Fall 2006

Warm Up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir
(University of Michigan Press, 229 pages, $29.95)
By John Rich

TV director John Rich’s autobiography reads like a history of the television medium itself, and the ambitious characters who built it up from nothing. He apprenticed at NBC Radio in New York City—back when “portable” recording units still weighed 60 pounds—and eventually moved over to the emerging world of live TV drama just in time for the medium to enter its first golden age. Later settling in Los Angeles, he worked on dozens of shows that can retrospectively be viewed as signal moments in popular culture: The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, The Brady Bunch, Barney Miller and Benson among them. At the same time he was active in the formative years of the DGA, and was especially devoted to pension issues. His memoir is a canny, wry look back at a half-century of rewarding work, tough union negotiations, and happy professional friendships intermingled with triumphs over notoriously unmanageable performers such as Shelley Winters (“Hit her with a two-by-four,” George Stevens advised Rich, “She’ll love you for it!”) and Jerry Lewis, whom he once threatened to publicly kick in the privates. A veritable Zelig of the industry, and an inexhaustible fund of good anecdotes, Rich remains fine company from first page to last in this chronicle of an epic life.

Review written by John Patterson.


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