This third and final mini-movie got me started in Hollywood. Lorne Michaels howed the version I had written for The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour to Lily Tomlin, Lily liked it, and said, “If he can adapt this movie for me, invite him to join the writing staff of my special.”
I could. And Lorne did.
And off I went. (And ultimately remained.)
And now, a brief, unfortunate preface.
The original notion for this filmette was conceived by fellow Terrific Hour writer Sheldon Rosen, an expatriate American who had emigrated to Canada after deserting from the United States army during the Viet Nam war. After he pitched the idea, we paired up and wrote the script for the movie together.
The thing is, although I got to go to the States because of it, my collaborator, required to steer clear of America for fear of immediate arrest, had to remain in Canada. (By no means a terrible place, but he missed out on the career opportunity.)
I have tried to locate Sheldon Rosen on numerous occasions to personally thank him for his indispensible contribution to my advancement, but I have to date been frustratingly unsuccessful. Still, I am aware I am beholden to somebody. And I have never forgotten that.
Here’s the idea.
FADE IN on a room in the “Pediatric Ward” of a hospital in the municipality of Dull City. (Note: Any allusion to Canada is purely coincidental.)
A beaming nurse steps into the room, carrying a newborn, wrapped head-to-toe in a soft, gender specific blanket. The nurse moves to the hospital bed, passing the baby to their eagerly anticipating mother, the father standing glowingly nearby.
Slowly and carefully, the mother draws back the blanket, so she can, for the first time, set her adoring eyes on her just-born offspring.
The new arrival is ultimately revealed.
And they’re different.
A bulbous red nose. Humongously oversized feet. A white powdery complexion. And a frizzy mane of fire engine red hair.
The startled woman has given birth…
To a natural-born clown.
(Note: The “clown-baby”, who was a male in the original version, was converted to female in the Lily Tomlin adaptation.)
What follows is the quintessential “fish-out-of-water” scenario – a congenital cut-up raised by a disapproving family, the situation compounded by living in “difference”-intolerant Dull City.
Putting it delicately,
The kid doesn’t fit in.
She scoops up peas with their fork and playfully flings them across the table at her siblings.
She squirts “fizzy-water” at her schoolmates. And interceding teachers and Hall Monitors.
And consistent with her genetic constitution, she is incapable of passing a pie without picking it up and throwing it at the nearest available target. Or, if they are standing nearby, “mooshing” it into somebody’s face.
She simply cannot help herself.
Inevitably, there are “well meaning” interventions, such as sessions of professionally prescribed “Aversion Therapy”, to break the prankster of her anti-social behaviors, rendering her a “functionally normal” citizen in Dull City society.
No matter how many jolting shocks are administered, when the patient is handed a pie, she cannot stop herself from throwing it. Leading to…
Throw – “Ow!” Throw – “Ow!”
The irrepressible “clown-alien” is inevitably ostracized, her lack of friends and familial encouragement breeding feelings of loneliness and displacement.
Walking idly down a backstreet, the clown-child – now a youthful adult – drawn to the sounds of uninhibited merrymaking, discovers, gathered secretly in a basement, people who look and behave exactly like her.
(Note: In the Lily Tomlin Special version, I collaborated on a “Clown Anthem” which was inserted at this juncture, co-written with fellow writing staff member Christopher Guest.)
What an invigorating revelation! The Dull City “outsider” has found a like-minded subculture. For the first time in her life, the unique “clown-girl” feels accepted, connected, and genuinely happy.
The clown clubhouse is raided by the cops.
Ordered to root out the “Undesirables.”
The climactic scene involves a frantic, silent-movie-style melee between the “authorities” and the”troublemakers”, the clowns fighting their adversaries with everything they’ve got – slap sticks, seltzer bottles, “Whoopie Cushions” and pies.
I do not, forty-five years later, remember how the film ends.
But I am certain it was happily.
My career ultimately took me in a different direction, writing half-hour comedies showcasing character and dialogue, rather than short “concept” films, featuring commentary and silliness.
I had fun doing those little movies.
And I hope you enjoyed hearing about them.
Postscript: I am remembering the chorus of the “Clown Anthem”:
“Oh, we are clowns, and proud to be
Big feet and red noses, white faces and free.”
Lily didn’t like “white faces”, thinking it was racially discriminatory, so we changed it to “bright faces.”
And they say I am not flexible.