Sunday, October 24, 2010

Correspondence with Carol Burnett February 9,1979

On the night of my Dad's 43rd birthday an estimated 64 million people tuned in to ABC to see the movie "Friendly Fire". Almost every other TV set in the nation was tuned to FF. The movie would go on to win four Emmys (including Outstanding Drama) and a Peabody Award. There were plenty of people wondering whether TV's favorite comedienne could play Peg Mullen, an Iowa mother trying to find out how her son died in Vietnam, but Carol Burnett impressed critics and was nominated for an Emmy.It seems her favorite review came from the man who spent six years writing Friendly Fire.
Here are two letters dated February of 1979.
The first from Dad. The second from Carol Burnett.

Dear Miss Burnett:

Last Friday Brandon Stoddard screened "Friendly Fire" for me at ABC in New York. It's been a week now and I'm still at a loss of how adequately to express my gratitude and appreciation to you for your superb portrayal of Peg Mullen. You did things on that screen with your eyes, the set of your jaw, with your posture, your sudden stillness and very absence of action that duplicated exactly all those same warning signs I would see in Peg the instant before she would say or do something that would me swallow hard of want to duck and reach for a yellow pad.

As you can imagine I found "Friendly Fire" at time almost unbearably difficult to watch. In the scene near the end where Sam Waterston says my "Look, I don't know if this is the proper time or not " line about telling the Mullens all I had learned about how Michael had died, the look you gave Sam was the look I got.

The inevitable death of that sweet-faced you actor who plays Michael is going to devastate the television audience. Now, thanks to you, all of Peg's rage and anguish and frustration will become understood. I hope you won't think it presumptuous of me to say you should be very proud of yourself--certainly you have made me very proud of me.

Dear Courty
I can honestly say I've never been more thrilled by any letter I've ever received.

I knew Brandon was going to show you the film and I was pretty nervous. I experienced the Mullens' story for a brief period--you lived it a lifetime.

I'm so proud to be a part of this remarkable film. I was overwhelmed by your book. The love and backbreaking work you undertook were astonishing to me.
My God what you all went through to get at the truth, all of us would do well to have a friend such as you.

I'm be back in California when "Friendly Fire" airs. It's so special to me that I want to be home and watch it with my family.

With love,

P.S. I'm framing your letter

Carol Burnett and my father finally met the Wednesday before Friendly Fire aired.
Dad writes:

She was marvelous and funny and relaxed an quite lovely and she ...rushed up to me, threw her around me gave me a huge kiss and I was a bit shy, a bit dazzled, a bit pleased. We all went together to the bar of the Watergate Hotel and drank and yakked and laughed and got very serious for several hours.

I plan on writing more about the writing of "Friendly Fire" which seemed to take up the better part of our childhoods. Dad agonized over this book which was, of course, about more than Peg Mullen and the incident that killed her son. It was about the soldiers who fought beside Michael Mullen. It was about a colonel named Norman Schwarzkopf. It was about our country and its ideals. I'd also like to revisit the making of the movie some time and include the role one of Dad's very best friends, Brandon Stoddard, had in producing the film.

As sad as the subject matter may be, for my sister and me, the film offers one bit of fun trivia. There's a scene where Waterston pulls up to his house in Connecticut and two children run out to meet his Volkswagen bus. Those children were playing us.

A two minute preview of Friendly Fire can be seen here

You can also see a clip at 3:23-4:01 in this "TV Annual 1978-79" special.


  1. Wow, I just read up on your dad at IMDB, and that led me to John O'Hara's write-up there, too. What an accomplished, interesting life your dad lived--you must be so proud of him! That Carol Burnett framed his letter speaks volumes about how inspiring he was to other people.

  2. Thanks for following! 24 posts and I still haven't mentioned John O'Hara. Sometimes I have 5 minutes a night for this project. Sometimes an hour. I think I have letters exchanged between Dad and O'Hara somewhere in one of these boxes and I will share them.