Ever since I got my advance copy of Susan Silver’s new book Hot Pants in Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms, I have spent every spare moment reading it. Talk about a page turner!
At her book party last Wednesday, hosted in the Garden Room at Michael’s by Susan’s “closest platonic male friend” John Demsey, she wowed the crowd (which included The New York Post’s Richard Johnson and author Ed Klein) by sharing a few tasty tidbits from her hilarious, touching and sometimes shocking memoir. The book chronicles her years as a trailblazing comedy writer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Maude and The Partridge Family. Susan is something of a female Zelig, having had encounters over the course of one helluva an interesting life with everyone from Steve McQueen to Shimon Peres. All of these episodes are described in the book in delicious detail, so when she invited me to rejoin her at Michael’s to celebrate the official April 27 publication date, I jumped at the chance.
At the book party, she told an eyebrow-raising anecdote at one point about Bill Cosby. It turns out that back when Susan was a wide-eyed co-ed at UCLA, where she hung out with “sweet, preppie” Jim Morrison (yes, that Jim Morrison–more on those days later), she met Cosby when he was shooting a show on campus called Hootenanny. Ever the gentleman, Bill offered to drive Susan home so he could give her advice on launching her career as a comedy writer. Imagine how shocked we all were when Susan said Cosby lunged at her when they pulled up to her house. In order to escape his unwanted advances, she fell out of the car, landing with her legs in the air. Luckily, Cosby was nowhere near them.
Today, I barely knew where to begin when Susan arrived all smiles in the dining room. With a writers’ strike looking and ongoing talk in Hollywood about pay parity and the double standard that plagues women behind the camera, I wanted to get her thoughts on comments made by Jennifer Lawrence and Reese Witherspoon.
Writers, she explained, are part of the Writer’s Guild and as such, “They have to pay everyone the same.” The bigger issue for her, she recalled, was ageism, which was taken on by the Guild during a long, protracted lawsuit some years ago. When it was over, said Susan between bites of her softshell crab, “I got a very nice check.”
The main issue for writers today, she continued, is that there aren’t enough jobs. Back in her day, Susan and her writing partner Iris Rainer Dart (who wrote Beaches) would sell individual scripts to shows as freelancers. “Now shows hire seven people to write the whole season,” she told me. “There was no Writers’ Room when I was writing for Mary Tyler Moore. And when there were rewrites, you were called back to the table. That’s just not done anymore.”
It was none other the late and legendary director Garry Marshall who got Susan her gig with MTM. “He was my manager and my best friend until he passed away,” she noted. Susan told me that her last exchange with Marshall was right after the Republican National Convention, when she told him, “I don’t blame you for Scott Baio.” She was in Aspen last summer when she got the call he’d passed away. “He was the nicest person. I still talk to him in my head.” There are so many people touched on in Susan’s book that was I eager to ask her about as many as I could. I decided in the end to just run down the list.