The Grand Tour (Monday, January 21, 1991 – Part Two)

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Me, Sarah, Tiny Toons executive producer Jean MacCurdy, and Amy.

After we left Amblin, it was time to go to the Warner Bros. studio lot. After a tour, we had lunch at the commissary, then called the Blue Room (where we noted that Dixie Carter was eating across the room from us), and then stopped in for souvenirs at the company store. Not that the three of us needed much in the way of souvenirs, since our publicist, Valerie, had just handed us each a Bugs Bunny tote bag full of stickers, stationery (including Tiny Toons Valentines), figurines, a hat, a beach towel, and fifty of those Tiny Toons enamel pins to give out at school. (As Thirteen noted, “I think WB doesn’t know how to do anything except make movies and cartoons and give people stuff.”)

After we finished our shopping, we continued with the tour of the backlot. We saw where they record the music for Tiny Toons and Dallas. (It was also where the music for all the WB cartoons was recorded.)

We saw the street from The Flash, and got to meet John Wesley Shipp. We also saw the Mogwai store from Gremlins 2, as well as streets from Dick Tracy and the sets of Life Goes On.

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Meeting John Wesley Shipp.

For some reason, out of the entire trip I have the least memory of our time touring the backlot. I can’t even remember now whether we were walking around all the time (probably) or in the bus, or what. I’m guessing it just got overshadowed in my mind by the story meeting that morning and then the afternoon at Warner Bros. Animation, which was obviously of more interest for a teenager now wanting to be an animator.

There, we saw more of the people from the story meeting — like Sheri Stoner, who modeled Ariel in The Little Mermaid. (She was really cool.) Plus, we saw the background designers (and some of the backgrounds from certain episodes), the cel painters, and of course, some of the animators.

Throughout the studio, we saw all these pencils stuck in the ceiling. Frustrated animators. Amy said she could picture me doing that.

We even got to meet Charlie Adler, the voice of Buster. We went around this corner and all of a sudden we hear, “Hi, Toonsters!” We all expected to see a blue rabbit standing in front of us, but instead we see this guy.

Thirteen wasn’t quite able to capture that sense of disconnect (“this guy”?), but you have to realize that this was pre-Internet, of course, and back then you just didn’t have as much opportunity to know what a character’s voice actor looked like, unless they already happened to be a celebrity. So there really was this odd looking-glass feeling about it that took a few seconds to reconcile.

When told that Buster was supposed to have a fear of flying, Charlie commented, “That’s not far from the truth.” Then, as Buster, “I burrow underground.”

We also hung out in Jean’s office for a while, watching two Tiny Toons music videos from an upcoming episode (more on that in a later post) and a promotional video for The Elmyra Show — which made Amy happy, since Elmyra was one of her favorite characters.

Valerie and Jean walked us out to our bus then. They hugged us and said goodbye. And I can still remember Valerie’s parting words: “You’ll be back.”

Then we went back to the hotel for our last night in Los Angeles.

We had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to get to the airport, which is a time of day that technically does not exist at age thirteen, never mind that we were all exhausted by that point.

All of us met sleepily in the lobby of the hotel, then climbed into the bus. Tim turned on the radio to try and wake us up, but we would have fallen asleep were it not for the astonishing fact that Tim took us directly to the airport without getting us lost.

Our trip home was uneventful, and we knew we had more interviews and events to look forward to for months — most notably, getting our payment, seeing the 20/20 segment, and of course, the airing of the episode itself.

Looking back on it now, that trip to L.A. loomed so large in my memory for so many years, I would have assumed it had been a week long at least, but the entire trip lasted just from Friday to Tuesday — basically a long weekend. Not until my engagement and wedding would I have that feeling again of weeks’ worth of life-changing memories packed into such short spans of days.

And in nearly every journal entry for months, Thirteen was dreaming of, longing for, and grasping at any shred of hope of, going back.

How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen L.A.?

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From Hollywood to Waynesboro

A couple weeks or so had gone by when Jean called again — and this time asked to talk to Mom.

They had decided to use the material we sent. In other words, they were making our story into a cartoon. That alone was enough to get us excited.

But then they said that they were flying into Washington for some sort of other business. And that they would then fly from Washington to Charlottesville and then drive to Waynesboro — our small hometown. (And when I say small, I mean small.) They said that they would be coming next Thursday, which was December 13th.

We were stunned. But the bigger surprises were yet to come.

Everyone — which in this case meant the three of us, our moms, Jean MacCurdy, and Barbara Brogliatti (senior vice president for publicity and promotion) — gathered at my house for the visit. They’d brought a few gifts for us — character plushes, buttons, figurines, things like that — which had been in the suitcase that had not gotten lost. (As for the one with all their clothes in it, well, I’m assuming it caught up with them eventually.) Amid coffee and probably ham biscuits and pizza rolls (our go-to snack), Jean made the announcement.

They said that we would go on an airplane (all expenses paid, of course) to L.A. and then literally watch the story be made into a cartoon. She also briefly mentioned that there would be a press conference and a story meeting with Steven Spielberg. Steven, she said, was filming a movie in February, so he wanted to get all of this over before then.

The movie was Hook. And his side of it probably was pretty much over by then, but ours would go on for quite a while longer.

The followup letter provided the details. (It strikes me now how short and general that fine print is. Somehow I doubt it would be so simple today.)

I started my journal five days before we left on what I would come to mentally categorize as “the L.A. trip.” By that point, we had already done several interviews for both print and TV, so my journal has something of the feeling of a story I’ve told many times before. What surprises me now is that there’s very little in the way of emotional content in its pages; it feels as if it were written more for public consumption than as a private diary. Because of that, I don’t have much of a historical reference for how I really felt at this point. Were all this happening to Forty, she’d likely be more anxious than excited, but I don’t remember Thirteen being particularly nervous about any of it. The intensity may have simply faded out of the memories with time, but from what I can recall, from start to finish it just felt…

Well, like an adventure.

Up next: In the spotlight

 

Out of the blue

Our package had made it to the desk of Jean MacCurdy, and since we never bothered to include a phone number on our letter, she had to hunt for one. Information wasn’t a great deal of help at first — there were a lot of Carters in our area — but she asked if there was a number for Renee Carter, and there was. This was because my parents, in their wisdom of having already raised two teenagers, had long since gotten the kids their own phone line so we weren’t constantly tying up the main one.

It’s a Friday night. Sarah was having a surprise slumber party for her birthday… Since I was sick, I didn’t go to the slumber party. And it was a good thing I didn’t. Because that night at about 8 PM, I got a call from Jean MacCurdy…

(Full disclosure: I may or may not have actually been sick, as I did have a history of using that sort of excuse to get out of slumber parties or other kinds of parties. The life of a teenage introvert often involves such ethical dilemmas.)

She said that our story had been sent to her, and that they liked it and that Steve — yes, Steve — had been thrilled with it. Then she said that they were planning future episodes. And then she said that they might be calling me back.

Well, Sarah and everybody else were at that slumber party. So I tried to call Sarah, but everybody wasn’t there yet.

So I hung up and literally paced my room.

I don’t remember much of that first conversation, though in the 20/20 interview, Jean playfully recounted my responses as an flat, almost underwhelmed “Yeah…?” When you tell a story again and again, as we had to when answering interview questions over and over, in time the story can replace the memory. (Remember, even this journal entry was written a couple months after that first call had happened.)

Sarah said that I was talking so fast, she could hardly understand me. But I got my message across.

“I don’t believe it!” she said.

Meanwhile, Amy and the others didn’t know what the heck was going on. Amy kept saying “What? What?” Finally Sarah turned around and told everybody what was going on. I could hear Amy screech in the background.

Thing was, we had never even told our parents what it was we sent in. So it was kind of fun, filling our parents in on what we had done. (Good thing we hadn’t robbed a bank, huh?)

Honestly, we weren’t really expecting another call. A week or so later, I got a little padded envelope in the mail with some Tiny Toons postcards and pins, plus a followup letter:

Letter from Jean

postcard and pin

postcard backAt that point, we figured that was it. We were all ecstatic that, yes, they had received it, and yes, they had read it, and yes, they had liked it. That was enough for us to feel awesome about the whole thing. Day by day the excitement died down, and we went on with our regular eighth-grade lives.

Then my phone rang again.

Up next: From Hollywood to Waynesboro

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

(We’re back! New posts will be scheduled for the 10th and 25th of the month, with occasional bonuses in between. To make sure you don’t miss anything, you can subscribe using the “Follow Blog via Email” widget in the right sidebar of the website, or follow our Twitter account for notifications of new posts. As a reminder, or for those just joining us, the quotes in these posts are taken from the journal I kept in 1991 at age 13.)

 

Since other kids at school kept reading this stack of notebook paper and saying “You should send that somewhere,” or “You should send that to Spielberg,” we finally figured hey, why not, if we can find somewhere to send it…

Amy ended up finding the address for the Fox network in a magazine. It was one of those teen magazines where it gives celebrity addresses. I think it was there if you wanted to write to somebody on that show “21 Jump Street.”

I have a feeling that “somebody” was probably Johnny Depp. (Hey, Thirteen was pretty lousy at being a typical 13-year-old.) Therefore, let it be known that were it not for Johnny Depp, “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian” might never have become an episode. Um… sort of.

Of course, we had no clue that Tiny Toons was a syndicated show (at that time, at least; it later went to Fox exclusively). The only thing we could think of was to send it in care of the Fox network where we watched the show, so that’s what we did.

By this time, it cost almost three dollars to mail it.

*waxes nostalgic about 1991 postage rates*

We never made another copy of it. We were going to, but Xeroxing it would’ve cost too much change, and we didn’t want to take the time to make another handwritten copy. We just figured that if it got lost in the mail, then it did. So we didn’t worry about it.

(We didn’t number the pages, either, so a few of them were missing when WB graciously sent us a copy.)

In a way, the story did end up getting lost in the mail — or at least, it took a winding path to its intended destination.

Our story was sent to Fox in Burbank. Jean [MacCurdy, executive producer] said that, under usual circumstances, it never would have gotten past Fox. It would have been stamped “Return to Sender” and sent back.

I think you’ve caught on by now that nothing about the next several months is going to involve “usual circumstances.” Bear in mind that sending an unsolicited story or script to a television show sets off a whole host of alarms from a legal standpoint — for example, if they were to inadvertently do a similar script in the future, we might claim they stole our story and sue — so nothing’s supposed to be opened or read.

However, the people at Fox opened the envelope. They took our story (and the letter that we enclosed) and put it in one of their envelopes. Then they sent it on to Steven Spielberg. Steven’s secretary sent it on ahead to Warner Bros. Jean said that the secretary probably figured if it got this far, it must be okay. She said that it was basically sent to people who didn’t really know what they were doing.

*polite cough* Which is not, of course, to imply that Steven Spielberg’s secretary was incompetent…

This was all told to us second- and third-hand and maybe some other hands besides, so it’s possible the timeline isn’t 100% accurate. The point, though, is that our package looked legit when it got where it was going, which eventually was the desk of Jean MacCurdy, the executive producer of Tiny Toons and, at that time, president of Warner Bros. Animation.

And she picked up the phone…

Up next: Out of the blue