Actually, That Guy Is A Girl:
My Life Writing For the Macho Men of Hollywood
One day, during the run of “Magnum, P.I.,” a contractor doing some work on Tom Selleck’s house stopped him to talk about the show that had aired the night before.
“You know,” he said to Tom, “the guy who wrote that show last night had to be a Viet Nam Vet. Nobody could have written that show if he hadn’t been in Viet Nam.”
“Actually,” Tom said, “that guy is a girl.” And that girl was me.
Telling me the story, Tom seemed tickled that I had fooled his contractor. I liked it, too, because it proved a theory I had while writing for “Magnum.” The theory is this: the more specific you are in writing about your own experiences, feelings, and knowledge, the more universal will be the appeal of your story. It’s an interesting paradox that in order to reach others on a deeply personal level, you have to get deeply personal yourself. We’re not so different, after all, we human beings.
Our experiences may be different from one another, but we’re all hard-wired with fear, anger, pride, lust, greed, joy and compassion and we all express ourselves through these emotional filters no matter how different our particular situations might be from one another. Although I had never been to Viet Nam, I have had my share of grief, loss, feelings of being overwhelmed and incapable of living up to my own and others’ expectations
There was another reason the contractor’s comment was funny to me. I wrote for several top ten prime time television series over twenty-five years, yet no one ever seemed to know who I was. It was not unusual for me to hear, upon meeting someone new, “Chris Abbott! I thought you were a guy!”
I did it to myself. I shortened my full name Christine to Chris so that no one would judge the quality of my work based on any gender bias they might have. So I can’t complain! But I’d think, after twenty-five years, the secret might have gotten out.
The majority of shows I helmed had male leads. I wrote for Michael Landon, Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds, Robert Conrad and Frank Sinatra.
I also wrote for Carol Burnett, Sharon Gless, Tyne Daly and Jane Seymour. It never occurred to me to try to write in a “male” voice or a “female” voice. And I’d like to think that for that reason, the characters I helped define had a wider emotional range than did many series characters on the air at that time.
Sometimes I still can’t believe my good luck at being drawn into my life as a writer. And then to be given the opportunity of writing for these iconic stars. Of course, some of it was difficult and most of it was exhausting. But it was also unpredictable, stimulating, moving and the most fun any one person could ever have.
And it’s about time I wrote some of it down. I invite you to join me here on this page, every other week, and share in the stories. I suspect you’ll recognize yourself in some of them.