Ted Flicker, known primarily as the creator of the classic ’70s TV series BARNEY MILLER and the writer-director of the cult classic comedy film from the same era, THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST, died a couple of nights ago at his home in Santa Fe.
Ted’s credits are amazing. Well, not just amazing but, to me, amazingly cool. In addition to the brilliantly understated and wise – oh so wise – BARNEY MILLER and the insanely paranoid THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (which wasn’t but definitely should have been a Kurt Vonnegut novel), Ted was a member of the Compass Players improv group that also gave us Elaine May, wrote and directed the first Broadway musical about the Beat Generation, The Nervous Set, played none other than Buffalo Bill Cody in THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, and wrote and directed episodes of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E and even a show I worked on as Executive Story Consultant, THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.
Was Ted’s episode of STREETS funny? I don’t remember. But even if Ted’s satiric insight didn’t make it all the way to the Final Draft, I know he snuck at least half a dozen cliche-destroying zingers past us in the first act of the First Draft alone.
Actually, I didn’t meet Ted until 1991, when I retired from showbiz for the first time and made Santa Fe my hidey-hole. (Yeah, I reconsidered that exit a few years later because…well, hell, if there’s one thing sticking to your principles is good for it’s leaving you broke.) When a mutual friend introduced us, he’d already been living there for a few years, nursing wounds inflicted by a long and arduous lawsuit against his former BARNEY MILLER partner. Out of respect for Ted, I’m not mentioning the guy’s name here, but if you’re curious it shouldn’t be heard to google it.
How arduous was it? Here’s what The Amazing Flickman had to say the first time we talked:
I was fired from my own show by a guy who kept claiming it was his, and who was such a persuasively devious son of a bitch that he had the network believing him – even though everybody there had worked with me on the script and knew damn well that it was mine. Any love I ever had for my fellow man was destroyed by that bastard’s betrayal of me. A betrayal that was both creative and financial.
And the lawsuit, God, it was ugly. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t sue him next time. I’d just kill him and plead insanity. Any time I’d serve after that would be nothing compared to what I went through in civil court.
And that was the first time. You can imagine where he took it from there over the years.
Ted and I stayed in touch after I left the Southwest, and while he was a brilliant analyst of politics and art, his feelings about the inhumanity inherent in showbiz never mellowed. In fact, over the years they got stronger. In the 1990s, when I started this website (then calling it “The TV Writer Home Page”), I asked him if he’d like to be involved in any way. As a teacher, maybe, or a father figure/mentor to new writers. “Are you crazy?” he said. “Why would I want to help anybody else feel as bad as I have?”
I enjoyed Ted’s conversational brilliance, the way he could untie the faulty logic in anyone’s argument, including his own, but I always felt that his creative insight was something new and experienced writers alike could use more of, so in 2003 or so, I again tried to recruit him. This time, his emailed refusal was even angrier: “I’m fully engaged in living real life now, and am there for you whenever you need me. But I have no interest whatsoever in talking about anything that has to do with the entertainment industry. Or in listening to it. If you want to discuss television, then we’re through.”
So we didn’t talk about television. Or about writing. Ted had MS, and by the 2000s he spent much of his time in a wheelchair. He also had taken up painting and sculpting, though, and he didn’t let his illness stop him. When we exchanged e-mails, he wrote about sculpting with more fire than I’d ever heard/read from any other artist, literary or visual. The quote in the pic at the beginning of this post is, in fact, the mildest expression of his feelings on the subject I know of. (Another great, BARNEY MILLER-esque understatement, perhaps?)
That image, BTW, comes from his website, tedflicker.com. I didn’t know the site existed until this morning and couldn’t wait to get to it and see his work. Sadly, tedflicker.com is unfinished. The links from it don’t work, so all that’s available is a front page. But you can see several of his strong, visceral pieces HERE. They’re filled with all the strength he demonstrated throughout his life and career.
I wish I’d stayed in closer contact with Ted, and I’m greatly saddened by his death, which isn’t a feeling I have all that often. But I mean what I said on my Facebook page:
“Hope you enjoy your new surroundings, Ted. Showbiz, it ain’t, and I know that to you that’s paradise!”