Tuesday, July 27, 2010

B-Movie Phantom: The Phillipa Fallon Story Part 3

“She was very romantic even then, I mean this raven hair. She was a very romantic figure.”

-- Larry Gelbart on Phillpa Fallon, 2008


The late comedy writing legend Larry Gelbart (1928-2009), whose credits run the gamut from the golden age of radio to the Huffington Post, was in a unique position to observe the Manhoffs’ early marriage because he worked professionally with Bill Manhoff  in the 1940s and 1950s. When CONELRAD asked Gelbart via e-mail in 2008 if he remembered Ferne Manhoff (aka Phillipa Fallon), his response was immediate and to the point: “My God, the memories are indelible! Write or call…” We did and some of his choice recollections are presented below.

We first asked about Bill Manhoff whom Gelbart considered to be one the great mentors of his career:

“Bill had the great patience and grace and generosity to really teach me a great deal about what it was that I was doing…You have to remember that I was going to Fairfax High School at the time and here I was working as a professional writer and surrounded by grown-ups and I used to go to Bill’s house from Fairfax High School. I used to walk to Fuller Avenue…in my R.O.T.C. uniform for God’s sake and sit there and work on Duffy’s Tavern scripts with him. And that’s why I said he showed such patience and generosity.”

Of Ferne, Gelbart had these memories:

“You know, Bill was a head writer and so she was kind of, you know, Mrs. Head Writer. We would all meet at Bill’s house and she would be very much in evidence. It must have been – and rightfully so – a proud position for her and him.”

“She was very romantic even then, I mean this raven hair. She was a very romantic figure.”

“She was extremely pretty and extremely thin. I remember looking at her legs because that’s what you did in those days and they were like pipe cleaners. They were extraordinarily thin…She was very Morticia-like, very Vampira.”

“You know, there was a crazy thing about her, there was a good nature about her. You could kid her about herself, [but she also had] a vanity that was overpowering.”

Gelbart also witnessed evidence of Fallon’s difficult 1945 pregnancy and how his boss helped her through it:

“Bill was extraordinarily devoted to her, manifestly devoted to her. I remember she got pregnant and he used to carry her down the stairs from their apartment on Fuller (Avenue). He would carry her to the car, drive her to the hair dresser’s and carry her into the salon and repeat the process, of course.”


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