Pioneering sitcom writer, Susan Silver, thrived climbing over obstacles and breaking down barriers throughout her life. Her often glamorous career began in the sixties when professional opportunities for women were limited to those of secretary or telephone operator. However, with luck and tenacity, Susan landed the job of casting director for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
Doggedly, in the Mad Men-esque environment of Hollywood, Susan eventually became a writer for the iconic shows The Partridge Family, Maude, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and others.
Within her memoir, Hot Pants in Hollywood – Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms, Susan recounts the fascinating, star-studded ups and downs of her life. As a seasoned writer, she grabs your attention by opening her book with an amusing ‘vibrator girl’ story. She goes on to name A-list celebrities whom she turned down and even describes a frightening encounter she had with a young Bill Cosby.
I recently interviewed Susan Silver about her intriguing professional and personal experiences and her tell-all book.
Jen Monks: One of your first big breaks came when you were hired as casting director on Laugh-In. Were you intimidated by the famous people you were supposed to recruit for the show?
Susan Silver: No. I don’t understand why, but nobody intimidated me. I guess I was just too young to know any better. And I could spot a star a million miles away. If I saw somebody famous, I would run after them. I even did that on my honeymoon.
JM: When you failed to book a well-known entertainer, your boss intimated you should have offered the actor an inappropriate favor. How did you handle this request at the time?
SS: Sadly, that’s just the way it was back then. I decided not to play into it. You had to ignore it or laugh at it. I thought he was joking and said, “No way!” Then I walked out of his office.
In retrospect, it was kind of disgusting, but at the time I probably went home and complained to my husband. Then I moved on.
JM: How did such a young, inexperienced person find work on the most successful sitcoms of the seventies?
SS: Garry Marshall, Penny Marshall’s (Laverne & Shirley) brother, was my mentor and manager. He was a great guy and a dear friend.
I saw The Mary Tyler Moore Show and told him I wanted to work for them, and he got me on board. They wanted women writers on that show which was unheard of in those days. I loved that experience. It was the best job with the best people. Everyone worked well together and got along.
JM: Over the years you turned down dates with big-name celebrities, and lucrative job offers on Love Boat, Wonder Woman, and the second Newhart series. Any regrets?
SS: You have to read my book to find out. I do wish I had said yes to Steve McQueen. I turned him down first; then he turned me down. It just didn’t work out.
As for the shows, it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. There were going to be too many hours involved. I wanted more freedom. I like to work when I want to, not when I have to.
JM: After a frustrating experience writing for the Sarah Jessica Parker series, Square Pegs, you changed careers and worked for the Anti-Defamation League, the United Nations, and the Democratic party. Why the shift from comedy to serious causes?
SS: After twenty years of writing, we had a Writers Guild strike in 1989. By then I was divorced and didn’t want to live in L.A. anymore. I visited New York and decided I wanted to live there.
I networked and came to the realization I needed to return to my Jewish heritage of which I knew nothing. I ended up booking speakers for the Anti-Defamation League for two years.
Then I worked with the U.N., and that was a difficult job for me for many reasons. So, I became interested in politics.
JM: You had a professional relationship with Bill Clinton and other influential people throughout your career. How have you connected with so many powerful individuals?
SS: I get invited to events. Friends take me to parties in New York City, where I live. I always know or figure out exactly where to stand at an event to meet the most interesting people.
I’ve met almost every icon of my generation. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time and being friendly. I have been accused of being pushy. I never considered myself pushy: I thought of myself as open to new experiences.
JM: You eventually turned your attention back to writing and penned editorials for The New York Times and had a long-running column called The Search for Mr. Adequate. Tell us about that.
SS: I wrote the column for The New York Social Diary. It was a little like Sex and the City for the baby boomer generation.
The premise is there is no perfect man, and after thirty-five there is no prince, and after fifty there absolutely isn’t.
It was a fun thing to do for four years. I joined all the dating sites, and that was a nightmare. But, overall, it was fun. Just like most of the projects I have been involved in throughout my life.
Susan has gone on to teach comedy writing and currently hosts short radio commentaries on Robinhood Radio. She continues to embrace projects that spark her creativity and claims she will never retire completely.
Although the veteran sitcom writer admits she didn’t realize the social significance of Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Show at the time, Susan Silver is proud of her contributions to them. She should be.
What was your favorite sitcom of the seventies or eighties? Feel free to share it in the comments section below.
Life is better when we lift each other up.