My Personal Story with Robin Williams

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Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy

I worked in showbiz for a quarter-century. One of my early jobs was on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood. At that time, “Mork and Mindy” was a new hit (yes, I’m that old) and Robin Williams was an emerging star. Also a big comedic name at the time was Andy Kaufman – I actually attended one of his infamous “Milk and Cookies” live shows.

Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting

The Paramount lot, like many studios in the late seventies and certainly in earlier decades, was a hive of activity. Walking the lot from my distant parking spot gave me the chance to have chance encounters along the way. Yes, there were actors and extras in costume and I was young enough to still get a huge kick out of it.

Robert Evans had a deal on the lot after running the studio for many years. He had a PRIME parking spot where he parked his classic old Mercedes. I would walk past it to my building and ooh and ahh at his license plate that said, RE 13. The “13” was for the 13 Academy Awards that “Chinatown” won. The image of that car stuck with me as the epitome of “making it” and a decade later I got the same model when I had “sort of” made it myself. Granted it wasn’t the deluxe edition that Evans had and I could have had a personalized license plate, too – BS 00.

“Mork and Mindy” was a emerging hit from the Garry Marshall comedy factory that already had the hit “Happy Days” with young Ron Howard and new star, Henry Winkler. I worked with Ron Howard in the early 80’s and also had many encounters with his future partner and now major player in Hollywood, Brian Grazer who used to wander the lot seeking his own fame and fortune. He certainly “found” it with his persistence and ceaseless energy.

Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire

My job was in “development” for a small television company. That meant finding ideas for television projects whether they be in the news (we read newspapers in those days), current or past books, articles in magazines, or original ideas of our own. In this capacity I discovered a story that I thought would make an incredible movie – the story of The Elephant Man. Yes, David Lynch later made it into a marvelous film.

I also had an idea for TV series, set in a taxi station – that, too, later came to television in the form of “Taxi.” I even briefly believed my great ideas had been stolen. Anyone can have an idea, but bringing it to life is another story and I later realized that both the movie version of “The Elephant Man” and “Taxi” occurred completely independent of anything I had done.

Robin Williams and Billy Crystal

I don’t know how it happened, but I thought that Robin Williams would make an excellent Joseph Merrick (aka The Elephant Man) and, somehow, I was able to arrange a meeting with Robin Williams. He came to MY office!

We sat opposite one another – having never met before – and I told him the story of Merrick in perhaps a ten-minute monologue. He sat attentively and digested every word. After, he asked some questions. He was shy. He spoke so quietly that I almost had to ask him to speak louder. The exchange was completely serious. In that meeting he declared he wanted to play the role.

Robin Williams - Comedy

If I was prescient about one thing, it was his capacity to act in a serious role. Obviously, my efforts went nowhere but I did have that meeting.

Herewith, my favorite Robin Williams bit – less than one minute:

  • nathashaalvarez

    How nice. I really liked that he and Whoopi did the comedy to feed the hungry with Billy Crystal. We are all sad by this. I never even knew he suffered from depression. 🙁

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @nathashaalvarez:disqus – I also went to Whoopi’s big debut at The Comedy Store back in those days – was a fun time.

  • ginavalley

    Such a tragic loss.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Indeed it is @ginavalley:disqus – I suspect we’ll learn more about his “inner demons” in the days and weeks ahead. EVERYONE has them – to one degree or another.

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  • http://www.thismamacooks.com/ Anne-Marie Nichols

    I remember the first time I saw Mork on Happy Days. I was waiting with my parents for a table at a restaurant upset that I was missing my favorite show. I knew that they were going to launch a new character from a cool new show and I didn’t want to miss the preview on Happy Days. But I couldn’t figure out why this space alien was talking with the Fonze. It was really weird, but that was the ’70s for you. Funny thing was I moved to Boulder in the early ’90s and everyone said, “Oh you’re moving to where Mork and Mindy live. Say hi for me!” I don’t think a lot of people get that reference anymore.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I do @AnneMarie_Nichols:disqus – thanks for sharing!

  • David Weber

    I’m still sad at the passing of Robin Williams. He was one of those entertainers whom I assumed would go on forever.
    I wonder why he never moved into writing and directing — as Steve Martin did. I guess his creative gift was pure and simple performing — although his performing wasn’t “simple.”
    Try to riff improvisationally as Williams did so famously, It is UNBELIEVABLY difficult. The couple of times I have ever come even slightly close (and for at most only a period of about 30-60 seconds so) to doing it with even a modicum of success is when I was experiencing some kind of very intense emotional high and somehow directed that intensity toward drawing on the resources of mind, memory and vocalics to say stuff without stammering or making no sense.
    All of the tributes and testimonials coming in are portraying Robin Williams as a very kind fellow, with not an undue amount of egocentrism. I didn’t know that about him; I only knew him as a performer, I didn’t have a sense of how he was perceived by the arts & entertainment world. He was apparently as well loved by darn near all his peers as he was by his fans.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      My brief encounter with him only adds to those sentiments!

  • http://moondustwriter.com Leslie Moon

    You were fortunate to meet him He put smiles on many of our faces. Thanks for the reflection…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx @moondustwriter:disqus – I was fortunate to meet him and many other very cool people in my life (so far)! Hope to CU at #DadChat tonight?!