Saturday, March 26, 2016
Memories of Edward Copeland
For a time at my home blog, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I meticulously documented the passings of people in the entertainment industry in the form of personal obituaries. This is not as easy as it sounds: a good percentage of those who had gone on to their greater reward were individuals with whose body of work I often had no familiarity…and so I would have to think of some clever way to write a few lines of regret that they were no longer working and living among us. Eventually, all this reporting on death got in the way of my regular writing at TDOY…and as such, I reluctantly phased it out.
The death of Garry Shandling the other day caught my attention because I was gobsmacked at how someone could shuffle off this mortal coil at such a young age—Shandling was only 66, and since the news of his demise there have been reports that Shandling’s life could have been spared had he not missed a narrow window of opportunity involving a limo that was to take him to the emergency room. But my first thought upon hearing of Garry’s death was how this would affect my friend Edward Copeland; Ed was unquestionably the biggest Larry Sanders Show fan I knew…even though speaking for myself I preferred It’s Garry Shandling’s Show because of the debt the star acknowledged to George Burns in the creation of the unconventional sitcom (Shandling stated in a number of interviews that Burns and wife Gracie Allen’s 1950-58 TV series was a major inspiration).
Here’s where things get a bit weird. The last time I spoke with Ed was by telephone back in mid-2015, and I knew he wasn’t doing well: Mr. C had been struggling with multiple sclerosis for many years, a condition that had rendered him bedridden in 2008. Since being confined to quarters, Ed had spent more time in emergency rooms than George Clooney: bed sores had required him to have multiple surgeries and it also didn’t help that he was often at the mercy of a for-profit healthcare system concerned less about making people well and more about maintaining their bottom line.
I don’t know what inner force suggested I Google Ed’s real name—Scott Schuldt—but I did, and was both saddened and unsurprised that he left this world for a better one on New Year’s Eve 2015. I felt terrible that I didn’t learn of his death until nearly four months into the new year, which goes to show that “social media” for me isn’t always social. And though it might seem a little presumptuous to be posting this on his blog instead of mine, seeing that the last entry was on December 8, 2014 suggests that this is a movie without an ending. I’m hoping this post rectifies this.
To be honest, there’s a better tribute to Edward (you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t call him by his real name because I don’t think I ever used it…even when I talked to him by phone) over at RogerEbert.com, composed by editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz. Matt was in a better position to write Ed’s eulogy for reasons that will become all too clear if you read what he had to say. But the title of Matt’s piece, “A Difficult Friend,” sums up my relationship with Ed in three succinct words. I’ll ward off any accusations of negativity by stating up front: I’ll miss the hell out of not having Edward Copeland around. But my friendship with him was a challenging one, and as Matt states in his first-rate piece I was not the only person who felt this way.
Ed and I first crossed paths around 2007; his blog was known as Edward Copeland on Film then (he renamed it Edward Copeland on Film…and More and then later Edward Copeland’s Tangents when he decided to merge a second political blog with his film-and-TV one), and he had put the word out that he wanted people to contribute to a feature on which he was working that would identify the Best Actress Oscar winners and Worst Best Actress Oscar winners. He addressed the distaff side of this the following year, and by that time he and I were swapping e-mails on a semi-regular basis: he would usually bring my attention to the obituary of a classic film star, knowing that this was sort of my bailiwick at TDOY.
In April of 2009, he asked me if I would be interested in contributing the occasional essay to the blog. He explained that several of the people he had asked were being a bit recalcitrant (“it's like pulling teeth to get them to do anything”) and that a lot of the anniversary tributes would involve my particular meat, classic films and TV. I was very flattered to be asked, and beginning with a 75th anniversary piece on The Thin Man (1934) on May 25, 2009, my three-year-stint as a Copeland contributor (I eventually composed close to seventy pieces) was underway.
Having Ed as your “editor” was not always peaches and cream. He had a certain way of doing his blog (he used Blogger’s HTML function) and it was non-negotiable…while I was more of a WYSIWYG kind of guy. Mr. C granted me administrator status, even though I would have preferred just turning in the work and letting him HTML to his heart’s content. We eventually compromised: I would put the content in and he would screw around with the HTML. I felt sort of bad about this, in that it made extra work for him, but my “composer function” habit on Blogger was one of a lifetime.
Eddie’s custom was to send out a list to his contributors of all the movie/TV anniversaries he had planned to cover that calendar year so that we could call “dibs” on which ones we wanted to cover. This wasn’t always set in stone, however. He asked me to write a 70th anniversary piece on The Wizard of Oz (I think the person who originally had that assignment begged off) and though I wasn’t particularly jazzed about it I told him no sweat. It was a similar deal with a 40th anniversary tribute to Sanford and Son: nobody opted to do it, so he asked me if I would tackle it.
The most unusual assignment I had at Ed’s blog—and I guess it’s safe to talk about it now—was that I had volunteered to do a write-up on Atlantic City (1980), thinking it would be a lead-pipe cinch since I had the film on DVD at the house. After ransacking my collection, it turned out I did not have the DVD; I had forgotten that I hawked the movie on eBay. So I was forced to rely on what admittedly is an imperfect memory to write the essay…and when I finished, I handed it off to a fellow blogger to see if any of the seams showed. She assured me that everything was kosher…but from that moment on I made sure any movies for which I volunteered were a mainstay of the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives.
Since I’m often my own worst critic when it comes to writing, I have to admit that I had a pretty good batting average when it came to contributions to ECOF. I tried to expand beyond my classic-film-and-TV horizons with contributions of more recent films like Happy Endings (2005) and the HBO Harry Belafonte documentary Sing Your Song (I’m pretty proud of this one), but as a rule I didn’t stray too far. The one review for which I received the most static was the documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009) which, as a native of the Mountain State, I found terribly offensive for its sheer exploitative presentation. (Ed seemed to delight in sending me e-mails of the comments he received for this essay, the majority of respondents suggesting I must have grown up in some snooty palatial manse looking down at my fellow Mountaineers. Come and visit me at my estate sometime, you knobs.)
My last contribution to Edward’s blog was an 80th anniversary salute to Scarface (1932). Our parting was nothing short of amiable; his health issues had become more and more serious, and felt the blog would work better if it reverted to its original status as a one-man show. (He also told me that were it not for my efforts and another of his contributors the blog would be blank a good portion of the time.) As I informed him via e-mail: “Let me just say that being associated with your blog has been one of my proudest moments in writing – the caliber of its content always spurred me on to try and do my best work, and for a lazy SOB like myself, that's not always easy. But I will leave the door open and say that if you find yourself in a bind with a tribute to a classic, I can certainly try and give you an assist.” In October of 2012, Ed embarked on an ambitious project to explore why 20th Century-Fox was so reticent in releasing a lot of their TV product to DVD, and he asked me to explore the ”classic boob tube” angle. His multi-part series on St. Elsewhere (as well as a companion piece asking Fox to get off their duffs…and he didn’t mean beer) was a labor of love that took much time and effort…and for someone in the state of health he was in at the time, it could not have been easy.
I mentioned earlier in this essay that the last contact I had with Ed Copeland was back in May or June of 2015. To the end of my days, I’ll regret losing touch with him. It wasn’t an easy time for me and the ‘rents of Rancho Yesteryear; our landlord announced that he was planning on selling the house we were renting and that we had two months to disappear…and then after moving to our new digs, my mother began have serious health issues that more or less diverted my attention. But as Matt mentions in his essay, part of my neglect stemmed from the fact that I felt kind of helpless where Ed was concerned; I knew he had to be suffering from excruciating pain, and I just couldn’t seem to find a way to express my sympathies for what he was going through or offer up a tonic that would give him temporary respite. Thankfully, he never asked me (as he purportedly did others) to put him out of his misery…though I suspect he might have known asking me to pick up a gun would be begging for trouble.
Ed had a prickly personality—there’s no getting around that. Whether he was always like that (I know on Facebook he had an avatar of George Carlin as a symbol of “taking on The Man” and questioning authority) or whether it was the result of his illness I can’t say. I do know that he was a hell of a writer, and had a passion not only for theater (he was a different person when discussing this love) but for the finer things represented by such shows as The Wire, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood…and so many others.
And this is just something of a personal nature…but whenever he asked me for a favor—usually inquiring as to whether or not something I had planned for his blog was ready—I would tell him no sweat…and more often than not he’d reply with a simple “Grazie.” So grazie to you, Ed…thanks for being my friend, and please accept my sad apology that I wasn’t always able to be there for you like I should have.
Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.
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