Michael J. Fox, Michael Gross, Connie Britton Remember Gary David Goldberg
The Emmy-winning writer and producer, who died June 22 at age 68, drew tributes from the cast and writers of his biggest hits, "Family Ties" and "Spin City."
This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Castmember, Family Ties
I sent Gary a note as recently as last Friday. Meredith Baxter [who played Elyse Keaton] and I got together on Saturday to celebrate — we have the exact same birthday — and he was very much on our minds and our lips.
Everybody is replaceable in show business, but Family Ties could not have been done without Gary. He was the driving spirit. He told stories that were warm, generous and sympathetic. He had gravitas, but he also had humanity. He was extremely collaborative but had a strong point of view. He knew what he wanted and when he wasn’t getting it.
I came out of the theater, and Family Ties was my first sitcom. I didn’t know other sitcoms weren’t as funny or as well run as ours. I took it for granted. We all loved one another. That’s hard to find. Gary set the tone. I don’t think he had an ounce of tolerance for unpleasantness on the set because it got in the way of the creative process.
Gary was also very progressive in his thinking. He persuaded Paramount to open a child day-care center on the lot. That was the first one of its kind. I’ve also seen pictures of Gary on antiwar marches when he was a kid. So much of the liberal parents [on the show] were based on his life and his longtime companion, love and wife, Diana, whom he met in his college days. His college days were pretty short. He would always remind us he didn’t get a degree.
I remember a time in the first or second year of the series that he had an accident. He was badly injured off the coast in a boating accident. He had part of his chest pierced by the bow of a catamaran, if I remember correctly. We were in serious jeopardy. We didn’t know if we could carry on. He was the heart and the soul of the show. He didn’t miss many episodes, and even though he was home, he surveyed everything. He was constantly on the phone or sending a fax. He was supervising, even though he wasn’t there.
There was little contention on the show. He surrounded himself with people he liked and let them do their job. He was very sweet, too. Every Friday night, our line producer Carol Himes got a fresh gardenia corsage from Gary. Every Friday for 180 episodes. It’s difficult for me to smell a gardenia, even now, without thinking about Gary.
Michael J. Fox
With a full heart I say goodbye to my mentor, benefactor, partner, second father and beloved friend, Gary David Goldberg. He touched so many with his enormous talent and generous spirit. He changed my life profoundly.
Writer, Family Ties
I turned in a spec script to Family Ties in 1983, and they actually bought it! Shortly after, Gary brought me on as a story editor. I wasn’t a kid when I met him; I was closer to 30. But he did give me my first opportunity to write for television. I remember you had to be willing to take time to play basketball to be on his staff. Though I was short, so I usually stayed in the room and hung out while everyone else played. He was also a great believer in “fantasy chaining,” which is when you talk about everything in the writers room but the script and the ideas would bubble up while you were talking about other things. About writing he said, “Take time at the beginning of each script to get the audience oriented. The audience can’t laugh if they’re trying to figure things out.” That was something I always took to heart. He had such a great sense of storytelling; an amazing mind. He could take a script apart, and if the story wasn’t working, he’d take the metal brads out, put all the papers on a desk and rearrange them at super speed. He had a great sense of puzzle-solving. He was also one of the warmest people I’ve ever known. He hugged everybody. I was never a hugger, and I gave my dad a hug after that and he said, “What are you doing? We don’t hug!” And I said, “I do now!” He was also a very important part of my life when my dad died. I would say a lot, “Well, you know, he’d been sick ...” and Gary said, “Don’t skip any of the steps of grief. If something is shitty, just say it’s shitty, and don’t worry about putting a better face on it.” So for now I’ll just say: Gary’s passing is really shitty.