One of the amazing incidents I encountered when a bookseller for a major mystery store in Manhattan, was introducing one author to another and watching their interaction. Sometimes authors arrived at their current profession via other routes, ones where they may have gained success and fame, and now are trying their hand at writing.
As a avid TV viewer in younger days, I would take note not only of actors, but of writers, producers, etc. It wasn’t difficult to identity the individual responsible for shows such as Silk Stalkings, Wiseguy, The A Team, and The Rockford Files, among many more. His signature at the end of each program had him sitting at a typewriter, pulling out a piece of paper, and it flying off with his name attached. Stephen Cannell almost owned 80s TV. I was absorbed by the gritty charged episodes of Wiseguy, and the play between an undercover FBI agent, Vinnie Terranova, and the mob boss, Sonny Steelgrave. The second season was as engrossing as the first. With an early twisted performance by Kevin Spacey as Mel Profit, I was watching first rate writing.
I didn’t watch the goofy A-Team first run–I thought it beneath me, the all male cast running around building things and protecting the meek of the universe. When I had people working for me, we turned on the TV for background, and during the day the show was in reruns, and we would laugh most of the way through it’s corny plots and ridiculous Mr. T. Still, although basic in it’s masculine violent appeal, at heart, it was a spoof on the very thing people watched it for. And, there was an amazing actor, Dwight Schultz, who carried the show, although never recognized for it.
Of course, The Rockford Files are legendary now, James Garner a household name. It was smart, funny, and unusual for the day–a private eye without money, or finesse, living in a trailer. Mr. Cannell must have made a pile of dough from the shows he produced himself or in partnership with Frank Lupo. But at a certain point in his life, he ditched it all to write full time. It’s what he always had wanted to do, and he could do it.
When is first novel was released, he came for a drop in signing. I was in awe, but kept that fact to myself, other than to acknowledge my enjoyment of his past work. He was gracious, friendly, interesting and not at all what one pictures a Hollywood producer would be. I enjoyed his signing, he seemed to have a good time, and so when it came around for another one, I was looking forward to it.
At the same time, a newcomer to the mystery field had written his first novel, and I had sold out of his signed copies. So I asked him to drop by any time he could to sign more. Mr. Cannell was seated at the desk doing his thing when the newbie author came by to sign. And this was the interesting moment. I introduced them.
“Mr. Cannell, this is Stephen Humphrey Bogart, he recently wrote a crime novel, and I asked him to drop by to sign more of his copies. Stephen–this is Stephen Cannell–he’s also signing books.” I made no reference to Mr. Cannell’s producing credits. And, I didn’t make any kind of fuss about Mr. Bogart’s linage.
After the how-do-you-dos, Mr. Cannell looked at a copy of Mr. Bogart’s book, and stated, “Wow, your name Humphrey must be a tough one to work with.” Bogart replied, “Well, Humphrey Bogart was my father.”
Stephen Cannell looked as though he’d just been given the key to a candy shop. He was thrilled. He turned into a fan before my eyes, a fan of Mr. Bogart’s father, and mother.
“Your father is my hero.” he excitedly extended his hand to shake Mr. Bogart’s. I was a bit worried. I was fairly sure Bogart must have heard all of this hyperbole from individuals a billion times before, and as such, may not be thrilled to constantly be known as the ‘son of’. But Bogart was a friendly, considerate man, and although reticent at first, became more comfortable as they talked.
“Your mother worked for me–in Rockford. She was wonderful, a great lady.” As they are conversing, I’m taking it all in. I couldn’t help think of how odd it was that I was witnessing the connection between what many would consider Hollywood’s royalty, either by parentage, or producing, they were of a kind. It was exciting to me, to watch unfold the acknowledgment between two players and the possibility of more to come.
I was handing books to each one opened to the signature page after the initial discussion began, I knew both were on tight schedules, and interjected a couple of times. I thought to myself–Bogart’s book could make a nice TV series, so I explained the virtues of Mr. Bogart’s work, and Cannell buying a copy, asked for Bogart to sign it. Each man was gracious, cordial, and I believe, happy to make the acquaintance of the other. Looking back on it, it reminds me of that group, LinkedIn, but face to face and with real conversation. The opportunity to watch two people who have links, and perhaps the possibility of extending those towards some new direction was pulse pounding to me. After all, I sold books, hardly akin to TV or movie production, and here I was in the company of those who knew about that magical world first hand.
The entire encounter probably didn’t last more than 15 minutes. Each man finished their tasks, shook hands again, took each others contact information, and went their separate ways.
I saw both authors again after, separately, and we didn’t touch on that encounter. I’ve no idea if either ever spoke or saw each other again. Although I’m sure many people wouldn’t find a thing exciting or interesting about my bystander experience, to me it was if I had a peek inside the working world of big time entertainment, and it was magical.