Guided by pure greed, the talented writer Merle Miller in the 1960s thrust himself into the network television meat grinder with gay abandon. That train wreck is chronicled in his 1964 book “Only You Dick Daring” which I read in 1965 on the recommendation of Jim McLaughlin when we both were working the copy desk at the Idaho Evening Statesman. Thank you Jim..
The show that Miller researched and marketed to devious United Artist and CBS executives was called “Calhoun” -- an hour-long drama featuring former child star Jackie Cooper as a county extension agent. A pilot may have been filmed but the show was DOA.
The cast of evil characters in the drama about the drama is difficult to keep straight but Skippy Jim James Aubrey, CBS president at the time, was the chief gate keeper of American television cultural enhancement. The premise that CBS would launch a show dealing with social justice and other challenging issues in the age of the Beverly Hillbillies is side splitting funny.
Having worked eight years in the Agricultural Extension Service, I can testify that it’s all about brucellosis, creep feeding pigs and bloated cows for the agricultural agent. As for the home economist, it’s how to avoid botulism while canning beans. Unless the town gets wiped out by poisonous beans every week, I don’t see how you can sustain a series about an extension agent. But Miller persevered in the face of insurmountable odds.
The jargonized dialogue of the TV executives as reported by Miller is hilarious and sounds like the script of the adults in “The Graduate.” At one meeting, a United Artist executive observes: “We’ve got to tell the audience where the bathroom is.” Behind his back, the executives observed that Miller was having a nervous breakdown and Cooper may have been hiring other writers for the ill-fated show while professing his love of Miller’s script with several “God bless yous.”
Miller got precious little money for his efforts except his well kept diary allowed him to write a hilarious book that no doubt was a best seller. Unrelated in this volume are chapters on Miller returning to Iowa for his high school reunion and his writing a script for the TV movie “The American” about Ira Hayes, the Marine who may or may not have raised the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II.