By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"In your book," he said genially, "you call me 'il miglior fabbro,' and I want to know if I've been insulted or not."
Eyes widening slightly in recognition, Carson stepped forward and extended his hand: "Mr. Schwartz."
"What's going on?" somebody asked from the back.
"This is Sherwood Schwartz," Carson said, "the creator of Gilligan's Island."
The audience greeted this announcement with an excited murmur, and as Carson explained that "il miglior fabbro" means "the better maker" (it was how T.S. ä Eliot referred to Ezra Pound in The Waste Land), everyone looked at Schwartz with a kind of startled reverence. And why not? The 86-year-old producer had earned his pop-culture immortality by creating two of the most fabled shows in TV history — not just Gilligan's Island but also The Brady Bunch.In the process he came up with a set of characters who have entered the world's imagination as archetypes — as the inevitable "Ginger or Mary Ann?" makes clear.
"Have you read the book?" someone asked Schwartz.
"I read the first chapter, and this young man" — Carson is in his 40s — "is a brilliant writer. Then my son stole it from me. But I'm going to get another one tonight and finish it."
Someone in the crowd noted that the book's title contained an obvious allusion to James Joyce and asked Carson which had influenced him more: Finnegans Wake or Gilligan's Island.
"For what it's worth," the writer said, "in my acknowledgments, I expressed my gratitude to Sherwood Schwartz and not Joyce."
After the Q and A, Carson sat at a table signing copies of his novel, and Schwartz stayed put in his chair, basking in the attention as people came up to shake his hand, tell him how much they loved the S.S. Minnowand its shipwrecked septet, and then asked him to sign their copies of Gilligan's Wake. He did so with such good cheer that one sensed that he would've been happy to sign books all night.
Lessons: Antwone Fisher Speaks
THE CALL CAME ON A MONDAY. "WOULD you be interested in coming to juvenile hall Friday to hear the real Antwone Fisher speak?" JD asked. Fisher was going to talk to inmates of Los Angeles County's juvenile detention system about his life, autobiography and the film Antwone Fisher.
JD, a.k.a. John Duvall or, endearingly, "The White Shadow," is a journalism-school graduate, a teacher at a private girls school and a volunteer at Inside Out Writer's Program, a nonprofit group that works with aspiring wordsmiths in detention.
With his patrician manners, perfect diction, thick black-frame glasses, and jeans and button-down shirts, JD does not walk into a roomful of abused and sometimes abusive teenagers of color and automatically inspire confidence. "The kids can be tough," he often says. "Their bullshit detector is always on."
In JD's view, writing transcends race or class. But Fisher's appearance was an opportunity for this white teacher with the comfortable background to observe the connection made possible when people see themselves in others. To the kids, Fisher, a black man once filled with rage who has risen through perseverance and the power of the written word, is the real deal.
After a ham-and-eggs breakfast at Nick's Café near Union Station, JD got into his Geo Metro and drove to the East Lake Juvenile Detention Hall, downtown off Mission. He parked near some railroad tracks, then took a shuttle to the facility and cleared security after leaving his driver's license at the front desk. Teenagers with shaved heads, Afros and acne sat in chairs waiting restlessly inside the concrete-walled enclave. Burly probation officers hovered. Television cameras were set up. Under a tent near the podium sat VIPs, the press and several posh, bohemian-looking women — Fisher's publicists.
Fisher — medium height, strong build, baseball cap, plaid shirt and jeans — stepped up to the microphone. The amplifier at his feet barely cut through distant train noises. He spoke plainly and softly: "I know it's hard to imagine a better life," he told the kids. "I too have been incarcerated, angry and alone. The key is to focus on yourself, not what's going on around you. Believe that when you come out of here, you will still be standing. Consider this the first chapter of your own book."
Event coordinators adjusted the volume control of the amplifier as Fisher answered questions. The kids raised their hands tentatively, and he asked each one to stand. They glanced to see if anyone was dogging them, shuffling their feet and gesturing rapper style with their hands, their voices almost inaudible. They wanted to know how it felt, as an adult, when Fisher met his estranged mother. And was it tough talking to a psychotherapist (played in the film by Denzel Washington, who also directed Antwone Fisher)?
"I had never told anyone about the fighting and the violence I had done, so at first it was a thrill," Fisher said. "But I sat on the floor in front of the therapist's desk to avoid eye contact. It was tough trusting someone."
After the Q and A, three of Inside Out's star writers came forward and thanked Fisher for inspiring them. The first was a young African-American man who wanted to but was not allowed to call out his 'hood. The second was a heavyset Latino kid with his pants tucked in his socks. He thanked "Mr. Antwone Fisher" for setting an example that could give him hope. A slight Asian teenager spoke with confidence and a deep voice, enunciating lines of prose with passion.