August 1975- Burbank, California
George acted like an idiot again. But he must have known that he was a dead man walking. His opening monologue consisted of him doing pelvic thrusts from one end of the stage to another. I was too embarrassed to watch.
This was a show that needed to be put out of its misery.
“She wasn’t the prettiest girl, she only caught my attention because she wasn’t wearing BLANK”, George asked the contestants.
“Harrold got fired from Burger King because he took a BLANK in the lettuce.” He asked again
There was no point in having contestants. But I undid my tie and answered “panties” and “tinkle”. Other than Walker’s Wishes, this was the easiest money I’ve ever made.
I tried to be chummy with Dana after the taping. I’ve worked with the man for nearly 10 years. I was hoping he wouldn’t be such a son of a bitch.
“Phil, I love ya buddy. But if this is it for George, I’ll be moving on at the end of the season.” Dana told me. He probably heard the rumors from Luke that I would be taking over. But the joke was on him.
“Thankfully this will be the last season Dana.”
As planned, came Sunday, Luke showed up to my place in the Hills. He brought Jerry with him. I had the pool set up, had a few lady-friends over. I didn’t invite them, they just sort of show up. The red-headed sweetie, or maybe she had light-brown hair, brings me a drink.
“Woah Phil! Is this your lady?” Luke asks.
“She’s my maid.”
Luke told me that Jerry was a great guy. Yet he seemed distracted throughout much of the meeting. Not by the girls however. He just stared off into space.
Meanwhile, Luke and me agreed that we needed to do something about the contestants in Guess My Line. Then we asked for Jerry’s opinion.
“Just cancel the show.” He said. “You’re doing fine with Family Showdown.”
This quietly upset Luke. After a long pause of silence, he got up and started talking to one of the girls. I down my whisky.
“Can I talk to you inside?” Jerry asks me.
We go to my office. I start cleaning off a seat for Jerry, but he seemed taken with my awards, photographs from my stage days, celebrities, and more importantly…my Oscar.
“What’s on your mind Jerry?”, I ask. He paces around the office.
“I went to USC film school…..Do you know how hard it is for a black man to get into USC film school?”
“Well I can’t imagine it was easy for you.”
“Of course you can’t. Then I got a Stanford MBA. Do you know why?”
“The money. I fought all the way to the top of ABC. Not to be in charge of television, not to tell stories. But to determine what game shows should be on the air, and what should not be on the air.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad to me Jerry, is there something I can get for you?”
He gazes at my Oscar….setting proudly on the top shelf, overlooking the entire room.
“Is this what you want to be doing?” he asks.
“Talking to you? My door’s always open to you Jerry, whenever you want to talk.”
“Hosting GAME SHOWS, Phil?”. Jerry looks over at me intently, expecting some sort of answer.
“I can see where you’re going with this.” I say. “But look around you. You folks at ABC have been good to me. I have a nice place in the Hills. I have friends. And I am very much happy. So yes, this is what I want to be doing.”
“Fine.” Jerry says. He sits down in the chair in front of my desk. “But I think we could make you happier.”
“Talk shows. They’re far more lucrative than game show hosting. Think about it, a late night show…you might have to put in more hours, but it would allow you to be more ADULT with your humor rather than this childish stuff you’ve been doing.”
“More hours? I don’t know…”
“We could triple your paycheck.”
I give a long pause.
“I appreciate this, but I have a contract with Luke. We’ve been friends for a long time, we’ve built these shows together. There’s no way I could bail on him like that.”
“I understand. But please think it over.” Jerry stands up and once again looks at the Oscar. “And one more thing….don’t think I haven’t been hearing the rumors about you and Harlan Wilkerson.”
“They’re just rumors.” I say.
“Well, if they are true, let me just say….we’re happy to have your talent at ABC. If you need anything, come talk to me.”
Jerry exits the room. I pour another whiskey. Soon after, I join Luke by the pool. He seemed somewhat concerned about the meeting I had with Jerry.
“What was that about?” he asks.
“He was concerned about the rumors regarding the Wilkerson film.” I say, “Don’t worry though, I assured him that they were only rumors.”
“Thank god. Can you believe that guy? Wanting to cancel Guess My Line? What an asshole.”
“Now Luke, I get how you feel. But perhaps this is something you should consider. You’re stretched thin enough as it is between the two shows. Just cancel one and focus all of your energies on the other. I think you’d be much happier.”
“I’d cancel Family Showdown before I’d do away with Guess My Line.”
“Don’t be stupid! You know how the business works. Surely you knew this thing couldn’t go on forever. If you feel this strongly about it, then fine! Call Charlie tomorrow, work out a meeting, and we’ll see how I can take over for George. But I’m telling you right now, just let the show go!”
Luke nodded his head in agreement. We shared a few more drinks, had our steaks, and he was on his way.
Evening was setting in. As I was cleaning up the back porch, redheaded (or light-brown headed) sweetie informed me that I had a visitor. I walked up to the front door, and lo and behold…it was George.
“Hey buddy! Come inside!”, I tell him.
“Fuck you Phil, I’m not coming into your pit. You didn’t think I would find out, did you? You and Luke thought you could hide this from me until the end of the season?!”
“The hell are you talking about George?”
“You’re taking over my show, aren’t you?”
“Where did you hear this? We’ve been friends for far to long, I could never replace you!”
“I should kick the shit out of you. I fought in Patton’s Army you bastard! Don’t try to sell me that shit! Since your shitshow has aired, my ratings have been slipping. I’m not dumb.”
“I DON’T WANT YOUR SHOW GEORGE! If anything, your show is going to get CANCELLED! You hear me?! CANCELLED! Your Titanic is sinking, and I will be jumping ship like everyone else!”
“You really think that? You believe Luke is your friend? Okay, Phil. You’ve always been a stupid, PRETTY BOY, son of a bitch. Good luck to you.”