Saturday, May 19, 2018

Good Night Harry



Note: (I wrote this the day after I heard that Harry had passed away.  It has taken me more than a month to feel like I could read it again to correct it and publish it.  I hope this is part of the healing process from grieving.  Mostly it just makes me realize that some things take much longer than 30 days)

Back in the early 80's It is what they called a suite at the Sea Sprite Motel in Hermosa Beach.  Basically it was two adjoining rooms,  one with two beds and the other with a couple of desks and couches.  In that "other" bedroom Harry Anderson and I had two identical Mac Computers... 512 version, the big beige toaster model, and two identical work stations side by side an arms length away. We are writing a show for NBC called “Halloween Night - Live”.  It was a lampoon of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”.  Between the two computers were a couple of glasses, ice, a bottle of Vodka, cold orange juice, a pack of Camel unfiltered cigarettes and a zippo. As we started to write Harry said, “This is great. Let’s get a little smoke filled room going here.”  It fit Harry’s  Dashiell Hammet vision of what a writers room should be, a poorly lit smoke filled beachside motel.
It wasn’t just any motel at the beach, the Sea Sprite was across the street from the Comedy Magic Club.  Harry and I were introduced by Mike Lacey, the owner of the Comedy and Magic Club. That club is and will always be our favorited place to perform.  Harry and I wrote and produced an April Fools show and a Halloween show at that club every year.   Harry figured when we knocked off from writing we were across the street from a great place to eat, drink and see a funny show.  It was a good plan and we took advantage of the legendary Mike Lacey hospitality.
Harry embraced personal computers with a bear hug.  I remember the day he got his first Mac. He bought it for Eric his business manager at the time.  Before  I got to the house to see this new wonder of modern electronics, Harry had already decided to keep it and buy another Mac for Eric.  Harry saw right away that the future of creativity was digital.  Mac had created a visual interface which was more logical and approachable to dyslexics like Harry and me.  Harry knew so much about the Mac,  the Genius Bar at the Apple Store would say Uncle. He was my computer guru.  I got all his hand me down computers.  He went for the newest and the fastest and at the time they were getting newer and faster every 16 months.  So I had the next latest computer every 16 months.  The thing was they came loaded with Harry’s software but absolutely no documentation. No manuals for the operating system nor instructions for the software.  My family will tell you that instructions are the last thing I ever look at for a project. So in an odd way this Anderson approach to this new computer age fit my learning skills to a tee. 
It was prehistorically simple at the Sea Sprite.  To work on the same file we came up with a system.  Harry loved a program called “Think Tank”. It was an early outlining program. So we both had “Think Tank” our Macs, we divided the show in half and worked on our sections independently.  Midway through the day we would exchange discs and I would edit his stuff and Harry would edit mine.  
Harry was an excellent writer. He was an excellent editor.  He encouraged me to write. I am a writer because of Harry.  He always had his shows and his patter written down in script form. He couldn’t believe that my routines were just in my head.
While we were writing this show, most of the times unless I had a better joke or thought I could clarify a scene, Harry’s stuff was really good.  The next time I got my rewrites back it was trimmer, cleaner and well just funnier.  Harry’s take on a scene or story was always well crafted.  
One night after coming back from the Club we were settling in on the separate double beds. They were both more my size than Harry’s.  I don’t know why but one easily forgets how tall Harry Anderson was. 
As we were going to sleep Harry said, “I have to tell you, the Milk Bottle sketch you wrote is one of the best things in the show.  I think it might be the best thing you have written.”  
I said, “Thanks. That means a lot to me,  Good Night Harry.”
Harry does not bull shit.  He will tease and satirize but he will not bull shit.  So if he thinks one of my sketches is good, I knew it wasn’t some obligatory compliment.  I remember sleeping well that night. 
The next morning when the sun was barely up I hear the familiar boing of a Mac 512 being turned on.  This was followed by the distinctive hum of Mac reading a disc, and after that the clicking sound of a Mac keyboard.  Finally the smell of coffee and Camel cigarettes got me up. I stumbled into the already smoke filled room. As my sleepy eyes awoke I focused  on  Harry in his underwear frantically typing on his Mac.  
I said, “What are you working on in the middle of the night?”
He said, “I am rewriting the Milk Bottle Sketch.” 
So began my collaborative association with Harry Anderson.  The last thing we collaborated on we wrote while I was in LA and Harry in Asheville, NC.  We emailed files of Final Draft back and forth.  I was never more creatively challenged than when I was working with Harry.  Harry Anderson made me a better artist, writer and performer.  His premature exit has created an massive hole in many people's lives. Not the least of which is mine. I doubt that I have time to meet another person like Harry in my life.  Perhaps there will never be anyone of his kind again.  
Good night Harry,
Jay

2 comments:

Philip Grecian said...

Perfect. Thank you.

Andrea Lahti said...

Harry was over-the-top. There will never be another Harry Anderson.
Speaking of writing, he got me to write a screenplay. I had never written one before, but was inspired by reading his and by discovering an amazing true story I felt needed to be shared with the world. He jokingly threatened that if I didn't write it, he would, so I took a stab at it. I got stuck at the end and asked him if he'd help me finish it, but he knew I could. He wouldn't help, so the creation would be all mine. I do have a producer interested in it, but he said I would have to write it for the love of writing it. I loved it, and loved my friendship with Harry.
I'm glad to have made such an unlikely acquaintance. My husband took the chance to introduce himself and me to Harry and his wife when they moved down the street from us. Consequently, I got to know Harry as the remarkable person he was, not as a celebrity. Except for times like meeting you, Jay, over lunch at his favorite Asheville Mexican restaurant; or watching, with his lovely Elizabeth, Harry perform some of his signature tricks for Mr. Willie Nelson in his tour bus.
What a treat he was! Intelligent, kind, generous, hilarious, genuine, clever. I can't seem to completely capture his personality, no matter how many words I include. He will be missed by many people, for many different reasons.