You know when you find something or someone that you really like and you want to tell everyone about it? This is one of those times: Rita Lakin. I didn’t know her, but I knew her work. Have you ever heard of the TV series Dynasty? Peyton Place, Mod Squad, The Rookies or a little show that ran from 1963 to 1982 called The Doctors. Well, that’s Rita. She wrote, created, or produced many TV series and Movies of the Week.
Rita Lakin has now taken her writing talent and created a wonderful family of characters that can be found in her Getting Old series of mystery books. They feature Gladdy Gold and the Gladiators. To me they feel like Jessica Fletcher meets The Golden Girls. Solving murders has never been so funny!
Let’s catch up with Rita and Abby’s interview already in progress:
Abby: This is quite a career you are having.
Rita: I had quite a career in LA. It was really quite a good one. You know it is so funny, I am actually writing an autobiography or whatever you want to call it. I forgot myself the things I did. I said, “Gee, I wish I had known at the time what I was doing. I would have taken more advantage of it.”
Abby: Well, I must say, you did pave the way for a lot of people.
Rita: I did. I brought a lot of women in the business which was very important.
Abby: You started writing in 1962. How did you get into it?
Rita: I got a job as a secretary in the executive offices at Universal Studios. It turned out that being in the executive offices wasn’t too shabby. I was sitting there doing nothing, and I realized that I could be reading scripts. So I put my bosses name on the script list which really surprised him. He asked, “Why am I getting scripts? I don’t get scripts.” I confessed that I wanted to be a writer so he was very helpful. So I taught myself how to write scripts. Agents came in a lot. My boss was so cute. He kept saying, “Rita is a great writer. You should manage her!” And of course most people ignored that except one guy and he actually said, “Let me read something.” Next thing I knew I had an agent and a job. When opportunity knocks you better be ready. So I was. Opportunity knocked, and I had the script that I wrote as a sample script. I got the job!
Abby: Was that Dr. Kildare?
Rita: Right. The first one I did was Dr. Kildare.
Abby: I watched several shows that you wrote.
Rita: Really? Then I probably destroyed your mind at some point!
Abby: You have either created or written for some of my favorite TV Shows: The Mod Squad, The Rookies…
Rita: That one…yeah right.
Abby: Aren’t you proud of The Rookies?
Rita: I created The Rookies but I sort of never got my own script shot. I was trying to do something that they hadn’t done before and they weren’t ready for it. So they had somebody else rewrite me. That happens quite often. But I was right and they were wrong because Steven Bochco came along 10 years later and became famous doing what I was trying to do.
Abby: You were a woman ahead of your time! What has been your favorite TV creation?
Rita: I had a lot of things that I liked. I loved being on Peyton Place. That was a real fun job because there were six of us writers and we just had a ball. We were all very young then and we kind of taught one another. I would say that was probably one of my favorites.
Abby: Now you have a series of books featuring Gladdy Gold and the Gladiators. Your books are fun from the title to the very end.
Rita: All of it is funny. You can’t write a book about Florida without it being hilariously funny because Florida is a crazy place.
Abby: Have you ever lived there?
Rita: My entire family moved there when they left New York and I moved to California. So I used to visit them every single year. Every time I went to visit them I was laughing hysterically. They just were so funny. I would say to them, “Why on earth don’t you go to the beach?” And they said, “What? And bring home sand and mess up the apartment?” It was a gorgeous, gorgeous beach that they never went to.
Abby: You dedicated Getting Old Can Kill You to your sister, Judy.
Abby: Are any of the characters based on her?
Rita: In book two, which is “Getting Old Is the Best Revenge,” she is a character in it. My sister loves playing Bingo and so she forced me to go on this Bingo Cruise which I did not want to go on. Then I wrote this murder mystery which takes place on this Bingo Cruise and I made her and her friend the characters. It was really cute because she got mad at me. She said, “You made me very mean.” And I said, “That’s because you are mean.” She is a loving sister.
Abby: That’s what I get from your characters is that they are all good friends, and become friends to the readers.
Rita: They are. They are all wonderful.
Abby: You can’t help but like them.
Rita: Even when they do extremely stupid things.
Abby: Since they are such great characters and you have a history with television I have to ask if you are thinking of making this a TV Series?
Rita: Honey, I tried to sell it as a TV Series and nobody wants it. They don’t want anything with old people. I am so angry at them all. Everybody says, “Well they did Golden Girls.” That was like 10-15 years ago. They just don’t want to do anything with anybody old. They are interested in the young people and the really tacky and very edgy stuff.
I did sell one of my books, believe it or not, to German television. They are doing Getting Old Is Criminal. I don’t know if I will ever see what they have done with it or if I see it will I even know what they did.
It is very annoying because I know that my books would make a very funny series. I haven’t found anybody who can be convinced of that. They are not interested. They want the teenybopper audience. You see the kind of shows that are on.
Abby: Yes I do and I know that once you pass 49 you are not wanted any more in the TV world.
Rita: That’s right. No longer welcome. So I said, “To hell with them” and I will just write my books.
Abby: That’s how I found you, at Sisters in Crime when you were reading a passage from your current book, Getting Old Can Kill You.
Rita: Yeah. It’s so funny because today I went to my first Gladdy Gold Book Club. Well I had my very first own book club with my books that they are reading and we are discussing. Today we had our first meeting and it was a lot of laughs because we were talking about all of the funny stuff in them.
Abby: Will there be a number 8 for the Gladdy Gold series?
Rita: I am hoping so but I am not doing anything until I finish this memoir thing. I’m just not!
Abby: Do you have any advice for people just getting started in the writing business?
Rita: I think the advice is the same advice that everybody gives. It is a matter of persevering. You just have to just keep trying and not giving up. I think the business – I’m talking now about showbiz in LA – is now very hard to get into. As far as writing books, it is a much nicer world to be in.
Abby: Sisters in Crime, they are very nice.
Rita: They are just lovely people. They try to help one another which is even more astonishing when you think about it. I give the same advice to keep going and don’t give up. I think they should join groups like Sisters in Crime because you don’t have to be a published writer to join. And you get a lot out of it. And you also get a tremendous amount of support from everybody. Everybody is so gracious about that. They really are perfectly happy to help if they can.
Abby: Do you have a favorite line from Gladdy Gold?
Rita: I have two favorite lines. My very favorite line is, “Never trust anybody under 75.”
That is the Gladdy Gold Detective Agency Slogan or Motto. I love that.
Abby: I’m in trouble.
Rita: Why? What’s the matter?
Abby: I’m under 75.
Rita: Well there you are!
Abby: What is the second?
Rita: The second is the very, very first sentence of the very, very first book. It said, “The poison was in the pot roast.” And we go from there.
Abby: Rita, thank you for talking with me.
Rita: Oh, my pleasure.
Rita Lakin is a National Treasure. She helped pave the way for women to get into writing for TV and movies. She continues to entertain us with Getting Old Is Murder, Getting Old Is the Best Revenge,Getting Old is Criminal, Getting Old is To Die For, Getting Old is a Disaster, and Getting Old is Tres Dangereux and Getting Old Can Kill You. I hope that she continues to write for decades to come.
Thank you Rita!