Tag Archives: Biography

A Biography Calculated to Drive You MAD – An Interview with Bill Schelly

In 2015 Bill Schelly completed HARVEY KURTZMAN: The Man Who Created MAD And Revolutionized Humor In America a book which he spent four years writing. Harvey Kurtzman may not be a household name, but his creations certainly are, and Schelly outlines their importance as such:

[MAD created] satire of popular culture figures, political figures, products, the consumerism that was rampant after [WWII]. Everybody had to have their new toasters or cars with fins or whatever. Satires of consumerism is one of the major things that MAD did, of course this was picked up by Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons and everything else. Harvey Kurtzman’s influence in humor is incredibly important… Think about it like this, here you are, some kid in a little town in the south. Yet, a magazine that’s really subversive can reach you at your little corner store, and every kid can get this for ten cents. It slipped completely under the radar and was available for purchase to a million people, every issue. It’s quite an interesting way of getting underneath the repressive forces of society.

We recently spoke to Bill Schelly about the journey of chronicling Harvey Kurtzman’s life and massive catalogue of work.

Kurtzman and Bill

What in your personal life brought to you Harvey Kurtzman prior to writing the biography?

I’m a baby boomer that grew up in 60s, so I’m an old guy that was exposed to MAD coming after Harvey Kurtzman had left. But in the early 60s they were reprinting a lot of his issues in the MAD paperbacks. A lot of those paperbacks were brought home by my brother and then by me, so I was reading comics created by Kurtzman and his collaborators when I was a kid. As I got older, I started reading Little Annie Fanny in Playboy; when you’re going through puberty it’s particularly… interesting. As I got older, and seriously interested in comics, I started reading some of his actual issues of MAD that I got my hands on, and his more serious work in war comics.

As you note in the book, they took Harvey Kurtzman’s name out of the reprints in the paperbacks. Did you seek out his work specifically, or did you notice a theme in what you enjoyed through life and in his work?

I got involved in the early stages of Comics fandom in the 60s and people were researching who did the old comics; many of them weren’t signed. I found out that Kurtzman had done those MAD paperbacks that I so enjoyed. I started connecting the dots between that and Little Annie Fanny and his other works. Suddenly, I realized this guy had done tremendous work that I really loved and was superior to others around him, so I realized this was a pretty remarkable person and started seeking out more of his work.

Continue reading A Biography Calculated to Drive You MAD – An Interview with Bill Schelly

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Andy, Don & Dan

Daniel de Visé is the author of Andy & Don, a book that chronicles the lives and friendship of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. De Visé, who is Don Knotts’ brother-in-law, brings over 20 years of journalism experience to his research and writing. We had the chance to speak to him about covering one of television’s most renowned comedies and its stars.

The book is about Andy [Griffith] and Don [Knotts]—is it focused on their friendship throughout life or just [The Andy Griffith Show] and their friendship within it?

It’s about their friendship throughout—but remember, they weren’t friends until they were in the third decades of their lives, and the middle 50% of the book is about the show. That’s such a massive part of their friendship and what people care about. I try to start with each man’s birth and go all the way to their death.

So it’s like a double-biography.

It is a double-biography. It’s funny—an early reviewer of it accused me of writing a formulaic double-biography, which is hilarious because I didn’t know there was a formula. I apparently followed it unwittingly.

Daniel De Vise

How do you find the balance between both subjects?

The balance came easily, because I started by focusing one long chapter on each man’s childhood. Once they’re together, there’s all those chapters where they’re both participating. Once they’re apart again, later in their lives, each man did so many different things that I found myself focusing 50/50 on each of them. It would have been tricky if one had done a lot less, but they were both so active throughout their careers. It was easy to keep it moving on both of them.

Continue reading Andy, Don & Dan

A League of His Own: The Scott Richardson Story

ScottRichardson1

Kevin Cole

“Keep your damn hands off that button!” Scott Richardson bellowed as he punched the man who was about to cost the Red Sox their first World Series title in nearly one hundred years.

It was the morning of Game Four and World Series MVP Manny Ramírez was returning from an overnight flight to visit his ailing grandmother. Ramíez’s plane was scheduled to land in 25 minutes when suddenly the air traffic control software went nuts. Calling out planes that didn’t exist, switching AM schedules to PM, pilots were being told to fly upside down, it was air control’s worst nightmare, the perfect storm.

In a case like this there was only one man to call, Scott Richardson, President and Chief Bottle Washer of Richardson Computer Systems, creators of the finest air control software in the western hemisphere.

“I’m sorry, I can’t. This type of problem could take all day to fix and this could be the year we break the curse.” Scott said into the phone, knowing full well he was the only man capable of fixing such a problem. “You’ll need to replace the entire system.” He let out a sigh.

Captain Joe Mcpherwitz barked back into the phone “You’ve got twenty minutes and you’ll want to be fast… Manny Ramírez is on one of those flights!”

“Prep the runway, I’m coming in!” Scott slammed the phone onto the receiver. The main advantage of working on air control software was the unrestricted access to runway parking. Scott turned to his loving and beautiful wife. “The Red Sox Nation needs me Deb, these omelets will have to wait.” and with that, he was out the door.

Born in Wurzburg, Germany, Scott was no stranger to traveling at the immense speeds of the autobahn. At least this would be true had a series of horrible events not transpired years prior. This led the Richardson clan to flee to America shortly after Scott’s birth, only two years before he would have reached Germany’s minimum driving age.

Slamming the car into reverse and stomping on the accelerator, Scott sped out of the driveway at 100 miles per hour. Air control needed him, thousands of passengers needed him, but more important than all of that-Manny Ramírez needed him.

Barreling down the interstate in the back seat of his parents minivan. Scot was moving for what had to be the dozenth time. Scott was a child without a home, without friends, eternally rooting for a team without a world series win. By now he was used to traveling from state to state, never getting to acquainted with those he met. He stared out the window longingly, with hopes that somehow or another, Cambridge would be the last stop.

Scott ran every red light imaginable, just another perk of being a computer programer. This also happened to be a perk of living in 2004, when there weren’t cameras at every intersection. By now Scott was a self-made man with a wife and two children, Deb, Alex, and Audrey (respectively), and here he sat-throwing caution to the wind for one baseball player. But now he approached the airstrip. Slamming through the fence and onto the runway Scott cut-off a plane trying to find it’s terminal. He skid into his reserved parking space at the base of air traffic control.

Scott swung open the door to the house of Janice, a childhood friend, where he was to meet Debbie McClure for the first time. As is customary on blind dates, the two were blindfolded before entering the house– if they could find each other, it was meant to be. Janice sat with stifled laughter while, Scott stumbled over tables, knocked over chairs, and stubbed his toes on stools and coffee tables. Debbie, lost in the pantry, could hear the sound of Scott’s screams of agony from across the house. It was a lovely sound, perhaps the most wondrous she had ever heard. She took off in a flash to find the source of the grunts, eventually she would run right into him. Their heads bashed together in what has since become a staple of romantic comedies and more often than not, true love. Unfortunately the two fell into concussions before love, and were rushed to the hospital. The found themselves recovering in neighboring beds, and it was there that Scott and Debbie became acquainted and would fall in love.

“How much time have we got!” Scott barked at Cpt. McPherwitz as he entered the room.

“Ramírez is scheduled to land in seven minutes.”

“Where’s the unit?”

Cpt. McPherwitz said nothing, he simply pointed across the room to a computer that was actively sparking and smoking. Scott was off like a shot. Connecting A wires to B wires, C wires to Z wires, the whole unit had to be rewired before the correct software could even be reinstalled. Luckily, all wires from D to Y were irrelevant which sped up the process considerably. With 6 minutes left on the clock Scott inserted the install disk.

“We need to divert all power to this computer if there’s any hope of installing the software in time!”

“But that will black out the rest of the airport–”

“Do you want these passengers to live or die, captain?”

Having no choice, McPherwitz ordered the redirect. Everything went dark, all that could be seen was the glowing computer screen, installing at five percent per second.

Scott turned to face the room. “Alright everyone listen closely, once the software is online it’s crucial that you wait for my command to initiate air control. If we flip the switch too soon everything we’ve worked for could be lost. One millisecond could be the difference between the World Series and a pile of flaming 747’s in the middle of your runway. Are we clear?”

Before anyone could respond the computer behind Scott started flashing beeping with a blinding intensity.

“RETURN POWER TO THE REST OF THE AIRPORT!” He shouted.

Those in the control watched in awe as an entire airstrip sprang back to life, they scarcely noticed Bob Decker sneaking towards the panel, his Cardinals Cap sitting firmly on his skull. He sat down at the panel, ready to sabotage the entire operation. Clasping his hands together he stretched them out, cracking his knuckles before delivering the final blow. But it was the clickity-clack of his bones that tipped off Scott Richardson.

“Keep your damn hands off that button!” he bellowed, as he put to rest the last chance the Cardinals had a 2004 World Series win.

Scott Richardson now lives a peaceful, quiet life in rural Maryland with his wife, Deb.  His two children attend college on their own, leaving Scott to have the time of his life with his beautiful wife. For breakfast this morning he ate a hearty serving of  blueberry waffles as he reminisced about the day he saved the world series.

Filthy Stinkin’ Rich

What do you say about the kind of man who is only kidding when he “complains” about having a son who lives at home? Well, nothing opinionated—this is a biography, after all. So let’s examine a life the way Bob Woodward examined John Belushi.

Pete Best was unemployed, Castro was excommunicated, and JFK was innocently making love to Marilyn Monroe. Meanwhile, in a Maryland hospital, Sharon Cole was giving birth to Richard Cole. It was a relatively quick birth for the early ’60s, lasting only 53 hours. In the year that followed Richard would come in contact with every person to be credited with his eventual downfall.

On the day of his birth, well-wishes were sent from far and wide. One can’t help but imagine the amount of times the remark “What a beautiful baby!” was heard. Still, Richard Cole was about as “beautiful” as any other baby born in that particular ward on that particular day, perhaps a little less. This did not shake Richard’s young and burgeoning charisma. He sauntered over to the ladies with the grace of any newborn—attempting to roll over on his side, failing to do so, and then crying about it. In the months to come, he would survive on a healthy diet of breast milk and undercooked lamb chops.

His childhood was spent in uninterrupted study: learning to walk, learning to talk, and picking up a pretty mean Charleston. At the age of five, Robert Cole would come into the world. It was a year before the Manson Family went mainstream—murder was in the back of the American mindset—and so Richard and Robert were left alone in an unlocked house for hours on end. It was a simpler time. The two became fast friends, like-minded companions spending hours going on adventures in the comfort of their own living room. Yet, as the two matured, the idea of “playing inside” grew tired. Richard longed for something more, and, though young, Robert knew there was an entire world beyond their backyard. So, the two brothers hatched a plan.

FauxBos
FauxBos

In the summer of 1970, Rich and Rob would adorn themselves with the finest of tattered clothes, novelty cigars, and false beards and join the boxcar trade. Two wayfaring Fauxbos, with one goal: To see the world. A goal cut short due to the fact that the American Railways did not cross the Atlantic OR the Pacific.

It was the night of June 12th, Harry and Sharon Cole put the brothers to bed at eight, and by nine the two were one mile into a 25 mile hike to the nearest train station. Once they reached their destination, Rich and Rob settled in for a little R&R, or as Rob would later call it “R&R&R&R.”

They woke up in Virginia, realizing they had forgotten two things: an essential supply of beans, and any sort of money that could be used to buy said beans. “Well this isn’t that big of a problem, Rob. We’ll just wait until someone finds us, and we’ll explain that we’re just kids who forgot to bring food. Surely the conductor will take pity on us,” said Richard, in an attempt to console his brother.

“You have a point, but don’t call me Shirley.” Rob was always lightyears ahead with regards to pop culture references.

Three days passed before the conductor would find them, and by then their false beards had grown into real ones. No matter how Rich and Rob protested, the conductor refused to believe they were children and tossed the mini-hobos off the train, leaving them stranded in Georgia without money or food.  Fortune smiled down upon the two boys, as they soon found work in the peach fields, picking peaches for a dime a day.

This was an important summer for the two brothers. They learned the value of a hard day’s work and the importance of sunscreen, and gained a healthy appreciation for gospel music. By the end of the summer they had enough dimes to buy a single first-class ticket back to Maryland. Of course, for this price they could have bought two, but Coles always travel in style. Robert stole an old man’s trench coat, and with Rich on his shoulders the two boarded the plane headed home.

Seventh grade was a time for puberty and a time to disregard the potential for true love. Awkwardly walking through the hallways of Baker Jr. High, Richard met Lori Bellison. She was the girl of his dreams, but would take him 10 years to dream about her. Like any classic romance, Richard was instantly put off when his friend Chip looked him straight in the eye and said, “Don’t waste your time on that broad. I hear she’s a real stick in the mud.” Young and gullible, Richard didn’t, believing his time could be spent better elsewhere. A wise move, considering that at the time Lori considered him to be “a total dork.”

Richard Cole Circa '74
Richard Cole Circa ’74

In observing this archival photograph of a young Richard Cole (Circa ’74), one can observe that Lori’s initial analysis was not far from the accurate. With over sized glasses, high-wasted pants and hair that flew in  an uncertain direction Richard Cole was far from The Fonz (A cultural icon from “back in the day”).  Stylistically Richard would remain in this awkward phase until he attended the University of Maryland. Little is known about this phase in Richards life. Even when directly asking the source about his time there you will be fed the following remark “a fine institution.”

Many speculate that Richard spent that time in service to UMD’s secret fraternity, Shell and Bones. The same fraternity that enabled Richard to later rise through the ranks at the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office, where he currently works as a Supervisory PCT Legal Examiner. Shell and Bones is well known within the copyright/trademark/patent society. A group powerful enough to secure alumni Jim Henson a trademark on the word “Muppet” but not quite powerful enough to lock down “Puppet.” It is said that to even print the name Shell and Bones is to incur $29,666 in royalty payments-per use.

Richard Cole Circa '84
Richard Cole Circa ’84

Richard emerged from UMD an employed, pipe smoking, suspender enthusiast, a new look that would forever change the heart and mind of Lori Cole. It also would play to Richard’s advantage that her ex-fiancé was “a cheating son of a bitch, but that’s in the past now.”

The two dated for three months before Rich would decide that Lori was the only girl for him, and that moment he hatched a plan. He would take her back to Shrine Mont, a small mountain town where they had been to many church retreats awkwardly avoiding one another—the same small mountain town where Richard’s own parents had met and eloped. Together, Richard and Lori hiked up to a large wooden cross, and as the sun set, Richard asked for her hand in marriage. Richard Cole was not without a backup plan, for there were two paths to the cross and Richard brought only one flashlight on their hike. Were Lori to turn him down he would leave on going down the simplest path with the flashlight in hand, leaving Lori to stumble down the mountain, in the dark, alone. Fortunately Lori made the right choice, and five years later Kevin Cole was born (it was an unusually long gestation period).

Rich now lives in a rural Maryland with his wife and a son who won’t pay rent. He has a daughter who studies theatre in a different state (but this story isn’t about her). He was last seen making breakfast, eggs, and toast. His current whereabouts are unknown.