Diane Burroughs is a comedy writer. She wrote for The
Drew Carey Show in the ’90s, and she’s now a producer
on Still Standing. These days, however, as a small brook babbles
from her front yard down through the hills to the nearest thoroughfare a half-mile
away, she’s talking less about joke beats and character development than about
“I’m talking seepage and slippage and water tables,” she says, “and 100-year-old
springs reactivated by rain that recharged the aquifer. It’s nuts.”
The rivulet has been running since Friday, February 25 — “right after the big
rain stopped,” Burroughs says — when she got out of bed in the morning to find
a steady pulse of water forcing its way through her living room carpet.
“I thought, oh shit, holy shit, my house is flooded,” Burroughs remembers. “Right
away I got out the WetVac and started to suck it up — uselessly. The water just
The flow from beneath Burroughs’ floorboards did not abate with the end of a
week of record rainfall. The sandbags she and five friends picked up from the
nearby fire station had no effect. As the skies cleared and neighbors patched
their leaky roofs and flung open their garage doors to dry the moss off the
walls, Burroughs’ stream continued to run. She then realized that she was sitting
on something miraculous in this land of imported water and never-ending drought:
A brisk, clear natural spring.
Under other circumstances, a free and local source of running water bubbling
up from beneath layers of filtering soil and sediment would be a fine thing,
but Burroughs’ spring threatened just about everything she owns. She called
a storage company to come and pick up all of her furniture and most of her clothes.
“And then I went on a quest,” she says. “I called the DWP, Building and Safety
and the Department of Public Works; I called the city’s civil engineers and
the park service.”
No one had any answers. Often she’d find that one agency would refer her to
another agency, which would then turn around and refer her back to the people
she called first. When she contacted the office of her city councilman, Tom
LaBonge, and spoke to chief of field operations Rory Fitzpatrick, she claims
all he said was, “I’m really sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.”
Fed up, she even called the fire department. “They did come out,” she says.
“But all they could say was, ‘Well, this is bad, but there’s worse than you.’
In the days that followed, a trickle of people from the city knocked on the
door: “Some guy came from Building and Safety — he didn’t have a first name,
he just said, ‘Hi, I’m Sarkessian,’ came in, looked around a little and said,
‘I’m not going to tag your house.’ Then a man and a woman showed up saying they
were from the City of Los Angeles, took some pictures and left.” One day, “three
or four men in brown shirts — park something, I don’t know, something to do
with the park — they looked around the premises, mumbled a few things and left.”
Somebody else came by and said they’d have to fly over her property with a helicopter
to diagnose the problem. “I said, ‘Okay, let’s see ’em,’ ” she says, and looks
up at the sky expectantly.
“It’s all very shady,” Burroughs says, “these city people. They hardly say anything.
They won’t tell you anything. There’s not a single city structure in place to
Burroughs ended up spending 14 hours on the phone, accumulated enough phone
numbers to fill several pages in a spiral notebook, and found no one to offer
the slightest hint of a solution. Finally, she called a plumber who happened
to know a geologist. “He said, ‘Okay, here’s what you do: Find the lowest point
in your property. Dig a pit deep enough to sink a barrel. Punch holes in the
barrel, put it in the pit, and install a pump in the middle of it so you can
run the water out to the street.’ ”
Now, the spring has been diverted around in back and alongside of the house,
where it spews out of a blue hose that sticks out from Burroughs’ front-yard
rock garden and rushes downhill to the nearest storm drain. When I visited four
days after the spring had sprung, I followed the blue hose into the backyard
and peered into the ditch, where a pool was still rising steadily, activating
the pump each time it nudged the float. If it weren’t causing Burroughs so much
grief, it could have been beautiful.
For the record, Fitzpatrick insists he did everything he could to help Burroughs.
“I gave her the names of every city department she should call,” he said in
a voice mail. “Our council district” — the fourth, which covers much of the
Hollywood Hills — “took these rainstorms really hard. We’ve red-tagged homes
all over the place. And we’ve visited every single one.”
But Burroughs’ home is habitable, which is what Sarkessian meant to tell her
— and all he’s allowed to tell her. “All we can do is determine whether a property
is safe to occupy,” says Bob Steinbach, assistant bureau chief at Building and
Safety. “Anything else is beyond the scope of our department.” If it isn’t safe,
it’s still the owner’s job to get the work done. “Often the owners will look
to us to say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ What do they want us to do
about it? What’s next is that you hire an engineer.” Which is hard these days,
Steinbach acknowledges. “You’ve got springs popping up all over those hills
lately, and only so many soil engineers in the L.A. area. They have a lot of
work right now.”
Burroughs’ eventually found a retired architect named Aaron Lott who has a plan
for diverting the water elsewhere. “I did it for a family up in Brentwood last
year,” he says. “I think they did okay in this rainstorm — I should probably
Meanwhile, water continues to pour from Burroughs’ spring. And what’s maybe
most astonishing is not that a whole roster of city officials failed to find
a way to protect Burroughs’ house — in the end, it isn’t really anyone’s job
but hers — but that not one agency in a city in perpetual drought and water
wars was running up the hill to find a way to store it. Burroughs is not insensitive
to this tragedy. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of gallons of water,”
she says, watching her own small curbside rapids head down the storm drain toward
the ocean. “These could be magical healing waters. It’s such a waste.”
Joey Bishop isn’t dead. In fact, if you show up at
his house on a Saturday afternoon and ring the buzzer on his intercom, the garage
door will open to reveal a very old, very wrinkly, scruffy little guy in a clean
sweatsuit, squinting as the Orange County sun spills onto his face.
“Call me Joey. I haven’t been Mr. Bishop since my bar mitzvah.”
If you ask to interview him, he’ll get this funny, bemused look on his face and
say, without a hint of irony, “You want to interview me? Why? I’m retired.”
Then, if he likes you, he’ll invite you inside to watch Win Ben Stein’s
If heaven exists, Bishop might someday walk onstage again — with a martini in
one hand and a cigarette in the other — but, at 87, the last surviving member
of the Rat Pack is decidedly out of piss and vinegar and doesn’t feel like entertaining
much of anybody. He retired from show business to take care of his ailing wife,
who died in 1999 after 57 years of marriage. Fans will sometimes pop by and ask
for autographs, and he seems to get a kick out of the attention, but there will
be no Joey Bishop comeback tour.
His trophy room is packed with black-and-white photographs: There’s Joey hugging
Clinton, laughing with JFK, interviewing Nixon on The Joey Bishop
Show, interviewing Ali on the same. There’s a playbill advertising
an exhibition match between Joey and Sugar Ray Robinson, a birthday card from
Dubya, a small portrait of Joey commissioned by George Burns.
He points to a picture hanging over his golf trophies. “You see the guy with the
golf clubs over there?”
“You know who that is?”
“Harpo Marx. I was close friends with the Marx brothers. Groucho, Chico, Harpo
. . .”
And, of course, there’s the Rat Pack: on the set of the original Ocean’s Eleven,
in front of the Sands, clowning around onstage and sitting around doing nothing.
Sammy, Dean, Peter Lawford and Sinatra might be our icons, but they were Joey
“That was Vegas,” he says, pointing to the famous shot of the Rat Pack in front
of the Sands.
What was Vegas like back then?
“Oh, it was wonderful.”
Joey still has memories to share, albeit getting at them is like pulling teeth.
Do you miss your friends?
He kind of shrugs. “They’re dead.”
Do you like being retired?
He looks at me as if I’m a jackass.
What do you think of Jay Leno on
The Tonight Show?
“He’s the guy now?”
“But the guy before him was . . . ?”
“I hosted that show for him 260 times in 30 years.”
What were your favorite places to perform?
“Oh, the Sands, the Copacabana in New York, the Latin Quarter. Those crowds were
Was JFK a pretty good guy?
“They’re all pretty good guys. I’ve met every president since.”
Joey Bishop doesn’t expound or tell stories like old people are supposed to —
he’s no Wilfred Brimley, that’s for sure. After a while he clams up completely,
and the interview is over.
We walk downstairs, and Bishop asks Nora, his secretary, “Is there a reason that
door is open?” Sure enough, his beloved cat Angel has left the building and is
lounging on the low stucco wall beside Bishop’s property. “You got a funny way
of looking after her,” he says as he slowly gathers the cat close to his chest.
“Jesus Christ. Anything could happen to her.” Bishop stoops a little and lets
Angel drop to the floor, inside the house and safe again, then he closes the door
and locks it.
After listening to friends and colleagues of Betty
White talk about the Emmy-winning queen of television and humanitarian for two
hours at a fund-raiser honoring her, we learned one important fact: Betty White
is an ignorant slut.
“Sue Ann Nivens had more hands under her skirt than the Muppets,” quipped Gavin MacLeod of White’s memorable alter ego on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Angie Dickinson, all giddy and still sexy with that blond, tousled hair that hasn’t changed since Policewoman, told the audience that White has “the heart of a saint . . . a Saint Bernard” and, also, “a mouth like a lumberjack and the sex drive of a rooster on Viagra.” Gravel-voiced Ed Asner mentioned that he “ran into her at Blockbuster the other day and she was renting Debbie Does Dialysis.” And “contrary to popular belief,” he added, “I didn’t sleep with Betty White. She snores.”
Yes, these are jokes that could only be told at a celebrity roast, and White — known to so many as the dimwitted Minnesotan Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls and a lifelong friend to four-legged furry creatures everywhere — voluntarily put the heat on herself to benefit the nonprofit Actors and Others for Animals.
Still, making fun of White seems a little like mocking the dear grandmother who knitted you booties when you were a baby. But as Asner said of his former co-star, “There’s a dark side to all that animal caca.” Just watch her call James Spader “a douche bag” in her latest role as Spader’s secretary on Boston Legal.
Video testimonials came from the likes of Mayor James Hahn, Spader, Mary Tyler Moore, William Shatner and Candice Bergen, but how can you top Monty “Let’s Make a Deal” Hall as MC? And besides Asner, MacLeod and Dickinson, nearly two dozen TV legends and other show-biz friends — Cloris Leachman, Newhart’s Tom Poston and wife Suzanne Pleshette, Fred Willard, Alex Trebek, Paula Poundstone, Tom Kennedy, and blind actor and entertainer Tom Sullivan, who co-authored a book with White about his Seeing Eye dog — gathered at the Universal City Hilton to take shots at those deceptive dimples while White patiently endured all the nyach-nyach wisecracks about her age, sex drive, old-lady driving, and supposed “sweetness and light.”
Alex Trebek walked up to the podium with Chardonnay in hand and actually got funnier the more he drank, joking about White “truly being from the shallow end of the gene pool” and how “her family tree really doesn’t fork.” White just sat there, dressed in a scarf and powder-blue jacket, looking cuter than the life-size photos of hamsters and puppies that hung above the stage, and laughing out a polite “Oh no!” every time someone took the mike. Former Name That Tune host Tom Kennedy really got the juices cooking when he ripped into the audience with the greeting, “It’s nice to see so many of Betty’s friends here in Jurassic Park.” Bruce Vilanch couldn’t write this stuff. “I can say she’s all sweet and gentle and nice, but, hell, so is Ex-Lax. And no, it’s not true that Betty helped Noah load the ark.” If this is what a vegetarian meal at Betty White’s house is like, we’re laying off meat for good.
After Leachman sang a song dedicated to “Betty Wonderful, That’s You,” the roastee finally stood to thank her distinguished panel of peers with a sort of I’ll-get-you thank-you that suggested no Christmas cards for them this year.
“You really learn a lot about yourself,” admitted White. “I didn’t know I was so oversexed; no wonder I miss it so much. But these are old and dear and treasured friends, and you can tell just by looking at them . . . why I love animals.”