They've Blessed Us
Robert Weiskopf and Robert Schiller, two of Lucille Ball's favorite writers, were center of attention at the Opening Night ceremonies of Loving Lucy 2000, the fifth annual Convention of Lucy Fans. "The Bobs," who wrote for I Love Lucy (1955-57); The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-60) and The Lucy Show (1962-64), not to mention countless other television series, received the convention's third annual "Lifetime of Excellence" Award.
The ceremonies were held at the Leonard H. Goldenson theatre at the Academy of Television Arts &Sciences in North Hollywood. On hand to honor and applaud the writers were (among others) Beatrice Arthur and Conrad Bain (of Maude); Jimmy Garrett (of The Lucy Show); Cleo Smith; Zo Ball; Wanda Clark; Roz and Marilyn Borden; Madelyn Pugh Davis; Larry Orenstein; Bernie Weitzman; Gregg Oppenheimer; and film editor Dann Cahn.
The Bobs' colorful careers in radio and television were recalled in a special documentary that included audio, film and video-tape clips of various shows. The evening also included extensive "clips" from Weiskopf and Schiller's contributions to the Lucy programs, to All in the Family and to Maude. We Love Lucy president Tom Watson presented Bob and Bob with the "Lifetime of Excellence" Award at the end of the presentation.
Robert Weiskopf was born in Chicago, on March 13, 1914, to Leo and Elsie Weiskopf. The oldest of two children, Bob excelled in sports -- and almost impishly loved to make people laugh. By the time he was enrolled at Hyde Park High, and later at the University of Chicago, radio had taken over as America's favorite form of entertainment. Major network programs like Amos 'n' Andy originated right there in Chicago, but Bob's favorite shows were the comedy-variety programs from New York -- shows that featured such talents as Ed Wynn, Jack Benny, and Weiskopf's all-time-favorite, Fred Allen.
Two of Bob's boyhood friends, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, shared his love of comedy, and toyed with the idea of becoming humorists themselves. The idea of writing anything sounded like too much work for Bob. He'd rather spend his evenings with a lovely young Japanese-American co-ed he'd met at college, Eileen Ito.
Bob dropped out of the university after his sophomore year to go to work. He started as an auditor at the Olympia Fields Country Club. The job paid $25 a week, which in the mid-1930s was considered a fortune. He later doubled this salary when he joined a local advertising concern, providing ad-mats to newspapers.
Bob's friends, Panama and Frank, meanwhile, had moved to Los Angeles and landed a job writing for NBC's new Pepsodent Show starring comedian Bob Hope. Panama and Frank urged Weiskopf to move out to California and give comedy writing a try. Finally, in December, 1940, they convinced him. "I thought my old man was gonna kill me," he recalled later. "Here I was, giving up a $50 a week job -- and for what?"
But Panama and Frank knew that Weiskopf's material was good, and set up appointments all over town. Bob Hope bought two jokes and used them on his New Years Eve broadcast. They became Weiskopf's first professional material on the air.
Weiskopf was in California less than three weeks when he landed a position on the writing staff of The Eddie Cantor Show. His salary was still only $50 a week, but this was "Big Time Radio," a real entree into the business. Bob's association with Cantor lasted six months, and the weekly paycheck afforded him the opportunity to marry his college sweetheart, Eileen.
When the 1941 radio season got underway, Weiskopf found himself writing for Rudy Vallee's new Sealtest Program, featuring comedienne Joan Davis. His partner at the time was a young Paul Henning, who in years to come would create such television classics as The Bob Cummings Show, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction.
Three months after Weiskopf joined the Vallee show, the bottom dropped out. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States went to war. Within weeks, the California authorities decided to round up all of its known citizenry of Japanese decent, and to intern them in camps. Signs went up all over Los Angeles, announcing that in 4 days all Japanese Americans would be put under the jurisdiction of the US Army. Not wanting Eileen subjected to such treatments, Bob took his wife home to Chicago.
Back in LA by himself, Bob tried to save a few dollars by sharing an apartment with another of the Rudy Vallee writers, a young man named Jess Oppenheimer (photo, right). The two became good friends -- but whatever money Bob saved on rent quickly went to pay his phone bills: he and Eileen chatted long distance every night for nearly 6 months.
The war decimated the writing staffs of many radio shows. Jess Oppenheimer joined the Coast Guard, as did Rudy Vallee himself. Weiskopf considered going home to Chicago, but heard through the grapevine that Rolland Kibbee, a New York writer, had been drafted and would be leaving The Fred Allen Show. Bob quickly applied for the job -- and a few weeks later, the reunited Weiskopfs settled into a new way of life in New York. For Bob it was a dream come true: not only were he and Eileen together again, but he was working for his favorite comedian.
Bob soon joined the war effort as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army. Luckily, he was stationed in the New York area, and was able to continue his chores with Allen. He and fellow writer Nat Hiken also lent their acting abilities to the Army Air Force show, "Winged Victory," which Moss Hart presented on Broadway. When the company was sent to Hollywood to make the movie version, Allen was left to fend for himself!
Bob's association with Fred Allen (photo, left) lasted 9 years, and afforded him the opportunity to work with such talented guest stars as Orson Welles, Robert Benchley, Humphrey Bogart and Tallulah Bankhead. The Weiskopfs spent most of that time in a small apartment in Greenwich Village. After their son was born, they decided they could afford more spacious quarters, and moved to Westport, Connecticut -- an experience Bob would draw on a few years later when the Ricardos needed a change of scenery.
When Bob first encountered television in the late 1940s, his response was Typical Weiskopf: "What a great idea!," he exclaimed. "Now I can see the ball games as well as hear them!" Few people understood the impact TV would have on Network Radio, but one of the first casualties was Fred Allen. He was one of the few big radio stars not to make the transition to video.
With less and less work being available in the East, the Weiskopfs left Westport and returned to Southern California. Their immediate concern was finding a good school for their son, and sought out information regarding the UC Elementary School associated with UCLA. Everyone said the lady to contact was Joyce Schiller, who was indeed able to recommend UC Elementary. It seemed a happy coincidence that Joyce -- at the time -- was married to (guess what?) a comedy writer.
Robert A. Schiller was born November 8, 1918, in San Francisco, to Rolland and Lucille Schiller. His father was in the clothing business, and his mother was a retired schoolteacher. Both parents had a great sense of humor, and laughter reigned in the Schiller household. As a boy, Bob went so far as to collect such humor magazines as "California Pelican," "The Life" and "Judge."
When the Depression hit, Bob's dad lost his job, and the family moved to Los Angeles. Bob attended classes at LA High, and because jobs were few and far between, he segued right into UCLA as an economics major. Even so, he wrote for the school newspaper -- contributing a humor column called "Bob's Tales."
Graduation rolled around in 1939, but already war clouds were forming over much of Europe and the Pacific. Sensing that he would soon be drafted, Bob took an interim job in a local advertising agency -- but that did not last very long. It was difficult for him to write ad copy with a straight face. Somehow, everything came out funny. The agency's main client was Credit Dentist -- for which Bob suggested, "Come in, before THEY come out."
Bob spent World War II in the service, but found time to contribute humor pieces to "Stars & Stripes," and a magazine called, "Off the Cob."
When the fighting ended and Bob returned to civilian life, he used his arsenal of humor articles to land a job on the very popular radio series, Duffy's Tavern. He wrote for the show on and off for four years, also contributing scripts to The Abbott and Costello Show, Sweeney and March, The Mel Blanc show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, The Jimmy Durante Show and December Bride.
By the early 1950s, radio jobs were becoming harder and harder to find, and Schiller -- now a young father -- decided to ditch show business and become a traveling salesman for his father-in-law's clothing company. As luck would have it, no sooner had Bob had his first interview, than his agent landed him a job writing for that new thing called television. NBC was launching a new comedy-variety hour called Four Star Revue, with Danny Thomas, Ed Wynn, Garry Moore and Jack Carson serving as revolving hosts. Schiller was tapped to write the Wynn and Thomas segments, which he did for nearly 3 seasons. He also started writing for Garry Moore's new daytime show.
In 1953, Schiller was hired to write 8 scripts for the second season of The Red Buttons Show. When that assignment ended, he discovered that another writer -- one Bob Weiskopf -- was seeking a partner to work on a script for a new Danny Thomas project, a new situation comedy called Make Room for Daddy. Their agents got them together -- and neither wanted to work alone ever again.
Make Room for Daddy was followed by deals with Eve Arden's Our Miss Brooks radio program, Paul Henning's new Bob Cummings TV show, and a creation of their own, That's My Boy! starring Eddie Mayoff.
In 1955, Weiskopf and Schiller signed a contract to write for Janis Paige's new TV series, It's Always Jan, which was being filmed on the Desilu lot. It was while working on this program that Bob and Bob ran into an old friend of Weiskopf's -- his onetime roommate, Jess Oppenheimer. Jess, of course, was now the producer of the biggest show on television -- I Love Lucy -- and he was looking to bring on additional writers for the 1955 season. For the first four years, the Lucy series had been written exclusively by Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh. Now, after 127 episodes, the trio needed help.
The five scribes discovered they got along beautifully, and together they created some of Lucy's most-beloved shenanigans -- shows like
- "Lucy Visits Grauman's" (John Wayne's footprints)
- "Bon Voyage" (the helicopter show)
- "Lucy's Italian Movie" (the grapes!)
Jess retired from I Love Lucy in 1956, but the series continued without missing a beat. The sixth season included the Ricardos' trip to Florida; their move, bag and baggage, to suburban Connecticut; and such classic shows as
- "Lucy and the Loving Cup"
- "Lucy Does the Tango" (with eggs in her blouse!)
- "Lucy Raises Tulips" (the lawnmower show!)
In 1957, the half-hour weekly I Love Lucy became the periodic Lucy-Desi specials, and over the next couple of seasons Carroll-Pugh-Weiskopf-Schiller took the Ricardos and Mertzes to such new locales as Havana, Las Vegas, Alaska, Mexico and Japan. In one of Schiller and Weiskopf's favorite shows, they united the casts of I Love Lucy and Make Room for Daddy to create, "Lucy Makes Room for Danny," one of the best of these long-form programs.
When they were not working on a Lucy-Desi Show, producer Desi Arnaz kept Schiller and Weiskopf busy with other studio projects. Lucy's old pal Ann Sothern had appeared in the first Lucy-Desi special, and everyone enjoyed the experience so much that Desi asked Ann to undertake a new series of her own. He hired Schiller and Weiskopf to create it. The show they came up with cast Ann as Katy O'Connor, assistant manager of the Bartley House Hotel in midtown Manhattan. CBS loved the pilot, and immediately added the show to its 1958 fall lineup.
Vivian Vance, longing to star in a series of her own, asked Desi to find her a vehicle. He chose Guestward Ho! a fish-out-of-water comedy that found a sophisticated New York couple buying a Western dude ranch. Schiller and Weiskopf were engaged to write the pilot, which co-starred Leif Erickson. Sadly, the show failed to sell. "Every time Vivian was alone in a scene," Desi later explained, "people kept expecting Lucy to come through the door. Viv was very disappointed. It nearly broke her heart." (Arnaz later recast the show with actress Joanne Dru, and the series ran for a full season on ABC.)
The Bobs also contributed to Desi's own pet project, The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, for which Desi planned to serve as on-camera host. The sponsor expected both Desi and Lucy to appear every week -- and Desi was not sure how to work his wife into the proceedings. Schiller and Weiskopf concocted a routine wherein Lucy would be included in the commercials and in the previews for the following week's show.
In 1960, Lucy and Desi were divorced, and Lucy returned to the movies to do "The Facts of Life," written and produced by Weiskopf's boyhood pals, Norman Panama and Mel Frank. It was one of the most successful films that Lucy and Bob Hope ever made.
Bob and Bob, meanwhile, found work on a new CBS sitcom called Pete and Gladys, created by Schiller's old friend, Parke Levy. The show was a spin-off of December Bride, with Harry Morgan recreating his role as Pete Porter, and Cara Williams portraying his wacky, redheaded wife Gladys (photo, left). Yes, Gladys was a Lucy wannabe -- she even had an uncle-in-law played by Gale Gordon!
In 1962, Lucy herself returned to CBS in The Lucy Show. To get her, the network and Desilu had to fulfill two requirements: they needed to bring back Lucy's favorite co-star, Vivian Vance, and they needed to round-up Lucy's favorite writers -- Bob Carroll, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller -- or, as they were better known, "the three Bobs and a Babe." CBS and Desilu came through beautifully, and The Lucy Show was a smash hit. The new show attempted to pick up where I Love Lucy left off, with Lucy and Viv living in suburbia. This time, of course, they were trying to survive without husbands. The first season nearly wrote itself, with Lucy and Viv cavorting with a trampoline, a jammed shower door, an electric mattress and a rooftop TV antenna.
The second season, which saw Gale Gordon join the show, was a bit tougher. The challenge, of course, was to keep finding new and different shenanigans for Lucy to get into every week… and the writers tried desperately NOT to repeat themselves.
By 1965, all four of Lucy's writers felt that they had created just about every situation imaginable for the famous comedienne, and decided to move on. Milt Josefsberg took over as the head writer of The Lucy Show, and Schiller and Weiskopf moved over to head the writing staff of CBS' other redhead in residence, Red Skelton.
The Bobs stayed with Skelton three seasons, then wrote extensively for The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, The Boys and The Carol Burnett Show. In 1970, they joined NBC's new variety show-in-the-round, The Flip Wilson Show, for which they won their first Emmy Award.
By the early 1970s, television comedy was changing. Traditional humor was no longer amusing audiences, particularly the younger elements that advertisers love to reach. Under the direction of president Bob Wood and programming executive Fred Silverman, CBS introduced new, more relevant comedies, starting with All in the Family.
In 1972, All in the Family producer Norman Lear unveiled a spin-of from that popular show, the portrait of a woman struggling with values and mores of two generations. The show: Maude.
Maude knew no boundaries when it came to topics. The show explored everything from women's liberation to the very sober subjects of alcoholism and death.
Schiller and Weiskopf stayed with Maude for four seasons, then created a new Normal Lear show, All's Fair, based on a May/September romance not all that different from Bob Schiller's relationship with his third wife, Sabrina. Then, in 1977, the Bobs joined Lear's mother-ship itself, All in the Family. Under their watchful hand, the show tackled such delicate topics as rape and lesbianism. The lesbian show -- called "Cousin Liz" -- won Bob and Bob their second Emmy.
Schiller and Weiskopf continued to write for Norman Lear comedies well into the 1980s, but when the '90s brought yet another change in comedy styles (a regression into shows more silly than those once done on early radio), both Bobs decided they'd done enough.
They'd written for the very best -- Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, All in the Family and their personal favorite, Maude.
When asked recently how they managed to stay together for so many years, Schiller replied, "That's easy -- we've never agreed on anything!" Weiskopf's sly retort: "Yes, we have."
Robert Weiskopf and Robert Schiller -- two of television's finest!
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