Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Great writing lives on

I just got in from the memorial service for my writing teacher, Bill Idelson, whom I talked about here. The service was held at the Writer’s Guild Theatre, and let me say that even in death Bill continues to be a great teacher. Here’s advice we all should heed in thinking about the service we would want:

  1. Get Carl Reiner to emcee. (You may recall that Bill wrote for “The Dick van Dyke Show” and played a recurring role. Hence the connection to Carl Reiner.) Mr. Reiner is warm, humane, slyly funny and wonderfully off-the-cuff. He didn’t miss one opportunity. Perhaps my favorite bit was the suggestion of specific edits after viewing the tribute film.
  2. In every photo of you, make it look like you were having the time of your life. Apparently, every day was the time of Bill’s life.
  3. Pose an attractive spouse with you in those photos, and enjoy her company in every shot.
  4. Surround yourself with interesting and amusing people like Norman Corwin and Ray Bradbury and various successful former students and performers like Ann Guilbert who will show up and tell funny stories about you.
  5. Turn out to have been a World War II flying ace, someone determined to fight even though the Navy has given you a p.r. job so you can keep working as an actor. Pay for private flying lessons yourself so they can’t deny you. Then fly night fighter missions over Japan and get awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals. Then don’t tell people, so that even longtime friends learn this only from reading your obit.
  6. If you’re going to have children, do a good job with them so that they say things like “I won the Dad lottery,” a claim that will be supported by all the photos and the video.

In summation: great service, impressive life.

It was a pleasure watching clips from “The Andy Griffith Show,” which Bill also wrote for, with a large audience. It’s easy to forget just how wonderful Don Knotts was — as well as the material he had to work with. Much was made of Bill’s writing advice to students over the years. Last night in class I was talking about “verisimilitude” — a word that puzzled my students and that Bill would have winced at — but really I was echoing Bill said: “Keep it real.” (Or, more literally, “make a simulation of the truth.”) One of his other bits of advice repeated tonight was this: Never mortgage your story for a joke. The story is more important, and the joke won’t be that funny. That’s exactly right. If you want more of this, you might click here and order Bill’s book — the core of his workshop, captured on paper.

2 Responses to “Great writing lives on”

  1. DOUG STOKES Says:

    Dear Mister Wochner:

    I too was at Bill’s memorial*, I think that I even spoke (directly following Mister Reiner). I have no idea of what I said and have never watched the DVD that Seemah sent us (out of pure fright about what I may or may not have said).

    I knew Bill from the go-kart racing/kids side of his life … Not the industry side. He was a gentle, wise, and genuinely funny person who always laughed the very hardest at himself.

    I miss him …

    *when Seemah asked me to speak at his memorial, I thought that it would be in a quiet bar with 20 or 30 of us someplace in the Palisades …

  2. Lee Wochner Says:

    Bill was a memorable guy — as was his memorial. Thanks for finding your way here and leaving this comment.

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