The General

Who would think a car could be a character on a television show, complete with its own name and personality? Well, it happened once or twice, and resulted in the making of an icon. The 1969 Dodge Charger, otherwise known as The General Lee, was a powerful force on Dukes and was as much – maybe more – a part of the show as the actors that drove it.

For many of the show’s seasons, twenty-three or more Generals were on the lot at any given time. The team that worked on the cars made sure to maintain integrity and consistency; everything had to be exactly right, from the tire lugs to the license plate holder (which never identified the state where the General Lee was registered). During the show’s seven seasons, about 300 Chargers traveled through the air.

For a time, every General was mandated to early retirement after its first (and only) hard landing. But it wasn’t easy keeping a healthy supply of Generals on hand and eventually, the cars were reused. Scouts were always on the lookout for Chargers they could buy, sometimes chasing people down the road asking to buy them on the spot. For a time, they were being hunted by air, with Piper J-3 Cubs searching for replacement Generals.

Who knew that when we wrote a script note in the first episode that said, “Put a Confederate flag on top of the car,” The General become legendary. At first, I pictured a Pontiac Firebird, but the team presented a Dodge Charger and explained that it was a better match. I trusted them to make the right decision, as cars were their area of expertise, not mine. And boy, were they right.

What trivia do you have about The General to share with me?

What Do Country Music and Dukes of Hazzard Have in Common?

Loyal fans.

Country music was always a part of my life and contributed the creation of Dukes. I produced recording sessions in Nashville, going back to the legendary Ryman Auditorium, where I filmed a documentary on the country music Hall of Fame. Also, prior to Dukes, I directed several shows featuring country music singers.

When I sold Dukes to the network, I explained to them that country music was unlike any other musical genre because of its family based, loyal following. Country music fans started listening as kids and didn’t stop listening until they took their last breath. I figured Dukes would be appealing country music fans because of its similarity in feel and values. The network hadn’t considered this, but they were willing to give it a shot.

The unwritten rule was that for every Dukes episode, someone in Nashville ought to be able to write a country music song about it. I think the creative team on Dukes did a pretty good job of making this possible.

How Small is Your World?

How Small is Your World?

If there’s anything I would’ve like to have written and directed it’s Our Town, an iconic play by Thornton Wilder about Grover’s Corners, a fictional American community. It is particularly relevant to me because it explores the relationships between people in a small town. Having been raised in small communities around the South, I have a connection to places where everybody knows everybody else (for better and worse). People in those towns were my family’s extended family. We knew each other’s triumphs and downfalls, heartaches and miracles.

My history inspired the creation of Dukes. Hazzard County was comprised of a small community of people who helped and hurt each other; no matter what the circumstances, they were all connected by the place they lived (for better and worse). There was a southern simplicity to their small town, and those from the big-city were, as narrator Waylon Jennings described it when the Duke boys went to Atlanta, “…a little out of their picture when it comes to breakin’ in the big city.” All of the villains and troublemakers were from the big city, whether it was Atlanta or farther north.

That said, I think we’re all small town people. Even those in big cities stay close to their neighborhoods or boroughs. Most of us like the familiar feeling of walking into the market and seeing the same cashier and knowing them by name. There are countless “small towns” within big cities all over America and much of the world.

The way I see it, all of us stretch our arms as wide as they’ll reach, and whatever’s inside is our town.

One Armed Bandits

Welcome to Hazzard County, a stretch of land where three states converge, none of which claim Hazzard as their own because, frankly, they don’t want it. It’s also where the local sheriff, Rosco P. Coltrane smuggles hundreds of slot machines into the county, which is the premise of the Dukes of Hazzard pilot, “One Armed Bandits.”

That’s right––the sheriff is a gambler. He’s also in cahoots with the county commissioner, J.D. (Jefferson Davis) “Boss” Hogg, the wealthiest man in the county who has all that money because he owns almost all of Hazzard County’s property and businesses. Always at the ready to “Get them Duke Boys,” Hogg isn’t exactly on the right side of the law he supposedly upholds.

And the Duke boys, Beauregard “Bo” Duke and his cousin, Lukas K. “Luke” Duke, while finding their way to trouble in most every episode, are perhaps more morally sound than local law enforcement. In the pilot, the boys’ goal is to turn the illegal slot machine racket into a good deed.

Where did the idea of public servants being corrupt come from? Well, we know it happens from time-to-time that county commissioners have more power than state senators and some of them find their way to sideways activities––not all of them, of course.

I mention this because the first episode of Dukes of Hazzard aired January 26, 1979, thirty-seven years ago this week. It is because of Dukes that I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever known, who taught me about the same deep morals and values that we tried to impart by way of the show––those people are you, the fans. Thank you for your consistent support throughout the years.

You’re Never Too Old to Start Again (or Too Young to Start)

There was a man I knew years ago, whom I only met once when he was 93 years old, totally blind and partially deaf. His name was Father Morgan, and he showed me that you’re never too old to start again and never to young to start.

Father Morgan was a renowned Episcopal priest and a brilliant botanist whose flora & fauna facts were featured in Encyclopedia Brittanica. At retirement age, he retired in Cherokee country, high up in the mountains of North Georgia. While he moved there to settle, community members encouraged him to start a church. So, at the ripe age of 65, he and one other man built a new church from the ground up. He started a whole new life at a time when most are winding down, and this wasn’t the only time he did that.

He looked like Moses with long, flowing gray hair. He didn’t care what people thought of him, just worked hard and never complained. One Sunday he arrived for his sermon without having any time to prepare. His nephew shared the morning service with him, from the liturgy with comments, scripture, sermon, and all of the readings in between. Remember, he was blind, so he couldn’t read anything at that point, and also at least half deaf. He just listened to his nephew, took it in, and did the best he could.

Well, wouldn’t you know…Father Morgan got out in front of the congregation and gave the entire service from his nephew’s verbal recital––every word, all by memory, without a hitch, at the ripe age of 93!

If this wasn’t incredible enough, we found out after the service that the night before, Father Morgan lost everything in a house fire. The home he lost was two generations old and housed every book and paper owned by him and generations before him––all of his sermons, all of his data on flora & fauna…everything.

He never mentioned a word about the fire to anyone during or after that sermon. When asked by his nephew what he wanted him to do about the house, he said, “Call the contractor and tell him we need him to start rebuilding tomorrow.”

Father Morgan was a true American hero. He quietly went about his life with humility, a remarkable work ethic, unending persistence, and the ability to rebuild his life no matter what challenges befell him. At an age when most are waiting to die, Father Morgan started anew, over and over.

What do you want to start, but tell yourself you’re too old (or young) to do it?

I say, do it!

-Gy

Uncle Jesse and My Grandfather McGill

There is a person in each of our lives who has a tremendous impact on us. For me, it was my grandfather. As a matter of fact, he inspired much of who you know Uncle Jesse to be on Dukes.

My grandfather, Franklin McGill, was a teller of tales. Country folk loved him; he had a way of sharing adventures that pulled you in and made you want to hear more. An Irishman, he had a wit about him that made every story hilarious, with possible embellishments that family and friends didn’t question or mind.

One of the stories he told time and again was about my uncle, when he was six years old. He made him drive horses down to a rail station in Foster, Kentucky to bring back feed. It was a precarious, steep road with a massive drop. (Imagine sending out your six-year-old to fetch anything on horseback on a single-person trail set on a cliff!) The depot workers asked my grandfather how he could trust the boy on such a road, wasn’t he worried? He casually responded, “You didn’t know the horses! I could’ve sent them alone!” This reinforced his belief that a well-trained animal could be trusted more than any human he knew, six-years-old or any age.

Grandfather McGill was a strong man. He shared stories about the Civil War. He had a massive stroke that left him half-paralyzed and partially blind yet he had unrelenting strength despite his physical challenges. With sage-like wisdom about any and all moral questions, I knew I was in good hands taking my problems to him. He always had an answer, but didn’t always have to be right. Humility came naturally to him, even with his tall tales.

His legacy lives on in my generation and of course in our beloved Uncle Jesse. Grandfather McGill had a major impact on my children and their children, all who have my grandfather’s ability to tell a story that draws a crowd.

Who has strongly influenced you?

Happy Thanksgiving

Most of my holidays were spent with three generations of family members; I was always with my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was extremely fortunate in that I spent my summers and the holidays on a farm in Kentucky, an idyllic setting at any time of year.

Thanksgiving in my family meant food and more food. We had had a cornucopia to choose from––three or four types of meat, plus turkey. We cooked, killed, and cured the meat ourselves, and everyone would stay a week and eat our way through each day. The setting was idyllic and much of how you think of the American landscape, Norman Rockwell style.

I’m grateful for those times and a family that treasures spending the holidays together. And I’m particularly grateful that my kids and family are healthy and successful in their lives. While we may not be on the farm anymore, there is a special feeling when I see my kids with their children and we’re carrying on the multigenerational tradition of spending holidays together, eating too much food and laughing about old times.

Where will you be on Thanksgiving this year, and what are you grateful for?

Just Write the Book Already

Imagining a first bestseller is easy––the sales, interviews on national television, the Pulitzer Prize, the big parties and book signings…but what about actually writing the book?

For me, it takes tremendous discipline, consistency, and commitment just to get the words out, never mind creativity and at least a smidgen of talent. I knew going into my first novel that it wouldn’t be easy, as I’d had many years’ experience writing for theater and television where rewrites and late nights were the norms. Sure, screenwriting was tough work, but I loved the challenge. Hard work didn’t scare me then nor does it now.

Writing novels comes with a different set of demands than screenwriting. For one, there’s not a team of writers to collaborate with, as I write alone. The group effort and tight deadlines meant that others counted on me. But writing a book, well, I could just walk past my office for days, never write a thing, and no one would know…except me.

When there’s a problem with a specific scene and I’m stuck, the onus is on me to get out of a creative jam. At times, I will sit and work on it for hours and other times I will walk away for a little while. And the rewrites are tough. My second novel Fugue required four drafts, each one with substantial editing. Tedious work. But let me tell you, the freedom in book writing – particularly fiction – is boundless. If you want to create a one million-man army, go ahead. There’s no budget that chokes your creativity, no one saying that it won’t work in the frame or on the stage.

But all good writing, no matter how liberating, has to be edited or you may as well not do it at all. And the excitement of finishing a book is like no other creative experience I’ve encountered. After seemingly countless drafts, deep dive edits, proofreading, and a few trusted sets of eyes to review it, that manuscript is all your doing. It’s a major achievement no matter what follows, even if you don’t win the Pulitzer this time around.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…” Well, I must agree. Writing a book is painful and challenging, but boy, is it worth it.
Do you like to write?

–Gy Waldron
Author of Twist of Time, Fugue, and a third novel on the way

What Is Fugue (and Why Did I Write About It?)

Fugue has a couple of meanings, both of which are used in my second book of the same name. There is a connection to the two meanings that runs like a thread through this romantic thriller, and adds to its suspense and cadence. The more commonly known definition of fugue is tied to music. It is defined as a composition based upon one or more themes that gradually build into a complex and marked climax at the end. It’s also the name of a rare psychiatric disorder, characterized by a loss of memory and dissociation. Some people suffering from fugue will take on entirely new identities and have no recollection of doing so. How do these two work together to become a romantic thriller? For starters, the main character of Fugue is living a double life as a concert pianist who is also a serial killer. He has no memory of committing the crimes. This makes for a perfect marriage of deceit, big trouble, guys chasing you (are they “good” or “bad”?), women throwing themselves at you, and plenty more. The fun of writing this novel was coupling the genius of musical composition with the complication of being a dissociated guy in the midst of something too big for him to comprehend Imagine that everything we read has a musical component to it, a build-up that ultimately leaves you breathless and wondering how it all manages to come together. This is what Fugue is all about. *Look for Fugue on shelves in the coming year. –Gy

Funny Isn’t Easy

Humor is the flavor of all writing, and there’s a lot of great comedy out there. Collectively, there are enough funny movies, television programs, books, and live performances in which to engage for a year straight and still have plenty more to enjoy. What dumbfounds me is the talent it takes to write quality comedy; this is an elite group we’re talking about.

I had the pleasure of working with Norman Lear, the genius behind All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and other television hits. He had a writing team that could write “funny” in their sleep. I was fascinated and awestruck by them. Now, for the sake of fairness, I could write some funny stuff from time-to-time, but nothing touched what they could do.

Lear’s teams had been writing together for decades. They wrote for Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball…everybody who was anybody in comedy. You’d be hard pressed to sit in a room with these guys and not cry from laughter.

One time in particular, they pulled a fast one on a producer who was working for Gleason. After putting in a full day, the guy wanted to see the writers’ pages for their next piece within a couple of hours. The team needed more time and – being the innovators they were – found it by pulling a prank. With the added element of this guy being a jerk, they had no qualms about concocting a brilliant solution to getting him off their backs and buying more writing time.

The team set-up a recording of a typewriter inside their office closet to make it seem like they’d already written material. When the producer would go to their office the writers pointed to the door and said, “The secretary’s got the first ten pages.” The sound of the typewriter tip tapping away pacified him. “When she’s finished, we’ll get it to you,” they’d say, and off he’d go.

They thought of doing the same thing to me when I was struggling to keep-up with them and they knew I was scared out of my mind. I was supposed to write the first part of a script and they were to write the second part. They were in the next office over. I could hear them laughing and carrying on.

I was sitting in my office, slightly tortured by their talent and insecure about my own. I timidly went in to show them my work, and I’ll be damned, they found that I had a funny line.

They said, “Hey, Gy. This is funny. A classy joke. We love classy jokes.” The problem was, I had one ‘classy joke’ in 15 pages; the rest were just funny. Big difference.

It’s the same pressure as saying to someone, “Say something funny. Make me laugh…now!” This is no easy feat, being put on the spot to be funny.

Comedy changes everything. It doesn’t matter what you write, whether it’s a thriller, drama, or horror film, the writer can always add humor to get their audience going. As I wrote my first two novels, I realized that while there is no such thing as a funny crime scene, something can happen in the crime scene that is funny.

When George Seaton visited the great actor Edmund Gwenn who lay dying, he sympathetically said, “This must be terribly difficult for you.” Gwenn is reputed to have said, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

Tell me, what makes you laugh?