Friday, February 25, 2011
Following on the reception of our project based on the Stevie Williams story from my series (Interview), David Permut asked to see some other episodes for development consideration. I sent some cassettes to his office and a few days later David is calling me saying we had another winner. "Which one?" I asked since I'd sent a random selection of four tapes that were within my reach at the time. "Clarence Conly, of course!" was his reply. The story was about Clarence, a meek assembly line worker at the GM plant in Van Nuys who wins six million dollars in the lottery and parlays it into a nine million dollar debt. A few minutes into the taping, I began breaking up as the actor was giving such a marvelous performance as this hapless character and I could not contain my laughter. As we continued taping, I felt that my uncontrollable response was ruining the show but that we could tape it again after I'd gotten the laughter out of my system.
Later when we looked at the show, I realized that any interviewer in his right mind would also be laughing at the improbable, yet earnest, responses 'Clarence' was giving. Me (as interviewer): "If you could do it all over again, would you do it differently?" Clarence: "No, I would probably do it all the same"--thus ending up with a monumental debt again. We'll let well enough alone, I decided, and it was the right decision as David was still laughing at what he had watched when he got me on the phone. We made the same deal as before but this time, I had something in mind. "Have you given thought to a writer/director?" I asked him. He said he hadn't. "What if I can get Marshall Brickman interested?" David replied, "Perfect!"
I knew of Marshall Brickman as Woody Allen's co-writer on Sleeper, Annie Hall and Manhattan. He had also written and directed The Manhattan Project and, years later, would co-write Manhattan Murder Mystery with Woody. I had never met him but felt he had the flair to deal with 'Clarence' having collaborated so well with Woody Allen. I called Marshall's agent in Century City and asked simply, "Do you know who David Permut is?" He did, indeed, came the immediate response. I told him that David and I had a project that we would like to propose to Marshall Brickman as a writer/director. Would he care to receive the submission? Yes, he would, and so it was that I sent over a tape of Clarence Conly (Interview).
Not only did Marshall like the material, he took it upon himself to write up his vision of the film making a reference to The Fortune Cookie, the great Billy Wilder comedy. David and I were thrilled, but now began the process of turning interest into a deal with a studio. The process dragged on and did not conclude. Later, David told me that Orion had made an offer that had fallen short of expectation and that was that.
I still retain the rights to 'Clarence' and the story is timeless though six million dollars isn't what it used to be and would need to be adjusted. The way this all came together so easily with A-list sluggers makes for a very fond memory. It also goes to show that nothing is certain in Hollywood.