Darrell Vickers – Ted Zeigler Part 9: Stories and More from ‘84

At one time, Andrew and I had been minorly represented by Lawrie Rotenberg – an almost legendary Canadian agent. He couldn’t find us work to save his life – but he did once keep us waiting so long outside his office that Andrew’s MG got towed. It required a king’s ransom  to  retrieve his car from a barb-wired vehicle encampment under a freeway overpass – a ransom we did not possess because we were being semi-represented by Lawrie Rotenberg. And so, the only Canadian representation we’ve ever managed to semi-secure actually cost us money.

Slick as Shit

Now that Nicholls & Vickers had acquired a real, honest to goodness, gold-toothed, nattily dressed, slick-as-shit Hollywood manager, the only thing that remained on our “to do list” was find gainful employment. That always seemed to be the line that almost anyone who we took on to represent us did not cross.

Ted was the exact opposite of Lawrie. We were his sole clients. He drove us around town to meet people. He bought us lunch and dinner. He drove us to the airport. Ted even drove me to Adray’s so I could buy my girlfriend an engagement ring. Mr. Rotenberg may have been a swell agent in Canadian terms but he didn’t even drive us to the inpound yard to get our car back.

And Mr. R. failed to see what Ted saw. What Alan Thicke saw. What Mickey Rooney saw. What George Carlin and Johnny Carson saw. I still occasionally wonder why we weren’t worth spending a little more time and effort on, considering we went on to a long and solid career in the U.S. where the competition is ten times as fierce. And yet, that has been the continuing saga in our home and native land.

I’ll Stop Ranting Now:

The first paying job that Ted procured for us was actually out of his own pocket. He’d been given some development money by an old girlfriend who was now vice-president of Daytime at CBS.  It was for a special entitled “Dear Mom, Love Mom.” An homage to motherhood, intended for broadcast on Hallmark Cards’ biggest  cash cow. This was a two-fold victory. First, it paid much-much-needed cash and even more importantly, it gave us a CBS credit for our CV. And as story to tell.

CBS Television City Part 1
CBS Television City Part 2

So off we motored to our first writers’ meeting at CBS – THE CBS!! The network facilities on Fairfax were built in 1952 and it didn’t look like they’d spent a dime on updating it since then. And that included the furniture. I’m sure it looked quite modern for all those people who weren’t off fighting in the Korean War, but by 1984 it was an utter embarrassment – sort of like Milton Berle. And it wasn’t really any different ten years later when we were back selling them sitcoms.

But still, now matter how uncomfortable and threadbare their waiting room couch was, this was still our first meeting at a major U.S. network.

Oh sure, we did land a meeting once at the CBC with Len Starmer.  He basically said, “Come back in seven years when you’ve learned something.” Lenny’s main claim to fame was being the executive producer for the Wayne and Shuster specials. A trained lab monkey could have written pointless drivel that unfunny and it wouldn’t have taken it seven years.  Their stuff was so breathtakingly dull and amateurish it made your teeth hurt, and this was the best he could find to entertain his countrymen? And Len had been head of CBC Variety since 1953!!! He and the CBS building had a lot in common.

Oops, I’m Ranting Again:

We sat down in the waiting area and Ted traipsed up to the desk to announce our arrival. This was 17 years before 9/11. Things were pretty loose back then. After 2001,  you had to accede to a full cavity search to get in to pitch a freelance episode of “Fanboy and Chum Chum.”

The Gary Belkin Story:

As we’re uncomfortably sitting in that odd glass enclosure, a shortish guy with grey hair and a safari jacket came out the main doors. This was Gary Belkin. He saw Ted and headed straight over to him to have a conversation. It turns out that Gary had written material for Ted and Harvey Korman in the middle 50s, when they were a lamentable comedy team. After receiving a bunch of tired, old jokes that the rascally Mr. B. had copied out of a book, they quite wisely refused to pay up. That was the crux of the conversation Theodore was having with Gary. Belkin was reminding Ted that Zeigler & Korman still owed him money.

Years later, Andrew and I ran into Belkin again. He was the other staff writer on “The Tonight Show,” when we arrived. Now, he had a great show business book in him! His career went all the way back to “The Caesar Hour.” He’d worked on “The Carole Burnett Show,” “The Danny Kaye Show” and “Car 54, Where Are You?” He wrote the material for the famous Cassius Clay album. Gary would have had a great book in him; that is, if he ever wrote anything. I will forever see Mr. Belkin sitting behind his typewriter, in his tiny office at the show, smoking a cigarette and not touching his typewriter. He had a dark, dark sense of humor and a thick, rich gurgly cough from his decades of non-stop smoking. He may have had an amazing career in television, but the only thing that ever made it onto the paper in front of him was the gooey bits from his tubercular cough.

The Belkin Typewriter

During our year together on the show, he would occasionally remind me of our manager’s unpaid debt to him. If only Belkin had the same kind of rapacious dedication to finding a joke as he did a dubious unpaid bill. Sigh.

The Rodney Dangerfield Story:

When Andrew and I were still in Oshawa, we somehow managed to get the address of Dangerfield’s club in North Carolina. This was pre-computer and only a couple of years after parchment went out of vogue. I have no idea how we thought it was a good idea but we decided to send some unsolicited material to his club in hopes that someone answering the mail would pass it on to the owner.

A few months later we received our package back with an attached letter informing us that Mr. Dangerfield wrote all his own material and our services were not required. Funny thing, though, seven of the jokes had a checkmark next to them in pencil that had been erased.  And we thought no more of it.

Several years later, we got involved in a couple of projects with Frank Bluestein. Frank is an odd duck but I like him. He’s been married four times so far and once had Monty Hall as his best man.

L – R Todd and Frank

We met Frank on “Thicke of the Night.” He was hired a couple of months into our tenure as some sort of producer. I can remember him holding his paycheck and waving it in front of Todd Thicke’s face.

“What do you call this?” he bellicosely queried. “I have spent more than this on dinner!”

I have no idea why Mr. Bluestein would accept work on the show without asking what it paid, but that was Frank.

After we’d departed the show, Mr. Bluestien came calling. He was involved with some of the oldest men in show business – including ex-“Let’s Make a Deal” veteran, Nat Ligerman.  They were trying to breathe new life into “The Liar’s Club,” starring Fred Travalena. It didn’t go. He also got us involved with a show concept about road comedians that was to star Howie Mandel and a few of his pals (I believe Howie was an old chum of his from Jewish Summer Camp in Ontario). It didn’t go.

So, we were relaxing in Frank’s living room one day and he pops on the Rappin’ Rodney album on his Boom Box (they used to be called Ghetto Blasters back in the day, but we have progressed so incredibly far as a civilization since then) and trotted off into the next room to change. It was a small condo, so we began to recount the story of our fruitless attempt to sell material to the rakish Mr. Dangerfield through the walls. Like a hack sitcom plot, not a minute later, we hear the man who “don’t get no respect” tell one of our jokes! Not only was our material good enough for his act  – it was good enough to put on his best-selling album.

The Joke:

“My father didn’t spend much time with me when I was a kid. He used to take me in the back yard and play, “Hide-and-go-fuck-yourself.”

Ted was immediately put into action to try and get us paid. He actually knew Rodney’s manager and contacted her. This was something that Andrew and I would have been utterly incapable of. We settled for 50 dollars for the joke. It doesn’t sound like a lot for a one-liner that has since been placed onto fridge magnets, become a song by Uncledad, graced various Youtube videos and God knows what else but it was five times more than Joan Rivers paid for our jokes.

I love the P.S., “Sorry for the oversight.” This was two or three years after we’d submitted the joke and we’d been informed that he wrote all his own material. But hey, I guess that’s why they say “everything about it is appealing!”

Another Rodney Story:

A good friend of mine had become acquainted with Rodney and went to visit him in Vegas with a friend. They had a nice chat and a glass or two of something expensive in his hotel room and then Rodney looked at his watch.

He then turned to his guests and said, “Well, if you’ll excuse me boys, I have to get my cock sucked in about 15 minutes and then get dressed for tonight’s show. I hope you enjoy it.”

And with that, my friend dutifully left him to conclude his day’s business.

Join me next time when I tell the story of how we became the greatest writers Love Boat ever had…. Almost.



Darrell 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.co

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