Burt Prelutsky

Recently, I received an e-mail from a young associate pastor in Maryland. He introduced himself as an avid fan of “MASH”. He said that one of his favorite episodes had been one I wrote, “Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?” and that he was considering using the show as an inspiration for an upcoming sermon. He wanted to know how I had come up with the idea. He also wanted to know how my own faith and understanding of God or Christ had informed my writing.

I must confess that I am not usually given to thinking of my writing in such grandiose terms, and it shocked me to find a man of the cloth doing so. It took some thinking on my part, especially as the writing took place over 30 years ago. At the time, my TV writing career was at a standstill. Because my agents were a man and wife team who were well-meaning, but highly ineffective, it appeared that things weren’t likely to change for the better any time soon.

Fortunately, I was still a print journalist, writing a weekly humor column for the L.A. Times. Because I would occasionally mention having gone to Fairfax High School, I was invited to host an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding. As part of the event, someone representing each of the five decades would reminisce about their years of internment. Larry Gelbart, writer-producer of “MASH,” spoke about the 1940s. I did double duty, hosting and talking about life at Fairfax in the 50s.

One day, some months later, I got a call from my female agent. She wanted me to know that they’d taken in a third partner. The new guy would specialize in sit com writers. She suggested I come down and meet him. I did, and regretted it almost immediately. The guy was totally obnoxious. It seemed he wanted to be a producer more than he wanted to be an agent. He proposed that I should write up his ideas. I pointed out he didn’t seem too crazy about the way I wrote up my own. He said that was true, but this time he would be around to help. I told him that I would think about it, but in the meantime I had a family to support.

He asked me what shows appealed to me. I mentioned “Bob Newhart,” “Mary Tyler Moore” and “MASH”. He looked at me as if I were insane. “You’re only talking about the hottest shows on the air.” I told him I was fully aware of that fact, but those were the ones I wanted to write for, and, besides, I was merely answering his question. I told him that, inasmuch as I had to earn a living, I would gladly write for any shows that would have me. He told me that at least now I was being realistic.