Friday, August 23, 2013

Elliot Feldman is (Fill in the Blank)--From the Cold Dirt Press Archives

Photo courtesy of Elliot Feldman.

You meet the most interesting people on the virtual cocktail party of the social network and one such person is Elliot Feldman. He is a humorist, a cartoonist, and he wrote for Goodson Todman television game shows like Match Game. Elliot's novel, Sitting Shiva; was published by Evergreen Review in 2003. His comics appear online in Scene4 Magazine. His Old Hippy in Florida appears in the most recent edition of the literary journal Antique Children: Kingdom Freaks & Other Divine Wonders. When I received my copy, I knew that the Cold Dirt Press readers needed to hear about it and find out more about Mr. Feldman, who graciously submitted to my queries.

CDP: What was the environment like behind the scenes of the TV shows? Comedy is hard, but was it constant high pressure, a manic race to beat the clock, to fill air time? There had to be liquid lubrication to soothe the savage star egos and facilitate spontaneity. Was it a party atmosphere?

EF: The work environment was big-time fun. It was like being Buddy on the old Dick Van Dyke Show. The other writers, particularly Robert Sherman and Joe Neustein, were extremely talented. We were good friends. There was rarely pressure behind the scenes.

My office was a walk-in video equipment closet, but my real office was the 6430 Sunset (now CNN building) roof. I'd bring a beach chair, a lapboard, and a boombox. Occasionally a bottle of tequila and some joints would magically appear along with invited guests.
©2012 Elliot Feldman

CDP: Was comedy writing a goal of yours as a kid or was it something you fell into? And how did you get your start writing for TV?

EF: As a kid, I was a cartoonist. I was never a writer. In '75, I went to LA to break into animation, but the animators were on strike. In a panic, I wrote a spec Jeffersons TV script on a busted toy typewriter. I went door-to-door to agency offices (something not recommended) and found a sympathetic agent who read the script in front of me. She laughed and I knew I could write comedy. But since I was a hippy nobody from Detroit, she didn't sign me.

I wrote bad jokes for The Match Game for over 10 years. Before I wrote for TV, I was a longtime cartoonist. Because of this, writing Match Game stuff came easy. Goodson Todman Productions hired me off the street. Through word of mouth, I heard that Goodson Todman was buying freelance game questions for Tattletales, a celebrity version of Newlywed Game. I wound up making about $50 a week. I asked producer Paul Alter if any other show was looking for freelancers. He told me to do some sample Match Game questions. It was the highest rated show on daytime TV at the time. I did two batches and was hired on staff. A total mindblower.

CDP: Growing up my friends and I were fans of Brett Somers, Richard Dawson and Charles Nelson Reilly who seemed to like each other and also appeared to enjoy doing the show. Do you have any special remembrances of them?

EF: As for Charles, Brett, and Richard, the strongest memory I have is the day that Richard prevented Gene Rayburn from firing me. This is a long outrageous story that is best untold for now.

CDP: Were there any scandalous shenanigans happening behind the Hollywood Squares? Any of the stars doing rude things behind their desks? Peter Marshall seemed like the type of guy who, despite his blinding smile, could irk people. What was it like working with him?

EF: I never worked with Peter Marshall, but I suspect that he wasn't hired for the Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour because Marshall and Rayburn almost looked like twins. I did work on The Match Game /Hollywood Squares Hour, a complete conceptual disaster. The Match Game half hour was hosted by Gene Rayburn and the Squares half hour was hosted by Jon "Bowzer" Bauman of Sha Na Na fame. These two guys hated each other. The vitriol peaked when Rayburn smacked Bauman in the head with his super-long mike. The show ran for a few months and died a merciful death.

CDP: You went on to work on some kids' shows for Nickelodeon.I imagine that it might have been liberating and refreshing. Did that require a drastic change in how you worked?

EF: Throughout the years, I've worked on a wide variety of game type material from trivia questions for the online versions of Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit to stunts for kids shows like Double Dare and That's My Dog (stupid pet tricks the game show). Writing jokes has always been my preference.

CDP: I'm a fan of your Facebook postings and your comics in Scene4 Magazine. Now some of them are featured in a literary journal called Antique Children. Will you tell us how this came about?

EF: As a cartoonist, my work started in college and the earliest underground hippy papers (such as East Lansing's "The Paper" and Detroit's "The Fifth Estate") in the 60s and 70s. In the 80s, my work was in the Los Angeles Reader. In the mid-90s, my comics were online. Scene4 Magazine found my comics on MySpace, and Antique Children found them a few months ago on FB.

In 2003, my first and only novel "Sitting Shiva" was published by Barney Rosset of Evergreen Review and Grove Press fame.

CDP: Do you ever come across your old work on YouTube or on cable? Do you look back on it with a sense of accomplishment?

EF: You can find my game show work playing on the Game Show Network (GSN) at almost any time of day or night. It's almost painful to watch.

You can also check out Elliot on his Facebook page. Here are some more of Elliot's Old Hippy in Florida comics for you to enjoy with thanks to Jim Lopez of Antique Children.
©2012 Elliot Feldman

©2012 Elliot Feldman

©2012 Elliot Feldman

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