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.
Castmember, Spin City
I’m currently in Vancouver, where my wife [actress Mireille Enos] is filming The Killing, and about three weeks ago [Spin City co-star] Michael Boatman called me and said, “I’ve heard some news about Gary.” A few weeks later, Mireille and I were in New York for a premiere, and I got an e-mail from [Goldberg’s wife] Diana that said, “Gary is knocking on the door of the next world. ... We’d love to receive e-mails that have your memories, stories or thoughts.”
I quickly dashed off a note and two days later, Diana wrote back and said, “He sleeps a lot, but he’s smiling when I read the stories to him. Just know that he’s hearing your words.” We were all able to say our little goodbyes, and I’m very grateful for that.
Gary was my champion from the first time we met. When I auditioned for him and [Spin City co-creator] Bill Lawrence, they said, “We’d like to fly you to NYC to audition for Michael J. Fox” and somewhere in the interim, ABC asked, “Who are you looking at for some of these other parts?” Gary said, “Well, for Stuart we’re looking at Alan Ruck.” They said, “Yes, we know Alan, but this isn’t really the kind of part he plays.” Everybody has an opinion, right?
But Gary told them, “Yeah, we’re going to hire Alan.” The same thing happened with Michael Boatman’s part. From the beginning, he validated me like that. And when someone of that stature says, “I want you to be on my team,” it does something to your insides that you can’t describe.
I got very ill in the final season of Spin City. I was sick as a dog for two months and missed five shows, but Gary made sure I was paid for every one of them. He didn’t have to do that. The writers also went out of their way to mention me in those episodes. “Hey, where’s Stuart? Oh, he’s on vacation.” But I was bound and determined to make it to the final episode. I was still a little incapacitated, wasn’t walking well, and my legs were very weak.
But the writers were sweet and let me sit at my desk and gave me killer lines, really raunchy stuff to say to Heather [Locklear] and Charlie [Sheen]. And after that scene, Goldberg comes up to me, crying, and said, “That was so great!” and gave me a big kiss.
That was Gary.
Even with all of Gary’s amazing professional accomplishments — the TV shows, movies, awards — they are nothing compared to how great a guy he was. I will forever consider myself lucky to be one of the many, many people whose lives he changed for the better.
Castmember, Spin City
Gary gave me my first opportunity to do a big part in a TV show, and one of his many great qualities was that he loved to give people chances. He was never judgmental and always wanted to see inside, to who you really were. I remember in my final audition for Spin City — Michael J. Fox was there too — I will never forget Gary’s face; he had this giddy smile on the whole time, as if to say, “Yeah, you can do this, girl!” I learned so much from him. How lucky was I?
It’s funny; I never thought of Gary as being a guy who worked “in the business.” He became a family member to everyone he let in his life. He also made an impact in the outside world. He was an amazing father and husband; he and Diana were really beacons of exemplary parenting. To be those things and also remarkable in this business? To me, that’s someone who’s truly a hero.
Co-creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant, which Goldberg co-produced
When you look at the shows Gary made, they’re all about decency and good people. The humor is never forced; it’s always totally believable. Most of all, Gary was smart as hell and could really make you laugh.
Warm-up comedian, writer, Spin City
I was the in-house comic for Spin City from about 1997 to 1999. Normally you just try to make the audience laugh before the show, and if you don’t, you get fired. But Gary and Bill [Lawrence] went out of their way to make me feel like part of the family. I remember once I ended up having to do two hours of materials — that particular episode took a long time to tape — which happens sometimes.
Then, three days later, I got an envelope with a check for $500 from Gary’s personal checking account. As a struggling comic, that was my biggest paycheck in a while. Holy shit! He was such a generous guy, he had this great big laugh; the show was simply a nice place to be because of him. I ended up writing a script for the show, which was the first script I ever wrote. Gary helped me get my first big break writing for TV, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
Additional reporting by Alex Ben Block and Bill Higgins.