I wrote a recurring skit for the Prime Time Players in which Howard and “the boys,” as we called them, sat in a Monday Night Football-like booth reviewing the nonsports events of the week as sportscasters might. But the edginess of the parody was blunted by Howard’s new timidity, and the boys got bored. Soon after our show was blissfully put out of its misery, they joined the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on the rightful Saturday Night Live.
But before we got canceled, I got mad at Howard for the first and only time.
Time Warner had announced plans to produce a blockbuster Superman movie. It was holding auditions for the Man of Steel. I wrote a skit in which Howard wins the title role, dons the Superman suit and brings on stage Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who as teenagers in Cleveland created the comic hero but never shared in the bonanza. They were old men now and down on their luck. In my skit, while Howard, Siegel and Shuster were onstage, the real head of Time Warner walks on to give each of the Superman creators $10,000 a year for life.
A Time Warner executive brusquely dismissed my idea over the phone (“You have to be **** joking, Howard Cosell?“), but I decided to press on, if only to embarrass Time Warner. With the help of Mickey Kelley, a young researcher who would become Bill Murray’s first wife, I had Siegel and Shuster flown to New York with their families and put up in a good hotel. Since I was considered Howard’s spy, no one on the staff challenged my orders.
At the Saturday-morning rehearsal, Cosell and (his wife) Emmy, who was never far from his side, decided the two men were “too unattractive” to be onstage with Howard. Besides, if Time Warner wouldn’t cooperate, why make it look bad? My entire segment was canceled. I was furious. I threw a tantrum. How could anyone be too unattractive to be onstage with this horse-faced creep with a bad toupee? And what did Howard Cosell stand for if not righting old wrongs? I told Howard that if Siegel and Shuster did not appear, not only was I quitting, but I would be writing about it. In some weird way I think Howard enjoyed my outburst …
We compromised. Siegel and Shuster would sit in the first row during the live telecast, and Howard would walk down from the stage to chat with them on camera.
That worked out fine, live on Saturday night, and on Monday morning we got a request from the National Cartoonists Society for the phone numbers of Siegel and Shuster. The Society was going to threaten to strike if Superman’s original creators did not get a piece of the action. Eventually — and I want to believe Mickey and I had a part in this — Siegel and Shuster each got $20,000 a year for life.
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