Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farewell to a Great Writer

Tuesday, the world lost one of the best writers you probably never heard of.

His name was David Lloyd, and I didn't know much about him. But he wrote the episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust" for The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1975 — and won an Emmy Award for it.

The episode was a true classic. If you've never seen it, you should watch the whole thing sometime, although it would be a good idea to be familiar with all the characters in the show before you do.

Chuckles the Clown was rarely seen on the show. He was more often mentioned as one of the personalities on WJM–TV, and he wasn't seen at all in this episode. But that was understandable because he had died.

To briefly summarize the story, pompous anchorman Ted Baxter was upset because news director Lou Grant forbade him from being the grand marshal at the circus parade. Instead, the circus hired Chuckles to be the grand marshal, and Chuckles went to the parade dressed as one of his trademark characters, "Peter Peanut." During the parade, a "rogue" elephant tried to shell him, causing Chuckles' death.

The bizarre circumstances surrounding Chuckles' death led to many jokes in the newsroom, many coming from news writer Murray Slaughter, who observed, at one point, "It could have been worse. He could have gone as Billy Banana — and had a gorilla peel him to death!"

Everyone seemed to see the humor in the situation except for Mary, who was shocked by her co–workers' insensitivity.

But, by the time of the funeral, everyone was appropriately composed and somber — except for Mary, who was unable to restrain herself during the eulogy, especially when the minister quoted the "Credo of a Clown:"
"A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."

Finally, the minister told Mary that nothing would have pleased Chuckles more than for people to laugh at their memories of him, and he encouraged her to "laugh for Chuckles." At that point, Mary dissolved into tears.

I know very little about Lloyd, actually. I know he was 75, and I know, from the limited research I have done, that he wrote for several great sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s, including The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, Cheers and Frasier.

Apparently, he worked with his son, Christopher, on the Frasier series. In addition to being a screenwriter for the show, Christopher Lloyd was a co–executive producer in the first couple of seasons and then was an executive producer for most of the rest of the series' run.

And a beautiful tribute to him can be found at a blog written by one of Lloyd's former colleagues, Ken Levine.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lloyd. Thanks for the memories.