My Pat McCormick shrine

I had the good fortune to work for Pat McCormick on several screenplay rewrites (and a couple of other small projects) starting in the late seventies.

When I say “good fortune,” I mean it. I was in a health-food store down the street from Valley Arts Guitar in Studio City on June 9, 1978, trying unsuccessfully to get the clerk to go out on a date with me. The lady in line behind me finally interrupted us by saying, “You’re funny.” I thanked her and went back to my task. The lady behind me interrupted again, saying, “You’d probably like to meet my husband.” I turned and said something smarmy, attempting to blow her off. If it phased her, she didn’t show it. She said, “He’s Pat McCormick.” The lady behind me was Pat’s ex-wife Diane. I stopped being an ass long enough to introduce myself. She urged me to send samples of my work to Pat in care of the Tonight Show. I took her advice, but I got no response.

Diane called me often after that, urging me to continue sending Pat writing samples, and to keep in touch with him. I tried, sending batches of material two or three times in care of The Tonight Show (each time I heard — second- or third-hand — that it hadn’t been received, or had become lost). I then started writing letters that, looking back on it, were probably pretty far out there. (See for example this Mailgram.) I was writing “Power News” at the time for Frazer Smith (who was still on KROQ ), I’d manage to wrangle an interview with Arnie Sultan about writing for a “Get Smart” reboot, and I was in touch with two of my childhood idols, Peter Bergman and Phil Austin of Firesign Theatre, so I was feeling pretty cocky. I never received any reply from Pat, but Diane kept encouraging me.

When November rolled around, Diane invited me to join her for Thanksgiving dinner. Pat and their son Ben would be there, as would Don Knotts.

So I showed up and met everyone. Pat was completely absorbed in the game on TV, so he wasn’t very responsive to my attempts at conversation. Don was a crack-up. He arrived foppishly overdressed, looking and acting as though he was already late for a much, much more important engagement elsewhere. He kept it up until after dinner when he left rather abruptly. There wasn’t much interaction going on with Pat, so I followed shortly afterward, not at all certain that I’d made an impression. Sporadically (usually at Diane’s urging), I would dispatch a new batch of material to the black hole that was at the address of the Tonight Show.

Finally, on June 11, 1979, at about midnight, the phone rang. The voice on the other end said simply, “This is Pat.” With no further preamble, he asked if I knew how to type up a screenplay. I said I did. He gave me his address and told me to come over. Right then.

When I arrived, Pat was still writing furiously in pencil on a yellow legal pad in that all-but-illegible scribble of his. He informed me that he was rewriting a screenplay, and it had to be typed up, duplicated, and on Virginia Palance’s desk at 9:00 a.m., without fail. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I said, “No problem.” About half an hour later, he finished writing and handed me a stack of papers that represented a previous draft of his original screenplay and his pages and pages and pages of notes, added scenes, rewrites, etc. I went home and got to work.

Because the rewrite was so extensive, I had a lot of work ahead of me. I soon guessed that Pat was way behind deadline on this project because he hadn’t had time to go back over his work. He had characters changing names from page to page, jokes that referred to things that hadn’t happened in the screenplay yet, and of course, there was that wonderful penmanship. It was probably 1:30 a.m. when I realized that the rewrite had issues, I also realized that it was almost certainly too late to call Pat for clarification, and with the screenplay pushing 180 pages, I didn’t have a lot of time for conferencing. So, I fixed character names, altered jokes (!), moved sections around, and somehow got everything typed up so that by 8:30 that morning, I was at the copy shop with the master and a bunch of report binders. I delivered two of the bound copies of Under the Rainbow to Virginia Palance’s office, which was just around the corner from the copy shop, and then drove out to Pat’s house and dropped off his copies. I fully expected him to hammer me for tampering with his work, but instead, he paid me about five times more than people were getting for straight screenplay typing at the time.

Over the next couple of years, I worked with Pat on several projects, including Beach, Boat, Comedy Tonight, Fox Stew One, Play Ball!, Skateworld, U.S.A., Some Kind of Lizard, and Under the Rainbow. Tom Moore was Pat’s writing partner on a couple of the later projects. Through Pat, I also met Chuck McCann, with whom I worked on a couple of projects, although I don’t think Pat liked it very much. I also worked on two of Chuck and Pat’s joint projects, one of which (To Be Continued …) I thought was screamingly funny, but which never made it to television.

Because Pat always seemed to be way behind schedule on these projects, I didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I wanted: When he called, it was time to work. I did eventually figure out a way to steal a few extra moments here and there after learning of Pat’s love for cheese. I’d buy a kilo of something exotic, expensive, and imported, let it get absolutely au point, get the crackers to go with it, and then call him up to ask if he was interested. He always was. The two of us could put away a kilo of cheese at one sitting. I’ll bet his doctor loved me.

Pat was amazingly fast at coming up with jokes based on current events, and I witnessed that first-hand. I should have been taking notes. The only joke I can recall these many years later is one that — if not Pat’s — is representative of the way his mind worked.

How do you get to Malibu?

You drive up Highway 1 until you hit Ben Vereen.

I do remember that one of Pat’s pet peeves was having someone button-hole him for the purpose of telling him one of his own jokes as if it were an original. Still, one of Pat’s many admirable qualities was that he always politely waited for others to finish a joke, no matter how many times he’d heard it. I guess he’d been cut off often enough that he didn’t want to interrupt someone else, even if it meant listening to that someone tell him one of his own jokes yet again.

Pat often looked and acted as the very funny person he was. A couple of times, for example, I saw him with strangers (such as delivery men). He’d stand at the door, drawn up to his full 6 feet seven inches, scowling at the person before him, as if the timing of the interruption were unimaginably inconvenient. After a moment, though, he’d open his mouth the slightest amount and — without changing his expression — begin blowing tiny saliva bubbles.