Thinking about Sean Connery got me thinking about the Bahamas… which got me thinking about the time I met George Clooney in Nassau.
My wife Valerie and I had just finished spending a week or so vacationing in Nassau and were the only passengers in a rickety van to the airport that stopped at several hotels along the way. At the last hotel stop, Clooney, Richard Kind and some other guys climbed aboard. Clooney was wearing a big sun hat and was very gregarious. I believe he was on SISTERS at the time. I introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed his co-starring role in a busted pilot that my friend, and mentor, Michael Gleason wrote and produced (a series I would have worked on if it had been picked up). Clooney said he loved working with Michael and we all got into a nice conversation, first about the pilot, then into other things that had nothing to do with the business, like what we’d seen and done in Nassau, etc.
Suddenly there was a loud bang, the van lurched and veered, and the female driver pulled over to the side of the road. A tire on the van had blown out…it was shredded… and she had no spare… and wasn’t able to, or was having difficulty, reaching her dispatcher. I think we were stuck there for 45 minutes or an hour… I don’t recall. We all knew were all going to miss our flights.
None of us were upset about it, these things happen, but with each passing minute, she got more and more freaked out, eventually breaking into tears of frustration. Which was odd, because none of us was blaming her or expressing any anger. So Clooney gave her a hug, reassured her that everything was fine, nobody was mad at her, and insisted that she take his hat. Which she did, with a great, big smile on her face, and she stopped crying. I was immediately wowed by what a nice guy he was.
A few years later, when Clooney was a big star on E.R., Valerie and I ran into him again at a restaurant in the valley. He was at the next table with Miquel Ferrer. I said hello to Clooney and reminded him that we met in the Bahamas on a van to the airport. He vividly remembered the experience, introduced us to Ferrer, explained to us how they were related to one another, and then proceeded to tell the whole van story to him. We chatted for a little while and then went back to our meals. I was amazed and pleased that fame hadn’t changed him. He was still a nice, easy-going guy. I hope that’s still true.
I’m a huge James Bond fan. I have all the Bond posters. I’ve interviewed just about everyone who wrote a Bond film between 1962 and 1987, the producers, a few of the directors, and every actor who’d played Bond up to that point…except Sean Connery. But I did encounter him once, in the early 1980s.
I went to the Plitt, a movie theatre that once existed in Century City, to see an early show of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. I was getting popcorn when I realized the man standing next to me was Sean Connery. I was speechless. The first thing that struck me was, holy shit, that’s Sean Connery. The second thing that struck me was that he looked so, well, ordinary. He was wearing one of those sweat suits with the stripe down the sleeves and pant legs. My grandfather had one like it. And because he appeared so ordinary, I decided not to bother him by saying anything, to treat him as I would anybody else. I gave him a polite smile, he smiled at me in return, and I took my popcorn & Coke and went into the theater.
And, as it turned out, he and his wife sat right behind me. For a while, I was frozen. OH MY GOD. SEAN CONNERY IS SITTING RIGHT BEHIND ME. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do with my head or my body.
The movie started… and his wife wouldn’t stop talking. It really began to get on my nerves. I stopped thinking about SEAN CONNERY. I started thinking about that woman who was ruining the movie for me. I was about to turn around and ask her, Mrs. Sean Freaking Connery, to please lower her voice when Sean Connery turned to her and said:
“Would you please shut up? I can listen to you any time. I came here to listen to Jimmy Woods.”
It was an epiiphany for me. Sean Connery looked like an ordinary guy because he was… he just happened to be one who made his living as an actor rather than, say, a contractor or mechanic. And from that moment on, I was never intimidated or uncomfortable around a celebrity again, which has been a big benefit in my career.
He will always be, at least for me, the one and only true James Bond.
The first time was when he guest-starred in a DIAGNOSIS MURDER episode that I co-wrote, “Must Kill TV,” that was a spoof of network television. We spent a lot of time between takes on set talking about his career, FERNWOOD TONIGHT, and even his work on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. I had a blast.
The second time was some years later. I was invited to be a guest on TV KITSCHEN, a half-hour pilot he starred in with Martin Mull. It was essentially an attempt to reboot FERNWOOD TONIGHT. I was asked on to be interviewed about memorable unsold pilots…specifically TARZAN IN NEW YORK…because of my book on the topic. I gladly agreed and they said they’d secure clips from the show. But I was shocked when, the day before the taping, a script arrived at my front door. I thought TV KITSCHEN was going to be an actual talk show, not a scripted sitcom… there was a character named “Lee Goldberg” and I had lines to learn. I’m not an actor, so I was very nervous.
I showed up at the studio in a collared shirt and khakis and met the director, who was Ted Lange, the bartender from THE LOVE BOAT. He looked at me and said “Lee Goldberg wouldn’t wear that.”
“I am Lee Goldberg,” I said. “I can assure you that this is how I dress.”
He dismissed my comment and sent me to wardrobe, where they put me in a turtleneck and a blazer. I looked like a syndicate hitman on a 1970s episode of MANNIX… or a cliche of a college professor.
This only made me more nervous. I was sent to make-up and found myself sitting next to Fred. He introduced himself, and asked if we’d worked together before because I looked familiar. I reminded him about the DIAGNOSIS MURDER episode. I admitted to him how nervous I was. He told me to relax, that there were teleprompters all over the set with the dialogue…and that he and Martin had been ad-libbing a lot. He told me to concentrate less on remembering the scripted dialogue and more on being myself. He assured me that he and Martin would make me feel at home and to just roll with it, to forget the cameras were even there.
So that’s what I did. The first take I was very stiff, reciting my scripted dialogue. Fred leaned over and whispered, forget the dialogue. You know the gist of it, be you. So I did that…and from that moment on, it was a blast.
The pilot didn’t sell and, as far as I know, never aired. But I have a copy of it somewhere. I need to dig it up and watch it…
You want to know why I love writing the Fox & O’Hare books with Janet Evanovich? This blog post, which I first ran here ten years ago, explains why. While some of the TV references in the post are dated, nothing has really changed in the television or even literary landscape in the years since I wrote this. Which may be why readers have embraced The Heist and The Chase so enthusiastically, making them both top New York Times bestsellers.
There’s nobody cool on television any more.
Not so long ago, the airwaves were cluttered with suave spies, slick private eyes, and debonair detectives. Television was an escapist medium, where you could forget your troubles and lose yourself in the exotic, sexy, exciting world inhabited by great looking, smooth-talking, extraordinarily self-confident crimesolvers.
You didn’t just watch them. You wanted to be them.
When I was a kid, I pretended I had a blow-torch in my shoe like James T. West. That I could pick a safe like Alexander Mundy, seduce a woman like Napoleon Solo, and run 60 miles an hour like Steve Austin. I wanted to have the style of Peter Gunn, the brawn of Joe Mannix, the charm of Simon Templar, and the wealth of Amos Burke, who arrived at crime scenes in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.
But around the time coaxial cable and satelite dishes made TV antennaes obsolete, television began to change. Suddenly, it wasn’t cool to be cool. It was cool to be troubled. Deeply troubled.
TV cops, crimesolvers, and secret agents were suddenly riddled with anxiety, self-doubt, and dark secrets. Or, as TV execs like to say, they became “fully developed” characters with “lots of levels.”
You can trace the change to the late 80s and early 90s, to the rise of “NYPD Blue,” “Twin Peaks,” “Miami Vice,” “Wiseguy,” and “The X Files” and the fall of “Magnum PI,” “Moonlighting,” “Simon & Simon,” “MacGyver,” and “Remington Steele.”
None of the cops or detectives on television take any pleasure in their work any more. They are all recovering alcoholics or ex-addicts or social outcasts struggling with divorces, estranged children, or tragic losses too numerous to catalog and too awful to endure.
FBI Agent Fox Mulder’s sister was abducted by aliens, his partner has some kind of brain cancer, and he’s being crushed by a conspiracy he can never defeat.
CSI Gil Grissum is a social outcast who works knee-deep in gore and bugs while struggling with a degenerative hearing disorder that could leave him deaf.
Det. Lennie Briscoe of “Law and Order” is an alcoholic whose daughter was murdered by drug dealers.
Det. Olivia Benson of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is a product of a rape who now investigates the worst forms of sexual depravity and violence.
“Alias” spy Sydney Bristow’s loving boyfriend and caring roommate were brutally murdered because of her espionage work, she’s estranged from her parents, one of whom just might be a murderous traitor.
I’ve lost track of how many of Andy Sipowitz’s wives, children and partners have died on horrible deaths on “NYPD Blue,” but there have been lots.
Master sleuth Adrian Monk solves murders while grappling with his obsessive-compulsive disorder and lingering grief over his wife’s unsolved murder. And Monk is a light-hearted comedy. When the funny detectives are this psychologically-troubled and emotionally-scarred, you can imagine how dark and haunted the serious detectives have to be not get laughs.
Today’s cops, detectives and crimesolvers work in a grim world full of sudden violence, betrayal, conspiracies and corruption. A world without banter, romance, style or fun…for either the characters or the viewer. Robert Goren, Bobby Donnell, Vic Mackey, Chief Jack Mannion… can you imagine any kids playing make-believe as one of those detective heroes? Who in their right mind would want to be those characters or live in their world?
And that, it seems, is what escapism on television is all about now: watching a TV show and realizing, with a sigh of relief, your life isn’t so bad after all.
I think I preferred losing myself in a Monte Carlo casino with Alexander Mundy or traveling in James T. West’s gadget-laden railroad car… it’s a lot more entertaining than feeling thankful I don’t have to be Det. Joel Stevens in “Boomtown” or live in the Baltimore depicted in “The Wire.”
At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon at my tender young age, I long for a return to escapist cop shows, to detectives you envied, who live in a world of great clothes, sleek cars, amazing apartments, beautiful women and clever quips. Detectives with lives that are blessedly free of angst and anxiety. Detectives who aren’t afraid to wear a tuxedo, sip fine champagne, confront danger with panache, and wear a watch that’s actually a missile-launcher. Detectives who are self-assured and enjoy solving crimes, who aren’t burdened with heartache and moral ambiquity.
Yeah, I know it’s not real. Yeah, I know it’s a fantasy. But isn’t that what television is supposed to be once in a while?
My new crime novel King City is out today from Thomas & Mercer in digital and paperback…and in audio from Brilliance Audio. I am so excited and more than a little bit anxious about it…because this is my first, standalone crime novel in many years, and a real departure fromthe books that I have written before. Here's what it's about…
Major Crimes Unit detective Tom Wade secretly worked with the Feds to nail seven of his fellow cops for corruption…turning him into a pariah in the police department. So he’s exiled to patrol a beat in King City’s deadliest neighborhood… with no back-up, no resources, and no hope of survival.
Now Wade fights to tame the lawless, poverty-stricken wasteland…while investigating a string of brutal murders of young women. It’s a case that takes him from the squalor of the inner-city to the manicured enclaves of the privileged, revealing the sordid and deadly ways the two worlds are intertwined…making his enemies even more determined to crush him.
But for Tom Wade, backing down is never an option…even if it will cost him his life.
"Lee Goldberg's King City brings the sensibility of a western to the contemporary crime novel and the result is exhilarating, compelling, and a thrill to read. Tom Wade is an iconic hero with a strong, personal code trying bring order to a lawless frontier…which just happens to be smack in the middle of a dying, industrial American city. He's an unforgettable and deeply compelling character in the most original crime novel to come along in years," –Janet Evanovich, international bestselling author
“King Cityis a book that only Lee Goldberg could have written. He’s got the high-velocity prose of a best-seller, coupled with the highly visual elements that make his television writing so compelling. Factor in the terrific characters and some very cogent takes on human nature, and you’ve got a rollicking thriller. King City is a pleasure from start to finish." T. Jefferson Parker, New York Times bestselling author of The Jaguar and The Border Lords
"King City is Walking Tall, Die Hard, and Dirty Harry all rolled into one. Hard-driving action and all the satisfaction of a well-told story about a righteous man of courage facing seemingly insurmountable odds. You'll love it."-Jan Burke, bestselling author of Disturbance and Liar
"I could tell you that Lee Goldberg's King City is one of the best reads of the year or that Lee is one of my favorite writers for so many reasons–plotting, character, or his incredible sense of humor–but that might ruin the surprise of reading King City for yourself. Suffice to say that Goldberg is one infinitely readable master of crime fiction, and King City is Lee at his best." –Craig Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of The Cold Dish and Hell is Empty
"King City like a 1969 Detroit muscle car. It's powerful, nasty, loud, and a heck of a lot of fun. Lee Goldberg is at his atmospheric best here, creating a world so authentic the sights, sounds and smells seem to explode from the pages. Detective Tom Wade is a fast, funny three-dimensional protagonist and following him through the cesspool of King City and its outrageous inhabitants is endlessly entertaining." Paul Guyot, writer/supervising producer of the TV series "Leverage"
"King City effortlessly blends the archetypal gunslinger of the Old West, riding into the lawless town to clean up the bad guys, with a modern tale of police corruption, urban decay and neglect….It’s a fast-paced exploration of the decline of the blue-collar industrial heartland of America, and the cop who will not stand by and let that happen on his watch. Fans of the late Robert B Parker will delight in King City, which has the same great dialogue and nicely judged wry humour….A sit-down, straight-through read. Superb." -Zoe Sharp, author of Hard Knocks
"With Lee Goldberg's King City you get suspense, romance, humor and shoot-em-up outlaw justice. Picture a mordern day High Noon with an incorruptible cop, Tom Wade, putting it all on the line in a town without pity." Joseph Wambaugh, bestselling author of The Blue Knight, The New Centurions, The Onion Field and Harbor Nocturne.
Sorry for the blog silence… I've been chained to my computer lately and writing furiously. I'm hell-bent on finishing my fifteenth and final MONK novel, MR. MONK GETS EVEN, to meet my June 1st deadline, when I will be starting work on an exciting new project that I can't talk about yet.
I've been back from Kentucky, where I shot the short film Bumsicle, for a few days now and I am still catching up on the work, emails, phone calls, and bills that accumulated while I was gone. I've got plenty of things to think about…and yet, even though directing the film is behind me, I find myself editing the footage in my mind while eagerly waiting to see the first editor's assembly. I'm sure I'll finally stop thinking about the movie once the final cut is locked and we're on to the fine-tuning of post-production sound, color correction, music etc.
The film is a sequel to Remaindered, a very well-received short film I did a year or so ago, and brings back actor Todd Reynolds as Det. Bud Flanek, a character writer/producer William Link kindly dubbed "the Kentucky Columbo." Like the earlier film, this one is also based on a short story of mine.
I had a fantastic time making the movie, in no small part thanks to the terrific cast (Todd Reynolds, Rick Montgomery Jr., Sadia Brimm, Marcus Porter, Patrick Litteken, and Jared Collins) and the professionalism, efficiency and enthusiasm of the hard-working crew, led by producers J. Laine Nunn and Roxi Witt, assistant director Rachael Nunn and Director of Photograph Marc Gurevitch. You can see a bunch of behind-the-scenes photos and production stills here.
As much as I enjoyed making Remaindered, and as proud as I am of it, this was a smoother experience all around (despite a tornado hitting town in middle of our shoot!) and the footage looks far more polished and professional. The big reason for that is that we took a enormous step up in equipment and resources. We had two RED cameras, a professional D.P., and a full lighting/grip package this time, all thanks to Firelight Entertainment Group.
But I believe the key to the success of the shoot was the thorough pre-production planning, from the smallest props to my shot list (I provided sketches weeks in advance of how I'd shoot/cover each scene and I stuck to'em)…and the tight organization that continued until the final shot.
We also pre-rigged some of the key locations the day before shooting, which significantly cut down on time spent lighting the sets and allowed us to move faster that we would have otherwise. And I spent a few hours before production rehearsing with the actors, so they knew the staging, and had their performances down, before they got in front of the cameras.
Because of all that, we were able to handle the inevitable, unexpected problems…like a tornado forcing us to seek shelter early on our first day and, in one scene, an error in the settings of our "B" camera that cost us some shots… and still stay on track without losing much time.
In fact, we managed to get all of our work done without going significantly over schedule until the final day, but that overtime had more to do with having to strike our sets, clean up, and pack up everything before moving to our next location, some distance away, for our last shot.
The shoot was tiring, but I think I can safely say it was incredibly fun for everybody involved. I loved directing and I am eager to do it again. So I hope Bumsicle is a success on the Festival circuit and that it gives us the opportunity to bring back Det. Bud Flanek for more adventures. My hope is that these shorts might do well enough to inspire a web series featuring Flanek that I could write & direct…but that's a longshot.
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