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'Raymond's' Mr. Lucky tells all in biz memoir

Phil Rosenthal spent the past decade mining his family life for material on "Everybody Loves Raymond" for the sake of his art and for the betterment of his bank account.

Most of Rosenthal's personal foibles, quirks, biases and idiosyncrasies (and that of his writing staff) were laid bare in 200-odd episodes of his 1996-2005 CBS sitcom. He shared the too-weird-to-be-made-up Fruit of the Month Club story in the pilot, the yarn about the personalized gift toaster that got away (Season 3's "The Toaster"), his mother's Freudian eye for sculpture (Season 6's "Marie's Sculpture"), the trouble with tuna fish and a new can opener (Season 4's "The Can Opener"), the dark cloud of PMS (Season 4's "Bad Moon Rising") and on and on.

But even though there wasn't much that Rosenthal and his tight-knit writing staff held back during "Raymond's" nine-season run, he still had a bit of a wrestling match with himself when he sat down to write his memoir, "You're Lucky You're Funny," published last month by Viking. It wasn't that it was hard for him to open up about his early years as a nebbishy, "comically skinny," girlfriend-deprived kid growing up in Queens and Rockland County, N.Y. The big hurdle was the blank screen.

On "Raymond," Rosenthal's habit had been to talk out and act out story ideas, setups and dialogue in his beloved Writers Room with his team of loyal scribes. So to get over the hump of getting started on the memoir about three years ago, during the final season of "Raymond," Rosenthal wound up hiring a person to talk with once a week or so for several months about his life and work. She asked good questions that elicited better and better memoir fodder, and the transcriptions of those tapes became the backbone of the book.

"It's so much easier to start with words on a page that you can manipulate," Rosenthal says. "I think the audio edition of this book should be really good. … We're trying to get Jeremy Irons to do it, but I don't know if he can pull it off."

"You're Lucky" wound up being part memoir and part primer on what writers should and should not do if they ever get so lucky as to have their own acre of primetime every week. It includes tales of bravado from a then-untested showrunner who stood up to malfeasance and interference from executives at the production companies behind "Raymond." And though Rosenthal only has words of reverence for CBS chief Leslie Moonves, he details with obvious pride how he saved the show from premature death at the pilot stage by telling him that he didn't think the actress Moonves recommended for the role of the wife was right for the part. (Rosenthal's honesty would later secure him the mighty Moonves' backing when others were maneuvering to oust him as showrunner.)

Rosenthal delights in telling his own story of being the son of Holocaust survivors who grew up in the thrall of "The Honeymooners," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Odd Couple," "Mary Tyler Moore" and "All in the Family," among others. He resisted most of his parents' orders to "go outside," and he let the sarcasm of "Whatcha gonna do, get a job watching television?" pass without comment as he buried his nose in TV Guide. Years later, when Rosenthal started making good money as a sitcom scribe, he bought the biggest television set he could find and had it shipped to his parents' house with a note that read: "Ha ha."
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