ants on the other.

Two businessmen fighting on a couch in front of a laptopUnfortunately, our modest titles afforded us the most meager of accommodations. This place didn’t even have dehumanizing cubicles! As more and more people were added to the turgid and increasingly disgruntled staff, workspace became more valuable and fought over than “Erebor”. At one point we were asked to share our desk with other dead-eyed serfs but this was deemed insufficiently demoralizing so our escritoire was eventually gifted to some worthier employee and we were told to go fulfill our duties in the men’s toilet across the hall (I am not making this up).

Men's room

The only upside to our decidedly poopy working conditions (and this was almost literal at times) was the fact that our messy desk (when we were allowed to actually sit at it) was adjacent to that of Patrick Carlin.

partrick carlin

Patrick is George Carlin’s older brother and one of the funniest men I have ever known in my life. Pat shone a happy joy light into the darkest pits of hell where we did dwell. He was indefatigably cheerful. Of course, smoking spliffs the size of hay bales in the KTTV parking lot several times a day did help to leaven his mood (more about this magical man in a future post).

vm_phoneThe phone system was a joke funnier than anything that ever appeared on the show. This was in those ancient days that your grandparents oft recount with jolly Rockwellian chuckles. A time before the existence of Androids. Our “cutting edge” communications system was these huge old big blocks of off-white plastic providing about 8 outside lines for 150 people. If you needed to make a call, all you had to do was press one of the big plastic buttons that wasn’t illuminated and dial. Only, there was nary a micro-moment when the switches weren’t all lit up like the Vegas Strip on the 4th of July. You had to stand there interminably without blinking with finger poised, ready to pounce on any light that went dark for a nanosecond. It was like a super-hard mini-Whack-a-Mole game but the only prize you ever won was not getting fired from the world’s least rewarding job.

flashdance topThe first few months were torturously hard on body and soul but there were a few perks (this is almost a pun). This was the era of “Flashdance”. All the girls in the office wore these ripped-open necklines and no bra. Being a comedy writer, I didn’t get to see a lot of naked breasts up close (no one ever got funny by having a good time in his or her youth). This was probably one of the holiest epochs of my hedonistically-deprived existence. Every time a young damsel bent over to pick up a pencil, or a strategically placed five dollar bill, I was treated to nipplage of the finest order.

girl bending over marvelously

I recall one occasion when five or six of we “gentlemen” crowded into a small room behind a girl named Lauren as she edited some piece of video or took notes on a piece of video or…well, who cares, we were all staring down her top at a fine and healthy Canadian pair. She did her country proud and the passing of 30 some years has not dimmed one micropixel of her beauteous nubbins from my memory.

By the end of our short tenure on the show, things were getting budgetarily snug. Along with our desk, we lost our parking spot and had to find sally strutherssomewhere to store the car during the day that wasn’t going to get us killed trying to retrieve it that night. In the heart of Hollywood, that was about as rare as finding leftover cake at Sally Struthers’ birthday party. mike mcmanusThe cast also got their parking privileges revoked. Rotund funnyman, Mike McManus once had to walk 6 blocks in the blazing sun to get to the studio. By the time he reached anything that resembled air-conditioning, he looked like Jay Silverheels after a long ride. No consideration was ever given to how badly people were treated. Every day was like staring down the barrel of a shit-cannon just waiting for it to go off.

head in shit cannon

The Bowels of Showbiz

paris catacombsUnderneath the stage, there were these dreary catacombs (like the ones under Paris, but lined with ruined human souls instead of skulls). This was where guests of the show were dumped until they were needed. There were separate dressing rooms and a common green room. I once got to sit next to Al Jarreau in there. A very nice and humble fellow. I also had the pleasure of sharing a couch with Gumby. One of the talent coordinators had been trying to get this guy booked on the show for weeks (she thought it would be a hoot). When he was finally scheduled to appear, he wasn’t the creator of Gumby or a writer for the series or even “the voice” of the amusing little green man. He was just a guy who gumbyowned a foam rubber Gumby suit.

Problem no. 1: He had to sit in this stifling costume for hours while he waited for his call, downing beer after beer in an attempt not to pass out from heat stroke. By the time they came to whisk him away to the studio and stardom, he was absolutely obliterated.

Lights. Cameras. Action! Alan ambled cheerfully down though the audience and who should he espy in the seats, but everyone’s favorite claymation character – GUMBY! This bilious intoxicated dunderhead stumbled to his feet and began to immediately veer off script.

“So, it’s been awhile since we’ve seen you around, Gumby,” smiles our unsuspecting host.

drunken gumby“Show business is absolute hell, Alan,” Mr. Green Thing rambled. “One day you’re a star and the next you’re a washed-up nobody. Believe me; it’s going to happen to you. You’ll find out.”

“Well, thank you Gumby, for coming to our show!”

That’s when Blotto-Boy careened over backwards into the seats and landed in the lap of the president of Metromedia (the studio that owned this fiasco) and his short-skirted girlfriend. After that, there was a quick cut to commercial.

As the taping continued, the disgraced and inebriated kiddie icon now needed to make a quick and stealthy exit before Thicke of the Night security officers truncheoned him insensate.

charlie fliesherProblem no. 2: Mr. G. hadn’t brought any clothes with him, other than his rather recognizable costume and a pair of sweat-soaked skivvies. So, he did what any other heroic Saturday Morning star would do under those trying circumstances, he stole the drummer’s shirt, the guitar player’s pants and Charlie Fleischer’s dress shoes (which he’d been married in) and hightailed it off the lot.

This became affectionately referred to by the staff as the “Drunken, Thieving Gumby” episode. One of the few moments of levity and joy experienced during our lugubrious time there.

A Sad Final Note:

building demolitionThe ancient KTTV lot was torn down a few years ago. I’ve often wondered what they did with that 35 foot naked metallic statue during the demolition. It would be an incalculable testicular travesty if this great dangling work of art was rusting to dust on a long forgotten tony rolletti (bill kirchenbauer)garbage dump alongside the set for Tony Rolletti’s Banana. I’d like to believe that Mr. Shiny and the Pendulous Twins are continuing to delight and invigorate female-kind at some other, swankier location.

Swing long and prosper, oh dangly ones!

=DV=

Darrell Vickers appears here every 4th Monday 

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.co

DBAWIS_ButtonDarrell Vickers started out as one half of Toronto area band, Nobby Clegg.  CFNY fans may remember the cheery song “Me Dad” which still gets airplay.  From there, he valiantly ventured to L.A. and eventually became head writer for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Since then, he’s created numerous sitcoms and animation shows in Canada and the U.S.  He still writes music and has an internet band called Death of the Author Brigade (members in Croatia, Canada and the U.S.)   Mr. Vickers also had a private music mailing-list where he features new and pre-loved music.  Anyone who would like to be added to his daily mailing list, just write him at Radiovickers1@gmail.com .

One Response to “Darrell Vickers: Thicke of the Night Part Two – Location, Location, Location.”

  1. I hope this is going to be a book. Great stuff. I remember Gumby. And Charles Fleisher getting a letter telling him not to piss on any more walls so that some christian motherfuckers don’t catch him with his dick out. Those were halcyon days. Rember the lady guest with the chocolate pussies and pricks. Remember Alister doing a monologue about an overweight lady guest, calling her “a bloody, fat sow.” with her husband standing next to us. Thanks for using a photo with my life motto on it. Fuck The World, Darrell.
    That’s what it’s all about..

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