Eric Kaldor has written episodes of The Rockford Files, Kojak and The Incredible Hulk, and he was blacklisted by Hollywood. He sold drugs to Hollywood stars. He’s also had a career as an actor. His story is something all writers should read, and is testament to his durability. He’s written a novel, Scars Of David. You can read or listen to the opening chapters at his website.
Eric met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about growing up in the Great Depression and Hollywood.
How do you think growing up in the Great Depression has influenced you as a writer?
Growing up during The Great Depression made me aware that something was wrong with the world. I was scared because my parents were so fearful about the future. To offset this fear I became an avid reader. I read Hemingway when I was quite young. The prose was simple and an eleven year old could understand it. I remember being terribly moved by Hemingway’s ” First Forty Nine Stories.” The stories were about bravery and the natural beauty of the world. Those stories took some of the fear away. I was amazed that the written word could do that. I wanted to do that too. I wanted to be brave in a hostile world. I wanted to write.
Tell us about your time writing The Rockford Files.
I learned a lot about writing for television when I wrote episodes for The Rockford Files. Rockford was one of my first assignments and it was prestigious because the show was so popular. Steve Cannell was the story editor. He was young but dynamic and went on to become one of the most important writer-producers in TV.
I got lucky with my first scripts. Cannell liked them and they shot the first draft. This was kind of unheard of. Scripts always went through a certain protocol: to wit: you pitched your story verbally, if the show runner liked it he told you to go to script but with changes that he wanted included. After writing the script there were more changes and there was a polish. But as I said they shot my first draft. My agent, ICM, at the time thought I was a genius. And I wrote another script for Rockford and again they shot the first draft. But all that was my undoing. I was very full of myself and I was beginning to believe my own publicity. I WAS A GENIUS! And in the story meeting for my next script I didn’t listen to Cannell intently—if at all. I just went off and wrote what I felt like. It was nothing like the story Cannell and I had agreed on. Cannell was furious and would never take another story meeting with me. That, to say the least, was dispiriting. But I learned my lesson. I taped all future story meetings and never again got cut off.
The moral of all this—is there are no geniuses in episodic TV. If you’re gonna write for tv, listen intently to the story editor and come equipped with a tape recorder.
Tell us about Scars Of David.
Scars of David is about living a life in the fast lane. It’s about a life I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (And I still have a few.)
I wrote it because I wanted to write something honest. I have been on this planet for 83 turbulent years. During that span amongst other things I have been an athlete, a spy for Army Intelligence and The FBI, at TV sports producer, a TV writer, I have been a finalist for an Emmy. And in addition to that dubious honor I have been a cocaine dealer and addict, a philanderer and loyal lover, and all around nogoodnik…and a decent guy, I also have possibly been a murderer and I was definitely a sex maniac.
I have faced death twice and because the next time I know I won’t be so lucky I wanted to get this life down on paper.
Scars of David is not a Hollywood novel, though much of the action takes place there. I have used real names in the novel. I hope your followers will check out Scars of David. I wrote it from the heart and I welcome any input you or your readers may have.
Who are your literary influences?
Writers that have really influenced me are Nathaniel West and Henry Miller. They are polar opposites. West only wrote 4 very short books but they are so carefully written. Every sentence is a gem. And one book, The Day of The Locusts is the definitive Hollywood novel. There will never be another like it. The book nailed this place I happen to live in.
Henry Miller wrote tons of stuff. His prose seems to roar out of him. I am sure he never rewrote a word. And the torrent of words are not only beautiful but they hold such truths about life, America, France and of course sex. On top of that they are fun.
I met him once. He was having coffee with a friend of mine. When I joined the table Miller was talking about—-what else beautiful women. He was 85 at the time. His lust for life is in every sentence of his books.
I reread portions of these guys frequently…and they never cease to amaze.
Is there a particular event that changed your life and influenced your writing?
I write because I’ve had a few close brushes with death. I know it’s a truism but life is very fragile and I want to at least try to understand what it is to be a conscious human being. So I write to try and understand myself.
I hope someday soon to publish my novel about my life—but even if I don’t succeed in finding a publisher I will go on writing because writing four hours a day helps me to live the other twenty.
And now, if you permit, a bit of self promotion. I have posted the first ten chapters of my autobiographical novel entitled “Scars of David” on my website – http://www.erickaldor.com/. I’d appreciate any input.
What did your Hollywood blacklisting tell you about Hollywood?
Being black listed ruined me. It’s hard to admit but to support myself and my girlfriend I started selling cocaine for 2 reasons. I liked it. And I was making money. In the eighties everybody was using it and I had quite a Hollywood clientele. I tell all about that phase of my life in my novel, Scars of David.
But back to the black list. I got stuck on that because my girl friend was the wife of the head of Production at Paramount. Out of revenge he made me a persona non grata at all studios. And let me tell you, black listing is insidious. Nobody will admit it—but nobody returns calls—even on shows where I had written well received scripts.
As far as I know black listing is still going on to some degree in Hollywood. It takes the form of you being on The A list—or God forbid—not being on it.
But in conclusion it did one good thing for me. I stopped writing episodic nonsense and wrote for myself. and I wrote the truth…maybe if I hadn’t been black listed I’d be writing lyrics for Glee…and I wouldn’t want my career to end on that sour note.
My advice to all writers. Do as you’re told. And above all don’t screw the boss’ wife.
How was it writing episodes of The Incredible Hulk and Kojak?
Writing the Hulk and Kojak were 2 totally different experiences and they needed a different approach. In Kojak you had a wise guy with a heart. A lot of the mannerisms a la lolly pop sucking etc. Telly put in himself. And we writers were never supposed to include these actions in our stage directions. In addition we had to adhere to certain NYPD rules and strictures. And on top of that we had to create a “realistic” show.
The Hulk was a comic book. There were only two emotions. One was mild mannered Bill Bixby and then the enraged Green Monster, the Hulk.
The premises were simple. Get Bixby mad so he becomes The Hulk.
I sold one show in a one liner. I pitched doing Oliver Twist with The Hulk coming to the rescue of Oliver and his stablemates.
Thank God for Dickens! He was there when I needed him.
If you were to give advice to yourself as a younger man what would you say?
If I had anything approaching 20 20 vision about myself when I was young—and I didn’t—I’d have shied away from booze, stayed married, respected my father, channeled my sex drive, avoided cocaine, continued to live in France and raise my son there.
I would have still written. I would have tried for some kind of teaching job and would never have returned to America. If I had followed those tenants my writing and my life would have been immeasurably better.
My advice to all young writers is to follow the words of Joseph Campbell who said, “Follow your bliss. That is what your life is for—that should be what your life is about.
It takes guts to do that….I am trying to do it now by writing my novel, Scars of David. It is my way of following my bliss…I don’t know if I’ll get there but in my old age I’m gonna give it one hell of a try.
What are you working on now?
I am currently writing a novel entitled, Scars of David. It is an x rated, black-comedy about my life. It’s about sports and tv and writing and Hollywood and murder and sex, The book is autobiographical and pulls no punches, I think it will be the last thing I will ever write. I am sure it is the most honest piece of writing I have ever penned. Your followers can check it out at http://www.erickaldor.com/.
How do you want to be remembered?
This last question is the toughest of all…but I’ll be absolutely honest when I answer it. First of all the things I don’t want to be remembered for—I don’t want to be remembered as a lousy husband. I don’t want to be remembered as a crazy drug fueled sex maniac. I don’t want to be remembered as an unfaithful lover and a lousy friend. I don’t want to be remembered as an episodic writer or a sports tv producer…and I could go on an and on about how I don’t want to be remembered—
But let me say how I want to be remembered. It is only about one thing. My novel, Scars of David. At the risk of hyperbole I have poured my guts out in that book. It is the only truly honest thing I have ever written.
On my deathbed—which may not be too far away—as I am 83 years old—I think one of my final phantasms will be that somebody somewhere is reading Scars of David.
It’s totally egoistic but it is the reason I am living now and it is what I want to live after me.
Thank you Eric for an engaging and great interview.