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Submitted by marse on Sat, 10/20/2012 - 2:07pm
He was a 70's phenom. Seemingly anything he penned went Gold and Platinum. Now he's (self-admittedly) in his 70's and happily busier than ever. That twinkle and spark, the boundless enthusiasm he always seemed to have and would exhibit on talk shows, TV, movies and in his music is still roaring strong inside him. Grammy and Academy Award-Winning Songwriter Paul Williams entranced a room of novelists and screenwriters for over two hours at the monthly SCWA meeting today.
In his 20's and 30's he penned such hits as "An Old Fashioned Love Song", as well as "The Family of Man", and "Out in the Country" for singing group Three Dog Night. The Carpenters' "Rainy Day and Mondays," "I Won't Last a Day Without You," and "We've Only Just Begun", originally a song for a Crocker National Bank commercial solidified his star power.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he's also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; but even if you don't know of him, or some of his hits, you do know his music.
"Rainbow Connection," sung by superstar Muppet Kermit The Frog (and recently covered beautifully by songstress Sarah McLachlan) - one of his. "Evergreen," that haunting song from a Star is Born and for which he won an Oscar - his. He's done musicals, soundtracks, singles, albums, voice overs and voice acting - TV appearances as an actor, written TV eps, feature films, children's shows (like for "Sesame Street" and "Yo Gabba Gabba") and so many other things it's exhausting just writing his credits let alone imagining where he found the time and energy to do it all.
He's so amazingly funny and accessible too. That's something you don't often see in a star of his magnitude. This is a man who's worked with John Huston, Robert Duval, Robert Redford, to name a few film people. He's written for superstars like (political satirist) Mort Saul, The Carpenters and Barbra Streisand.
Years of commercial and critical success is writ large against his still-ongoing legacy and yet he was happy and willing to sit and sign posters, CDs and DVDs for any and all who wanted. He ate lunch with us and was interrupted a dozen times but always found a smile and a nice word for the people who came up to him while he was trying to chew gracefully around his food. He was still cheerfully signing for people who ran after him as he was leaving for another appointment in Santa Barbara.
He told stories - lots and lots of GREAT stories about his youth, and recent ones about his experiences and travels as current president of the prestigious ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.)
He also told stories of blackout drunkedness and drugged-out stupidity that cost him work and relationships.
Sober now for years, Williams never blinked when he related tales of his alcohol and drug use that fueled many of his most creative years and filled many of his bleakest moments. Of all his legion of accomplishments, he sounded most proud of the fact that he had managed to crawl out of the darkness in his mind and find a way to the light and away from dependancy. (And also perhaps that he had recently lost 40 lbs - he did look great.)
It's a cliche that creative people are self-destructive ("I did 48 episodes of Johnny Carson, I remember six of them".) Perhaps Williams had more reasons than most to be so. He was given drugs when he was young that severely stunted his growth (although obviously did nothing to harm his fertile and facile mind.) No doubt he grew up with a short man's complex festering inside him - he was 4'6" in high school. But, as he admits, perhaps that was also the reason he succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
Born in Nebraska, raised by extended family, Williams' path to Hollywood and songwriting fame is an uncanny, thrilling and inspiring tale of overcoming obstacles, never taking 'no' for an answer, and somehow always answering the bell when it rang even when those clanging bells were part of a massive hangover.
As I mentioned - he held us enthralled. We all want to believe that given the right circumstances and an unwillingness to quit we can all accomplish what he has. He made us believers.
A recent documentary "Paul Williams, Still Alive" (IMDB link) (available on iTunes for rental) details a lot of his story. He mentioned an episode when he drunkedly guest-hosted the Merv Griffin Show that he said he ordered taken out of the 2011 film because it was too painful and embarrassing to watch. Then, he said, he changed his mind because he wants to continue to help people by example. "Embarrassing it might be," he said, "but necessary to show how far I've come. And if I can do it, they can too. So I left it in to show them that."
He used the word 'gratitude' a lot and you got a sense that he is indeed grateful for his life turning out as well as it did. Not that he didn't work hard for his acclaim; but he seemed to know, even if he didn't express it directly, that many work hard but many also fail. He didn't fail and his gratitude to "The Universe" was often and genuinely expressed.
Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on him and he's all over YouTube. But even if there was no written material about Paul Williams, his legacy is sung by tens of thousands of voices at weddings, in cars and Karoke bars, and on radio stations and television shows minute by minute by minute. I'm sure something of his has made its way into a space capsule or space-born radio transmitter and is beaming across the galaxy to alien ears. I wouldn't be shocked if said aliens landed and said to us, "We're looking for the Rainbow Connection."
His love for his world and his place in it that found its way into his beautiful and irresistible compositions echoes relentlessly in the decades he's been around, now and most definitely will for decades to come.
Even if he never writes another note or word, that is some damned legacy.
And he is most definitely, some damned inspirational guy.
Special thanks to Lorenzo Porricelli and the members of the Southern California Writers Association (SCWA) for bringing such great speakers to The O.C. Please check their website (ocwriter.com) for more great events.
To Sell A Script I Would:
Feed Grandma to the zombies.
Put a body part in a vise.
Drink snot and chew aluminum foil.
Wet kiss a cougar (either kind.)
Sell my soul - oh wait, I already did.
Total votes: 33
Apathy kills, but I don't care - Hank Moody
Whisky, weed and Warren Zevon, it's the little things -Hank Moody
Dr. Leo Spaceman: Now, Jenna. Medically speaking, for your height, your weight puts you in what we call the 'disgusting' range. Fortunately, there are solutions. For example, crystal meth has been shown to be very effective. *holds up brochure* How important is tooth retention to you?
Jenna Maroney: It's pretty important... What about my crazy surgical options, Dr. Spaceman?
Dr. Leo Spaceman: Please, Dr. Spaceman is my dad. Call me Leo. And there are some wonderful crazy surgical options. Are you familiar with the Bradshaw clinic?
Jenna Maroney: Am I? That's where the Olsen twins were separated!