As long as women have kids and careers, the question of whether we can have it all isn’t going to go away anytime soon. In a recent article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” Ann-Marie Slaughter mentions the pioneer femi-nazis (not her term) of the previous generation for having to be “like men” to succeed in the bad old Mad Men days. The next generation (ours) only had to be better than men to get ahead. We were the first women to run ourselves ragged in the workplace and we did it voluntarily.
I was a young
housewife and mother when the women’s movement came along and said the worst
thing you could be was a young housewife and mother. If a woman wanted
respect, she was going to have to earn her own money. I decided to become
a writer because a woman could do it from home and still be a mom, a maid, a
chauffeur and have dinner on the table by six. If I could squeeze in my
writing when nobody was looking, how could my husband object?
Two years and
many spec scripts later, I became one of the newly liberated working women
writing about one of the newly liberated working women on The Mary
Tyler Moore Show. My son was seven and in the second grade. The
first thing I did was run out and buy a Norman Todd pantsuit just like Mary
wore on the show. Once women won the right to wear pants to work, there
was no holding us back. Seriously.
The Women’s Liberation Movement was reaching a feverish pitch when Mary debuted
in 1970. Mary represented the ideal, freshly- minted career
woman. Mary was who women aspired to be--more than a secretary (but less
than a boss). Every week we got a soft little lesson in liberation.
You could be thirty and a single woman and not hate your life. You could
have a career with responsibilities and still be feminine. You could
stand up to your boss (as Mary did to Mr. Grant in her job interview) and still
get hired. Mary had spunk. We all wanted it.
1964. A funny thing happened to me on the way to my honeymoon. I
was twenty-one. I had just married a “great catch.” I could finally
relax. Married life was gonna be great. Goodbye to first dates and
lonely birthdays. Hello wonderful world of kooky-artistic
wife-of-successful musician. In my fantasies we would be just like Lucy
and Ricky, only Jewish. Just like on I Love Lucy, if I dented
the fender, I would have some ‘splaining to do and Hubby would scold me (in a
cute way) because it was his car and his money that I was wasting by “driving
like a woman.” And that was just fine because we all thought women stank
at driving back then. Women were considered less good than men at just
My groom was
tall and thin and nerdy-cute, with Clark Kent-ish tortoise-shell glasses.
He wore beautiful sports jackets and always left a trail of that intoxicating
(at the time) “Aramis.” He was smart, he was interesting. He was a
songwriter. I was awed by his talent. We both loved music and
art. We had lots of things in common, but the main thing we had in common
was our absolute fascination with him.
So, there we are,
my groom and I, about to board our honeymoon plane to Bermuda. In those
days, the husband paid for everything and the wife offered her homemaking and
baby raising skills in trade. That was the default position even for
college-educated women. My mother was proud to say she only went to
college to get her “Mrs.” degree. Back then being a wife and mother was
good enough and no higher goals were necessary for a woman to be respected and
to respect herself. Hubby would bring home the bacon, and Wifey would fry
it right under her diploma.
A job was just
something a middleclass woman did till she landed Mr. Right. I was an artist, an oil
painter who also had a passion for fashion. I was brainwashed by my
mother at a very young age with her lecture “What a Woman Is and What a Woman
Does to Attain the Happy Life 101.” I’ll never forget her sweet
admonishments, uttered in her Midwestern monotone, “You don’t like school, so
college is out and being a teacher is out. You think nursing is too
‘yucky,’ so that’s out. You’re too short to be a stewardess. You
flunked typing twice on account of uncontrollable giggling, so you can’t be a
secretary. So what are you good at? Art. You’re very good at
art, no one would deny that. You say you want to be an ‘artist’ and ‘paint
pictures all day.’ That’s nice. Let me ask you something Miss
Picasso: who is going to pay for the paint? I’m asking you! Don’t
roll your eyes at me, little Missy. Answer me this: How do you eat
between the time you finish your masterpiece and the day you finally sell
it? Can you last a month? What if it takes a year? How will
you support yourself? Okay that’s a trick question so I’ll answer
it: You don’t support yourself. You find a good husband and HE
supports you. You let HIM pay for the paint. Next question:
How are you going to get a good husband IF YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO SET A
TABLE!? How are you going to be a good hostess when he brings his business
associates home for dinner!? Ye gods, Karyl! Answer me that!”
I knew what I had
to do: move as far away from Mom as possible, so I moved to New York.
Despite my limited education, I always landed amazing and glamorous jobs.
Why? I was smart. I knew instinctively to always dress for the
part, and I was a great bullshitter. I created a PR job at Macy’s.
As their Teen Coordinator, I set up teen boards made up of girls from
local high schools, put on teen fashion shows, had celebrity autograph
signings, and I wrote a teen newsletter. I was a little bit famous. I
was in Newsweek. I was interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace. I
won Seventeen Magazine’s AMY (Award for Merchandising to
Youth) Award. I also helped organize, and was a clown in, Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I planned on
working till I got married. After that I’d paint and take art classes,
but my main job would be to serve my successful husband so that he could become
even more successful. I would bask in his glory and raise our children
singlehandedly (if need be) so he could concentrate on his career. I had always
viewed weddings as a sort of retirement party for the bride, because sooner or
later it would be the man’s responsibility to support the family.
something to read on my honeymoon, I grabbed a best seller that had just come
out in paperback: The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. I
had been wondering what all the fuss was about. Only a few pages in,
Friedan said smart women (like me!) who signed on to be “just housewives” (like
I just did) were desperately unhappy. They got no respect. They had
no money of their own and had to justify every single purchase to their
husbands. These formerly smart college graduates had become nothing but
diaper changing, ass-wiping zombie house slaves, stuck in the suburbs. They were lonely, isolated and practically suicidal. Meanwhile, their
husbands were respected business executives enjoying three-martini lunches and
a plethora of cleavage at the Playboy Club in midtown Manhattan. The more
I read, the more I knew Friedan was right. All I could think was: I’ve
just made the biggest mistake of my life.
I needed to
come up with a Plan B--and fast--hopefully before the honeymoon was over.
I realized if a wife wanted any respect, she was going to have to fight for
it. How could I get my husband of one day to accept my new idea of my
working full time? I had just spent the past 6 months selling him on my
domestic skills and convincing him that I couldn’t wait to wait on him hand and
foot and to bask in his glory. But now that I’d read this book, I still
wanted to be married, but maybe not in the original Lucy-Desi way I had
envisioned. I wanted a job. I wanted to stay vital.
vowed I would do everything I could to grow as a woman--as long as it didn’t
interfere with my marriage. All I had to do was be the perfect housewife
and maybe I could fulfill myself from nine-to-five just like Betty Freidan
suggested. As long as I kept the house clean, the refrigerator filled and
had dinner on the table by six, how could my husband say no?
gave me permission to work! Yay! The first two years of our
marriage, I did PR for rock groups--most notably, the Rolling Stones.
Then I wangled myself a job on Madison Avenue as an Account Executive
capitalizing on my special knowledge of what teenage girls want. Still
unfulfilled, I decided to become a dress designer. I was an artist.
I could draw. I had style. I made up a bunch of sketches and I
talked my way into a wonderful job designing Junior dresses. I earned
while I learned. I took patternmaking at the Fashion Institute of
Technology at night. Of course, I still kept up with my marriage and my
life plans. I got pregnant. I worked until my water broke and then
I quit my dress designing job. As a new mother, I was lonely and bored pushing a baby
carriage in Central Park. Chatting with other moms about the newfangled
Pampers versus cloth diapers made me want to scream. During my son's nap, I
played “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” over and over. I
missed designing. I missed my friends in the garment center. I
missed having something interesting to say when my husband came home for
dinner. Would he let me go back to work?
passion, I stated my case for NOT being a stay-at-home mom. He agreed to
my plan to return to work ONLY after I agreed to pay the nanny’s salary out of
my designing salary because, taking care of the baby was the mom’s job.
Yes, I agreed to that. It was another time! It was a work-around to
get what I wanted. I returned to the garment center as head designer for
a division of America’s #2 dress manufacturer--Bobbie Brooks. After taxes
and paying the nanny, I netted exactly zero dollars. But I was fulfilled.
changed when we moved from New York to LA. For me, going to LA meant
returning home. I had grown up in LA. After high school, I moved to
New York to find a husband. Now I was returning with my booty. No
one, especially my mom could say I had failed at achieving my goal of finding a
nice Jewish husband and starting a family. But that goal wasn’t enough
for me anymore. I promptly got a job designing dresses, but the garment
center in LA had none of the action and excitement of New York. I wanted
to make a career switch. Once again, it was time to re-invent myself, but
One night we
were watching the Emmys on TV. Lily Tomlin showed up in a 1950’s tulle
prom dress. Fashion jokes always kill me. Lily’s outfit poked fun
of the pomposity of the event. She was hilarious. I totally “got”
her. I decided at that moment to become a comedy writer and to one day
write for Lily. Two years later my wish came true after writing a plethora of spec scripts. My Mary Tyler Moore spec finally got me noticed and hired.
The same day I
was hired to write a Mary Tyler Moore episode, I was hired to
staff write on Lily, Lily Tomlin’s first special. Almost
half the writers on Lily were women but I was the only wife
and mother. My son went to a private school less than a mile away.
How was I going to manage being a full-time mom and having a full-time
Luckily, I had
Maria, a “criada,” a live-in cleaning lady/baby sitter
illegal-from-Mexico. She didn’t speak a word of English, didn’t drive,
couldn’t cook anything except tortillas. My plan: I could drop my son at his school on my way to the office if his dad could pick him up from school at
three and bring him home. Maria could take over from there. My
husband lived on song royalties and didn’t work. He had nothing to do all
day except go to the gym, meet friends for lunch and call people on the
phone. Still, he balked at running this errand while I “fulfilled”
myself. I begged him. It was only for six weeks and then I promised
I’d be back at my job as Number One husband-and-child-tender.
Reluctantly, he agreed.
Meir was Prime Minister of Israel she was famous for saying that whenever she
was running Israel she felt guilty about her children and whenever she was
taking care of her kids, she felt guilty about Israel. I could
relate. Whenever I could include Adam and work, it was good. After
writing on Lily, Richard Pryor and I became friends and decided to
write a Sanford and Son together. Richie’s daughter,
Rain, was my son Adam’s age and sometimes the two of them played while we wrote.
Whenever that happened, it was the best of all possible worlds. I
staff wrote on a sitcom with Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna. They had a son
Gabriel who was Adam’s age, and again, I got really lucky that the boys could
play together while we wrote, sometimes late into the night.
I was a writer
on the pilot of Cher right after she split from Sonny.
For our first staff writers' get-acquainted meeting, Cher greeted me at the
door of her palatial Sunset Boulevard mansion (next door to Hef's) with a naked two-year-old
Chastity Bono resting on her hip. Before the meeting began she handed
Chastity over to her criada.
After the success of Mary,
TV became a hotbed for shows starring funny women. It slowly dawned on
Hollywood they might need funny women to write for funny women. Yay for
me. For once, I had impeccable timing. I wrote a Maude,
a Karen Valentine Show, a Diana Rigg Show, and just about every
other series about a 1970’s career woman or about a mom who wants to be a
1970’s career woman. Even Edith Bunker had pangs of liberation.
Women writers became Hollywood’s newest novelty. Every show wanted
one. There were around a six of us writing sitcoms. Our unique status
drew us together and we became friends. We founded the Women’s Committee
of the Writers Guild. We were among the first members of Women in Film.
Just like all the other disgruntled housewives of America, women writers
bonded, threw consciousness-raising parties and got enlightened.
Consciousness-raising was a lot like group therapy. Once someone read
aloud an article from Ms. Magazine (the feminist’s bible) called “I Want a
Wife.” The satirical piece was an amazingly long list of household chores
assigned exclusively to the wife. The more we heard, the angrier we
got. It concluded with “Who wouldn’t want a wife?” Everyone in the
room was blown away by it. Everyone could relate. Everyone got
mad. Then, everyone scurried home to cook dinner for their
husbands. If we were going to change our husbands, first we had to change
really took off. I could hardly keep up with my writing. One night,
purely by coincidence, I had three different shows on the air. I wrote a
second Mary Tyler Moore. I wrote many other relics of that
time including the wife-swapping sitcom Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.
I was so popular; I got my fifteen minutes of fame. Ms. did
a photo story on sitcom moms. My son and I were pictured goofing off
wearing matching baseball shirts. I was interviewed on the first Regis
Philbin Show. By the end of my first year as a professional writer, I
was nominated for an Emmy and a Writer’s Guild of America Award for Lily.
I got invited to speak at colleges that would never have admitted me as a
student. By the end of my second year, I won the Emmy for Best Writing on
Lily Tomlin’s second special, along with the American Academy of Humor Award,
and the Rolling Stone Magazine award for the Best Special of
who becomes successful in show business, my private life stank. After I
won my Emmy, my marriage imploded and my son needed an exorcist. The
freelance writing market dried up and staff writing became the only way to
write sitcoms in Hollywood. Now that I was divorced, writing was no longer a
hobby. I needed the money. Even though we women had our own anthem
and were Strong, Invincible, Wo-maaan, our rightful equality was taking longer
than anticipated. I don’t know why. All we had to do was convince
men to give us half of all their jobs, to pay us equally, and to wash their own
goddamn socks. How hard could that be?
Even though I
was now a single mother, I was dammed if I going to let that stand in the way
of my burgeoning career. Of course I no longer lived in a big house with
a live-in criada; I had to rely on the kindness of teenagers.
I was being
considered to write an episode for the police sitcom, Barney Miller.
It wasn’t a woman’s show, so the fact that they liked my Mary Tyler Moore writing
enough to ignore the fact that I had a vagina meant a lot to me. I knew I
would be the first female they hired. I was determined to show them they
wouldn’t regret hiring a woman and a mother. I wanted to hit it out of
the ballpark for my sisters in the Writers Guild.
I was resolute in playing down the mom thing because being a mother was a reason NOT to get hired. If a child gets sick, who stays home? The mom. Could I have predicted my story meeting would run over to 2:30 PM and that soon my child would be waiting for me on the curb in front of his school? Could I have predicted that after picking him up and racing home and finding a sitter (Of course, I’m NOT going to bring my child to work--that would sabotage my whole case), that my car would break down on the freeway? That my shoe strap would break when I ran to the Call Box? That my vindictive, asshole Ex would have cancelled my AAA card? That I would finally return to my story meeting two hours later sweaty and bedraggled? Suddenly, all the stress, the hurt and the anger over the divorce came spewing out in an avalanche of tears and boogers. Everyone knows there is no greater sin than a woman crying at work. I was flunking as a feminist and that made me cry even more! I was almost always the only woman in the Writer’s Room AKA the Frat House for the first ten years of my comedy writing career. I was a feminist in the frat house. Good thing I had an older brother who once threw a Lionel train at me and taught me everything there was to know about armpit farts, or I wouldn’t have survived it.
I went to
London to write on a musical comedy special starring Sandy Duncan. Did my
Ex help me out and take our son for a month while I went on location? Did
he help me out with my career while we were still married? Ha! Luckily,
another PTA mom took my son so I could take the London job. I was the only woman
writer on staff. I was jealous because all my co-workers (men) had wives
back home who were holding down their forts. I thought I was going to be
like Sally on the old Dick Van Dyke Show. There were
three guy writers and me. I was newly divorced and I couldn’t wait to
explore London. The first night after work we were riding back from
Elstree Studios in our limo. We were laughing and joking and I thought
I’m finally accepted as one of the boys when one of my co-writers Alan Thicke piped up,
“Hey, let’s all go out and get laid.“ Luckily I brought my
knitting. It was still a man’s world.
If it wasn’t
for women actors, (or actresses, as they used to be called), I probably
wouldn’t have worked at all. I wrote on the staff of Erma Bombeck’s
sitcom, Maggie. I co-wrote a Kate and Allie.
I staff wrote and was Supervising Producer on My Sister Sam,
which starred Pam Dawber and the late Rebecca Schaeffer. I staff wrote on
the first nine Cosby Shows.
Show was a milestone
for women in sitcoms. Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey hired four writers to
complete the unfinished pilot and write or re-write the first nine Cosby episodes.
The two other writers on the staff were guys. Women writers were finally
50%! I felt like women were finally making it in sitcom. Our
Executive Producers were 50% female and our line producer, Caryn Mandabach, was
overtly female, being very very pregnant.
One day on
stage I noticed Caryn was missing. I asked around and someone told me she
had her baby yesterday. “Oh.” A little while later I spotted Caryn
walking around and she was still as big as a house. “Oh Caryn, you’re
here. Some idiot just told me you had your baby.” And Caryn said,
“I did, yesterday. He’s up in the stands with his nurse.” Caryn
waved to a smiling buck-toothed black lady in a white uniform. The lady
waved back while holding a teeny, tiny one-day-old baby. ONE DAY?
ONE DAY and she’s back to work, like she played hooky for a few hours to get
her roots done? Is that what Yahoo Mom Marissa Mayer is planning? What
was the world of working women coming to?
The day after
I gave birth I was still in the hospital, walking like Roy Rodgers while straddling
an industrial strength sanitary pad the size of a canoe. My hair was in a
point. I looked like Phyllis Diller. I was exhausted, stressed and
overwhelmed. I had a case of post-partum depression so severe that it actually lasted for eighteen years! Did I rush back to work? I did
not. I took six months.
of working women accepted the old Ginger Rodgers dictum that said: to get ahead
women had to do what men did “backwards and in high heels.” Caryn
represented a new generation of working women—fourteen years after Mary
Richards showed us her spunk. She couldn’t take a few days off to have a
baby? Now we’re supposed to give birth in the field, tie the umbilical
cord with our teeth and go back to picking cotton? What the hell!
If Caryn set the new standard, I couldn’t compete. I had neither the
stamina nor the ambition, but Caryn did. Eventually it paid off to the
tune of eighty gazillion dollars when The Cosby Show was sold
into syndication. No one can say she didn’t earn it.
I turned to
writing movie scripts as a way to get some sleep, sold a screenplay to Kevin
Costner and found out why they call it “development hell.” Still wrote
career I wrote sitcom pilots for Karen Valentine, Nancy Walker, Madeline Kahn,
Talia Shire, Mariette Hartley, Melba Moore and Pam Dawber. See a theme
emerging? If the show was about a woman or a family, I got the call.
I brought my pen and my vagina. I started out as a Hollywood
housewife with a hobby, but that blossomed into a writing career that lasted
Writing on a
TV show isn’t like any other job on the planet. They pay you boatloads of
bucks to sit around a table with the funniest people you ever met and try to
crack each other up. Every day, your sides ache from laughing. Of
course, the majority of the jokes are actually hostile remarks about
coworkers. But that’s the good part. The bad part is: if the
writing takes 24/7 well, you’re STILL overpaid, so just grab some toothpicks,
prop up your eyelids and keep on writing–and you better be funny. Will
you be the only mom in the room? Probably not. Will you have a more
helpful husband than I had? Hopefully. Can a woman have it all in
Hollywood? Yes she can, but she’s still going to be really, really tired.