Saturday, July 29, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich Clip Job! All Opening Credits

by G. Jack Urso
The original Hot Hero Sandwich sign seen in the opening credits still lighting up in 2023!

The opening credits to Hot Hero Sandwich features not only the awesome theme song, but also had Casey Kasem introducing that week’s celebrity and musical guests. Kassem, well known to its audience not only for American Top 40, but also for voicing Shaggy for the various incarnations of Scooby Do, Robin for the various incarnations of Super Friends, and the G-Force leader Mark on the ground-breaking Battle of the Planets (see link for the Aeolus 13 Umbra article). So, hearing his voice created an immediate “Hey, I know that guy” vibe. A minor touch, but by using elements familiar to audience, from celebrities to musical groups to voiceover artists, an inviting environment is created which draws the young audience further into the show. We should also mention the absolutely wonderful emotive voice work Barbra Feldon (Agent 99 on Get Smart) did on the bumpers (see below).


Episode 1 Opening Credits.                     Episode 2 Opening Credits.


Episode 3 Opening Credits.                   Episode 4 Opening Credits.


Episode 5 Opening Credits.                     Episode 6 Opening Credits.


Episode 6 Opening Credits.                     Episode 7 Opening Credits.


Episode 9 Opening Credits.                    Episode 10 Opening Credits.


            Episode 11 Opening Credits.          Barbra Feldon Bumper Voiceover Samples.


Monday, July 24, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — In Conversation with Talent Agent and Personal Manager Larry Weiss

by G. Jack Urso

Hot Hero Sandwich logo from original series stationery,
Hot Hero Sandwich creators and executive producers Bruce and Carole Hart’s personal manager Larry Weiss had a front row, ring-side seat to the creation and production of the series. While deeply involved with Harts, and representing other Hot Heroes like Dr. Tom Cottle and writer Sherry Coben (who helped arrange this interview), Larry was also something of an objective observer to the events and in this interview he helps us answers some questions about the show and what went on behind the scenes.

Probably like many outside the entertainment industry, what we know of a talent agent/personal manager comes mainly from what we see on film and TV — an aggressive, usually ingratiating, business shark with a bombastic personality. So, when I had the opportunity to interview a veteran talent agent and personal manager like Larry Weiss, who worked in the industry for decades, I has half-expecting to speak to a gravely-voice, jaded, cigar-smoking, Hollywood vet who would tell me where all the skeletons are buried and preface his comments with, “Listen kid, let me tell you how it really is . . . ”

At least that’s what I was hoping.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I called Larry, the voice of a pleasant-sounding young man picked up the phone. I thought it was perhaps his personal assistant, but, to my surprise, it was Larry himself  and he did tell me how it really is.

Just back from a jaunt to Europe, Larry is retired, but still active. His career dates back well before Hot Hero Sandwich and in addition to the Harts, Dr. Cottle and Sherry Coben, he has also represented such stars like Joan Collins, John Travolta, Alan Menken, and Sarah Vaughan (links to IMDb profiles], among many others too numerous to mention. Along the way he also discovered a quirky club performer named Andy Breckman who would go on to write for Hot Hero Sandwich, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and create a little show called Monk.

Larry took the time to share with me some background on how the Harts got involved with Hot Hero Sandwich and why it came to an end. We also discuss Andy Breckman and Dr. Tom Cottle, learn about what a personal manager actually does, hear about who of some of his clients were and discover that NBC’s Standards and Practices had problems with rocker Rex Smith’s bulge.

There’s always a story behind the story in Hollywood, and those stories often begin in the office of a talent agent or personal manager. You may not have heard of Larry Weiss before, but his work has been on screen for decades. Larry gives us a peek behind the Hot Hero curtain, so let’s get the tour started!

[Editorial Note: Hot Hero Sandwich was a keystone project part of NBC's 1979 Year of the Child public service campaign, an effort in response to the U.S. Government request for more positive children-oriented programming. Articles and promotional material from that campaign appear throughout this article.]

Hot Hero Sandwich publicity photo from the NBC Year of the Child 
promotional booklet (1979, pg. 6). 

Bruce and Carole and Tom and Larry

Ae13U: First, I was doing some research and I have to ask. Are you any relation to Lou Weiss, chairman emeritus of the William Morris Agency who passed away in 2019 at 101?

Larry Weiss: I'm not, although when we were both at William Morris, because I was an agent at William Morris as well, we used to get each other's mail, but that’s about it.

Ae13U: It was quite the coincidence, so I had to ask. To set the stage, so to speak, can you explain for us the roll of talent agent and what they do?

Larry Weiss: First of all, when I represented the Harts, I wasn't a talent agent. I was a personal manager but prior to that, I was a talent agent at William Morris, or what used to be William Morris . . .  now it's William Morris Endeavor. Basically, what a talent agent does is seek employment for their clients.

[Note: The William Morris Agency merged with the Endeavor Talent Agency in 2013 to become William Morris Endeavor, then just Endeavor in 2017.]

Ae13U: So, you're really proactive. It's almost like you're an employment counselor. You're going out and keeping these people working.

Larry Weiss: Exactly, yes. A talent agent’s job is to find deals for their clients and also to guide their careers and help them make decisions, etc. So, you become a real confidant.

Ae13U:  It's really a business of relationships, it sounds like.

Larry Weiss: It is . . . It is.

Ae13U: OK, because the curiosity is killing me, can you share a few names of some other people you've represented over the course of your career?

Larry Weiss: Sure, Academy Award winner Alan Menken I represented when I was an agent. I represented John Travolta, Sarah Vaughan . . .  Do you remember Rupert Holmes?

Ae13U: Oh, my gosh, yes. “The Pina Colada Song!” It’s actually on my playlist. [laughter – author’s true confession, I’m a Yacht Rock fan]

Larry Weiss: . . . Joan Collins . . . the Harts, Sherry [Coben, Hot Hero series writer] . . . but when I represented them, I was a personal manager.

Ae13U: So, what is the difference between what a talent agent does and what a personal manager does?

Larry Weiss: A personal manager is involved in all aspects of the life of the client. It works with an agent to seek employment for their clients, but an agent will represent fifty, 100 people or more [clients]. A personal manager will represent much less and has a closer personal relationship with the client. They will help them select an attorney or a finance person . . . it's a much more intimate relationship. The client will much more confide in you and, like the name says, it's very personal . . . sometimes being a shrink because, you know, a lot of artists are very insecure.

[Note from series writer Sherry Coben: The insecurity we artists have is the same most people have . . . only our self-doubts get a real workout from the unique vagaries of this casually cruel business. Rejection feels pretty personal for actors and writers; we put ourselves out there in a very vulnerable way. We audition and submit material for many jobs and are rarely hired, and when we do get a job, our work (even our looks) gets publicly criticized. We have precious little control over what happens to our work once we hand it over to a studio/editor/network. It’s very important to have someone in your corner who believes in you and your talent regardless of what the suits and various winds of fortune have on offer at any given time. That’s what managers and agents can do over the long haul of a career with all its ups and downs.]

Ae13U: It sounds like a very diverse skill set you need, but primarily it's a business of relationships and having those relationship skills is clearly important.

Larry Weiss:  Yes, an agent will have those kinds of relationships, but they're much more superficial.

June 23, 1979, NBC Year of the Child press release promoting Hot Hero Sandwich and the original start date of Oct. 20, 1979 (later moved up to Nov. 10).

Ae13U: At what point did you get involved with the Harts? Was it before Sesame Street or afterwards?

Larry Weiss:  It was after Sesame Street. . .  I knew the Harts beforehand, but I really got to know them when I became a personal manager because they were clients of the company I was in partnership with.

Ae13U: Was it around the time they were working on a documentary or news report on the Boston Desegregation Crisis [circa 1974-1976]?

Larry Weiss:  No, I didn't know them at that point.

Ae13U: I see, just trying to get the timeline straight. I understand Carole was a bit more hard-nosed when it came to business than Bruce.

Larry Weiss:  Right, but she was also, you know, very creative as well.

Hot Hero Sandwich publicity article from the NBC Year of the Child
promotional booklet (1979, pg. 5).
Ae13U: One story that Dr. Tom Cottle told me about Bruce . . .

Larry Weiss:  That's a name I haven't heard in a long time . . . great guy.

Ae13U: He is! I had a nice long conversation with Dr. Cottle and he tells one story when he was in New York with Bruce Hart at a meeting with some of the NBC executives showing them footage from the show, and one of the executives asked Bruce “Don't you think that a lot of this stuff is over the heads of these children? Bruce responded, “Yeah, it may.” The suits said, “Well, how are you going to deal with this?” Bruce Hart responded, telling the NBC executives paying his salary, “Well, we’ll just have the kids stand up and then it won't be over their heads.”

Larry Weiss: [laughter] That sounds just like Bruce!

Ae13U: What a remarkable moment in entertainment history . . . I wonder, frankly speaking, considering their very principled, and sometimes stubborn, positions, did you ever get exasperated and say to them “Just sign the contract already” or not make so much a fuss about things sometimes?

Larry Weiss: No . . . no, that was not the case with them. They had their principles and they would walk away from something if it wasn't what they wanted to do.

[Note from Sherry Coben: That’s another huge difference between agents and managers. Agents don’t consider the long game as carefully as managers. Agents often apply subtle (and not so subtle) pressure to their clients to accept deals and packaging situations that might not be all that suited to them. In my experience, managers truly represent the client in a more straightforward way. Obviously, they want to keep their relationships with production companies and networks, but the client comes first. That’s not always the case with agents.]

Ae13U: Dr. Cottle was able to give some good insight into who they were as individuals.

Article by Noel Holston in his “In Hollywood” column (1979). Early copy indicated Carl Bernstein, Penny Marshell, Kurt Vonnegut, and Rev, Jesse Jackson were slated to be interviewed by Dr. Tom Cottle, but did not appear.

Larry Weiss: As an aside, Tom Cottle was a great interviewer. He really knew, being a psychologist, he really knew how to get answers out of people that they normally wouldn't say.

Ae13U: Yes. I mean, he was talking about sex, first loves, not fitting in, being abandoned by a parent . . .

Larry Weiss: All that kind of stuff.

Ae13U: And he wasn’t exploitative about it, like the TV talk show “psychologists” today.

Larry Weiss:  No, no. He wouldn't do something like that.

Ae13U: He asked just a few guiding questions, he often wasn’t even seen on screen, and his segments were probably maybe eight minutes of the entire show, spaced throughout the episode in short segments.

Larry Weiss: They were edited because his sessions were much longer. I sat in in a number of those sessions . . . we also represented Tom.

Ae13U: Oh, really?

Larry Weiss: Yes, as a matter of fact, he did the Today Show a number of times — I'm trying to remember if it was before or after Hot Hero — on a number of different topics. Very interesting in-depth reporting on a number of different topics. I used to get up early in the morning and I'd pick them up and we'd go over to the Today Show, you know, together cause you know it was done very early [in the day].

Ae13U: Tom’s approach was the exact approach that one should take, but somehow doing TV left him a bit ostracized professionally from some of his colleagues. He was very transparent and open and honest about it, which was wonderful, but also disheartening to hear.

Larry Weiss: Yes, that was crazy.

Ae13U: I guess the Hart’s legacy is evident in how those who worked with him have been so accommodating. Dr. Cottle responded within I think twenty minutes to the email I sent him. Andy Breckman also responded just a few hours after I reached out, and they didn’t respond because of my pitch, it was because of the love and respect they continue to have for the Harts. All the Hot Hero alumni have been like that. It's a remarkable testament to the kind of people they were.

NBC Year of the Child Public Service Announcement (1979).

Mr. Breckman and the Case of the New Talent

Ae13U: Ok, let’s shift gears to Andy Breckman.

Larry Weiss: I discovered Andy Breckman.

Ae13U: Yes, Andy mentioned that. Did you just happen to walk into Folk City, where he was performing one night, or did somebody tell you to check him out?

Larry Weiss: I read a very small review of him in a weekly Variety.  It was a small little blurb and then I went to see him . . . and I introduced him to Bruce and Carol.

Andy Breckman at Folk City promo poster, circa 1979 or 1980, according to Breckman.

Ae13U: It’s a classic Hollywood story of getting discovered, and Andy acknowledges how important that moment was in his career.

Larry Weiss: He was just an amazing talent. It's a shame that he didn't pursue his live career, but he was very good.

Ae13U: In our interview, Andy diminishes his performance abilities a little bit.

Larry Weiss: I'm sure he does.
                                                                                                                              Circa 1980.
Ae13U: His performances are just so wonderful. They’re so sincere and not just only capture the energy of adolescence but the songs have layers of meaning. “Tommy Two” and “My Friend Bernie” seem at first just funny songs about a boy who builds a robot friend and the other about a game of hide and seek that never ends, but there’s really a sadder tone underneath them. They’re songs about loneliness [in the former] and how friends move apart [in the latter].

I would love to hear him write some sequels to those songs or some new stuff, but I think those days are behind him. [Note: See the above links for articles and videos for the songs.]

Larry Weiss: Yeah, I can't see him doing that.

Ae13U: It just feels like he left unfinished business in terms of not going on with his performance career.

Larry Weiss: I agree with you.

Ae13U: Well, hope springs eternal.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 11: Andy Breckman and the Hot Hero Band performing
"Here We Come and There We Go," the last performance in the last episode of the series.

Larry Weiss: You left out one very, very important thing . . . the Puberty Fairy!

Ae13U: Oh, how could I forget! The Puberty Fairy is one of the most surreal elements of the show, and a fan-favorite of course. I don't want to get too psychological, but the Puberty Fairy is like a manifestation of a teenage Id. Sherry Coben created the character specifically for Andy, and there really is no one who could have done the character justice like he did.

Larry Weiss: How they got this hairy, bearded guy into a tutu . . .

[Note from Sherry Coben: I would never have written the character had Andy not been there to play it. No one else had all that facial hair not to mention all that body hair. And that voice. I mean, come on. He’s a natural comic force. And he never balked at all at the costume. Not once. He knew it was perfect.]

Ae13U: [laughter] Well, it was the 70s! And Andy is kind of a tall guy.

Larry Weiss: Yeah, he is.

Ae13U: You're not going to miss him in a pink tutu.

Larry Weiss: But it was just so unlikely . . .

Ae13U: Yet that is what made the character so memorable after so many years and no video releases. It underscores just how important it is to match the right person with the right part, and in this case the right pink tutu!

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 7: The Puberty Fairy Strikes!

Cancellation Insights and Rex Smith’s Bulge

Ae13U: Alright, to pick your mind a little bit. You’ve kicked around the industry for a long time. You knew the Harts, knew people on both sides of the table. In your opinion, why do you think the show didn’t get a second season? On one hand, NBC spent a lot of money on the show, which would lead one to think they wanted it to succeed.

On the other hand, however, they seemed to do what they could to kill it off. They scheduled it at 11 AM Saturday mornings, and was also broadcast at 12 Noon in some markets, when it would be pre-empted by sporting events, sold ads for children’s toys much younger than the actual demographic, no merchandising at all, and when they gave the Harts two and half minutes on air for Andy Breckman to perform at the 1979 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they failed to even mention the name of the show. NBC seemed to have little interest in the show once it got on the air. Maybe I’m projecting a little, but what do you think are some of the factors that led to the show not getting a second season?

TV Guide post-mortem of Hot Hero Sandwich, March, 29, 1980.

Larry Weiss: Well, I think that first of all . . . look at the time slot.  I mean, it was ridiculous. What teenagers are home watching television at that time?  Maybe you don't know this, the reason that Hot Hero Sandwich existed was because NBC had made a commitment to the government that they would do a show geared towards that age group.  If I'm not mistaken, NBC went to the Harts

Ae13U: Really?

Larry Weiss: I think so. I mean, this was one hundred years ago, so who remembers? I'm pretty sure I know that was the reason — who came to who, I'm not sure. The best recollection is that they [NBC] came to the Harts, but I could be wrong.

Ae13U: If NBC was willing to spend over $1,000,000 in 1979 dollars on the show [$4,202,603.31 in 2023], it does seem that someone lit a fire under them to get the show on the air, so I can believe that.

Larry Weiss: Oh, that I'm sure of. NBC made a commitment to the government they would put on an educational show like this.

Ae13U: Despite all that, the show managed remarkable moments on television. I’m thinking of Jarett Smithwrick’s “n-word” monologue in Episode 5 [written by Richard Camp]. That must have aired about 11:30 AM on a Saturday morning. Do you recall the Harts having to fight NBC to get that on the air?

Larry Weiss: No, I honestly don't. The only thing I remember with Standards and Practices . . . was when Rex Smith was on. They made him change pants because his bulge was showing.

Ae13U: [laughter] I am definitely going to include that in the article!

Larry Weiss:  I was there . . . I saw it.

Ae13U: That is a classic Rock and Roll story!

Larry Weiss: And believe me . . . only Standards and Practices would notice anything like that because I was there with other people and no one thought anything of it. I'm not putting down Rex Smith’s “manhood,” but it wasn’t anything, you know, major. The guy put on his pants and this is what he looks like.

[Note: Sherry Coben notes the incident was a bit more obvious than Weiss reports and that she has to take full credit for getting Standards and Practices involved in that little adventure. During rehearsal, Coben was in the control room next to Jane Crowley, the show representative from Standards and Practices. Coben saw that Rex Smith’s skin-tight shiny white leggings (which he originally wore) were VERY revealing and not appropriate for a quality children’s television show. Consequently, there was no conflict with Crowley on that point when she asked for a costume change. However, Coben noted that Crowley may not have noticed it had Coben not mentioned it, however very obvious it was.]

Ae13U: Well, Rex still has his fans. I have a lot of clips from the series posted on the Hot Hero Sandwich Central YouTube channel, and all of the music performances, but once I put up both of Rex Smith’s performances they quickly shot up to the top two spots in the most frequently watched videos. Though, I have to remind myself, those teenagers are grandparents now.

Rocker Rex Smith and the Hot Hero Band performing “Tonight.”

A Word from the Weiss

Ae13U: I like to wrap up the interviews with some advice for the next generation. We’ve gotten some great advice from actors and writers, but from the perspective of a talent agent and personal manger, — and particularly those interested in that side of the industry — what advice or words of wisdom could you pass on?

Larry Weiss: Start at the bottom and work your way up. It's the best education.

Ae13U: It's interesting you say that because Louis Weiss, the chairman emeritus of the William Morris Agency who I mentioned at the beginning of our interview, as I was reading his obituary it also mentioned that very thing. He started at the bottom.

Larry Weiss: Yes, he did. I saw him a few years before he died. He was a classy gentleman agent that does not exist anymore.

Ae13U: His obituary mentioned that he started off as a $12 a week office boy and worked his way up.

Larry Weiss: So did I . . . so did almost everybody else.

Ae13U: I have to wonder, who does, or wants to do, that anymore? But it must give one the broadest exposure to the business and gives an intimate insight into how things get done behind the scenes.

Larry Weiss: The William Morris model was you start in the mail room. You delivered the mail. You do a lot of grunt work, but in doing all that you get to read memos. You get to absorb some information by doing that. That was back in the day . . . and I think there may not be mail room personnel anymore, but they start on someone’s desk. Everything was . . . I don't know how old you are, but ditto and mimeo . . .

Ae13U: Oh, I’m old enough to remember the sweet smell and warm touch of fresh mimeograph paper!

Larry Weiss: Yes . . . and ditto was the purple one . . . it printed things purple on white [Note: Mimeographs printed with black ink, dittos used purple ink] to send things out worldwide because remember, William Morris was all over the world at that time. And you got to read these memos and Telexes, and all that kind of stuff, which you know now with email, you may not have access to. It was how you learned or . . . being a messenger and going to different people’s houses.

An old friend of mine who was a very successful agent, he would pick up clothes from Joan Crawford's closet, I mean one of the few people I know that was ever in Joan Crawford's closet! [laughter]

Ae13U: [laughter] And lived to tell the tale!

Larry Weiss: So, you got a vast overview of the business. Then you went on someone’s desk [an agent a new employee would work for] and at that time there was a listening device on every telephone, so when the agent was on the phone, you could hear the conversation. It was only the hearing part. It wasn't a full telephone and so that's how you learned. Then while you're on that person's desk, you start to look at contracts. You hear them negotiate.

Ae13U: It really is a long-term apprenticeship.

Larry Weiss: It is. I always say that I got my master’s degree at William Morris — because they wouldn't hire you unless you were a college graduate.

Ae13U: And then they start you on the bottom.

Larry Weiss: And they start you on the bottom because it was a tried and true way of learning.

Ae13U: Well, that is, I think, one of the most important lessons I think we can share with the readers, so I'm really happy to hear that perspective, and I quite agree with it. Start at the bottom and you learn where all the skeletons are buried, I guess.

Larry Weiss: Well, it's not only that, but let's say you want to be in production. you ultimately want to be a producer, you start, as you know, an AP [associate producer], you learn as much as you can and then hopefully after that, you know, from being an assistant to somebody on the next project you move up the ranks and then you go from there.

Ae13U: Words for the wise indeed. Thank you for your time Larry. I think we learned a lot today and filled in more of the Hot Hero picture.

NBC President Fred Silverman in a Jan. 18, 1980, NY Times article defends NBC’s record of children’s programming against FCC criticism, even touting Hot Hero Sandwich, which would air its last episode one week later on Jan. 26, 1980. The show had already been cancelled.

Concluding Thoughts

“If you want to be star of stage and screen, look out! It’s rough and mean.”  AC/DC, “It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Want to Rock and Roll.”

Larry notes how insecure actors are. Being an actor must one of the most ego-busting exercises a person can willingly put themselves through. The old saying that actors must learn to deal with rejection is no toss-away comment. It’s a fact of life and they have to go through that with every single audition and it applies to musicians and writers as well.

When actors get turned down for a roll, they are often told, “they're just not right for the part,” yet the truth can be much more personal. They’re told they're too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, not skinny enough, their voice is wrong, they have the wrong “look,” or, worse, they just don’t like your acting. Then, if you do get the part, you have to survive the critics and commentators saying pretty much the same things about you all over again. It can be soul-crushing, and into all of this enters the personal manager.

I am reminded of the 1983 film, The Dresser, with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, about a vaunted, but egotistical, British stage actor whose career and fading talents are propped up by the efforts of his long-time dresser, who effectively serves as the actor’s personal manager. Without the dresser’s efforts, the actor would not be able to give his stirring performances in King Lear. Those performances are as much the Dresser’s as they are the actor’s. It is a symbiotic relationship.

Consequently, personal managers are valuable human infrastructure in the entertainment industry. Part agent, part confidant, part psychologist, and often one of the few people the actor can trust, personal managers help the actor focus on their art by managing everything from the minutia to the massive egos. In that respect, being a personal manager is not simply a matter of business, it is also as much a creative effort as any artist.

Not a lot of people can do that, and do it well, and Larry Weiss did it for a long time. So, while you may not have heard his name before, just turn on the television, the radio, or look at the silver screen. 

He's been there all along. 

Larry Weiss (left) and Bruce Hart (right), circa early 1990s (courtesy Sherry Coben).

●             ●             ●

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Voyager Spacecraft Golden Record

by G. Jack Urso
From the Ae13U NASA TV YouTube Channel.

NASA’s Voyager spacecraft “Golden Record,” which went to space onboard Voyagers I and II in 1977, is an audio and video collection of sounds, music, photographs, and greetings. As noted by Carl Sagan, “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space.”

“The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.

“Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form.”

“The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per minute. It contains the spoken greetings, beginning with Akkadian, which was spoken in Sumer about six thousand years ago, and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect. Following the section on the sounds of Earth, there is an eclectic 90-minute selection of music, including both Eastern and Western classics and a variety of ethnic music. Once the Voyager spacecraft leave the solar system (by 1990, both will be beyond the orbit of Pluto), they will find themselves in empty space. It will be forty thousand years before they make a close approach to any other planetary system. As Carl Sagan has noted, "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”

“The definitive work about the Voyager record is "Murmurs of Earth" by Executive Director, Carl Sagan, Technical Director, Frank Drake, Creative Director, Ann Druyan, Producer, Timothy Ferris, Designer, Jon Lomberg, and Greetings Organizer, Linda Salzman.”

Please visit the following NASA links for a complete track list of images, music, sounds, and greetings on the Voyager Golden Record:


Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Hot Hero Sandwich — Off-Stage with Cast Member Denny Dillon

by G. Jack Urso

Denny Dillon bursts into Hot Hero Sandwich jogging along in her signature red track suit and brilliant smile in what is a perfect analogy for her career.

Trying to keep up with Denny, even when writing about her, will leave you winded. The stereotypical trope of young actors working as waiters and in other odd jobs before their “big break” doesn’t really apply to Denny. Before Hot Hero Sandwich, Denny was already busy in the business. She kicked things off in the 1974 revival of Gypsy starring Angela Lansbury followed by the 1975 revival of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, the same year she appeared in a season 1 episode of Saturday Night Live with her comedy act partner Mark Hampton and followed up in 1977 with an appearance in Saturday Night Fever as one of John Travolta’s more enthusiastic dance floor admirers, then Hot Hero Sandwich in 1979.

And that’s just the first six years of a career that spans five decades.

After Hot Hero Sandwich Dillon landed a roll in the 1980 stage version of Harold and Maude, joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for the 1980-1981 season and, of course, Dream On on HBO with Brian Benben and Wendie Malick, for which she won a CableACE Award.

In arranging the interview, which we rescheduled several times, I had to navigate a calendar packed with auditions, headshots, deadlines for her memoirs, meeting with her agent, and, oh yes, a film release (Paint with Owen Wilson). Oddly, it made me feel, even if just as an observer, part of the energy of the industry.

In our interview, Denny takes us up to speed on her road to Studio 8H, we take a look backstage at the series, and we talk about how the industry has changed since then.

There’s a lot of road to cover, so put on your running shoes and try to keep up!

An Actor’s Life

Ae13U: Unlike the other cast members, Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center where Hot Hero Sandwich was filmed was not exactly new territory for you was it?

Denny Dillon: I have been there one time previous in 1975. I was on the third program ever as a guest star on Saturday Night Live [with comic partner Mark Hampton]. So, then when in 1979 when Hot Hero Sandwich was there, it was just joyous to be there again, and a lot of a lot of the men on the floor . . . the lighting guys and a lot of those people did Saturday Night Live, so that was all great too. I loved that.

[Note: Some of the crew, like production designer Akira Yoshimura are still there as of this writing.]

I discovered the power of television. Because the show aired at 11:00 AM — I was living in Manhattan and I just went out after watching it — it was terrific — and was recognized on the street three times! So, that was exciting.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 5 Opening Credits.

Ae13U: That first image of you running along in the red jumpsuit struck such an iconic opening, I think for a lot of fans, absent of any video releases of the series, it remained one of the few images we carried from the show for so many years. 

Denny Dillon: I'm glad you remember it. It was an amazing program that the Harts created and all of it was excellent . . . the writing . . . my personal favorite magical things where the animation of dreams. I just thought that was just so stunning, and with having a child narrate it too, and then the amazing animators they had . . .  it was so ahead of its time . . . and then it won Emmys and I was just so perplexed. Why did NBC cancel it? But, you know, I don't run network, so . . .

Ae13U: The animation by Jerry Lieberman and his studio is just so fantastic — A bit psychedelic and so unlike the typical Saturday morning animation at the time. It really turned me on as a kid to explore other kinds of animation styles. I’m not sure how they selected the children or got them to discuss their dreams. Unfortunately, Jerry Lieberman passed away in 2017, so the opportunity to find out more may have been lost. I plan to do an article or two on that in the future and hopefully can find out more.

The show’s graphic designer (and for Saturday Night Live) Bob Pook and director Tom Trbovich also both passed away this year, so we’ve lost some amazing people and a little bit of Hot Hero history we may not be able to recover.

Denny Dillon: I'm sorry to hear that. He [Tom] was a lovely man. I remember him quite well.

Episode 5 Captain Hero segment with Denny Dillon, Adam Ross (Captain Hero), 
and a greased-up Matt McCoy.

Ae13U: Did you have any kind of formal training as an actor? A particular program, mentor, or workshops were you developed your skill set?

Denny Dillon: I didn't do workshops . . .  I mean . . . well once — again I just get into it so much in my book — but I was always into acting . . . I grew up in the Midwest and I moved to New York. I was very fortunate, got in a Broadway show after being there [a few] weeks. Before Hot Hero Sandwich, I'd been in two Broadway shows, Gypsy with Angela Lansbury, and The Skin of Our Teeth, with Elizabeth Ashley. That was 75. And then I was fortunate enough to be on the first season . . . third episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975 . . .  and then I was doing theater.

So, where was my training? I went to Syracuse University and I was in the drama department, but it really wasn't so much there. I was hired to be in several plays at Syracuse Repertory Theater, which were professionals from New York, but I I've been acting, just not in, not in professional way for a long time.

Ae13U: You were really busy though.

Denny Dillon: I was, yes, I was very fortunate.

Ae13U: It seems like if Hot Hero Sandwich didn’t come along your schedule would still have been pretty busy.

NY Post 10.19.79
Denny Dillon: Yes, perhaps you're right . . . that is sweet of you. I was lucky. I was getting work in the theater . . . I was doing comedy in New York, not at nightclubs, but characters . . .  but Hot Hero was my first television series. And like I said, I was sort of blindsided when it was taken off the air because it was so good. I never understood why.  I thought maybe it was so expensive.

[Note: According to Tom Shales in his review of Hot Hero Sandwich in The New York Times, Nov. 10, 1979, an unnamed network executive reported that production costs for the series totaled over US$1 million, approximately US$3,424,479 in 2020].

Ae13U: Shifting gears a bit, I understand you spent some time in the Philippines during the Marcos regime. It is just too intriguing for me not to ask you if you could share something about that.

Denny Dillon: What I will share is yes, I was when I was 16 years old . . . We, my family, we moved to the Philippines, but I'm in the midst of now finishing up a book, a memoir called Two Tickets to Calamity . . . and I go into it in that book. I'd rather wait . . .

Ae13U: Fair enough. The child actor from the show, Adam Ross, who played Captain Hero as well as your character’s little brother in several segments, currently editor of The Sewanee Journal [a literary journal], is also working on a novel based in part on his experiences as a child actor, so it will be interesting for fans to read a bit more directly from our Hot Heroes in the next year or so.

Episode 4 Phone Friends segment.

Now, on with the Show!

Ae13U: Can you tell me a little bit about what your day was like on the show, shooting schedules, things like that?

Denny Dillon: Did anyone tell you how late we worked into the night?

Ae13U: Everyone spoke about the long days! I was interested in how that affected the Ym and Ur sketches. Jarett Smithwrick and Michael Longfield both noted that filming could go into the early morning hours and so segments highlighting just one or two characters would be filmed at the end of the day [the early morning actually] so as to allow everyone else to go home. However, with all that makeup you and Paul O’Keefe had to wear, it must have taken so long to put on and take off. It’s hard to imagine they would keep you late for those segments.

All Ym and Ur Segments.

Denny Dillon: Yeah, they were space teenagers and we have bald pates . . . I remember the woman who did our makeup. Her name was Barbara Kelly, she was the daughter of Bob Kelly, I believe he founded a makeup company.

[Note: Some of makeup artist Barbara Kelly’s later credits include Fame (the movie), Three Men and a Baby, Birdy, Desperately Seeking Susan, Big, Tootsie, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Star Dust Memories, Ragtime, and many more. Her father, Bob Kelly, was a renowned Broadway wig maker and founded Bob Kelly Cosmetics, a theatrical supply company.]

But it was, you know, they had put on purple on our faces and bald pates, so it was a three-hour makeup job and that was an interesting thing . . .  she made it as painless as possible, but once we got under the lights . . . fortunately, he [Paul O’Keefe] and I were a good team, you know.

Ae13U: Yes, you and Paul played off each other wonderfully in those sketches.

Denny Dillon: We were. He was a pro and I was a pro. You know, when you're in the theater, you got to remember your lines and all that stuff, but they had to shoot that pretty fast because the lights would start to heat up . . . that was a particularly challenging filming experience because a lot of our filming went way, way into 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM.

Ae13U: You were busy working in New York after Hot Hero Sandwich. Did you ever run into Bruce and Carole Hart afterwards?

NBC publicity photo, Denny Dillon (left) as Ur and Paul O’Keefe (right) as Ym (author’s collection).

Denny Dillon: Both of them were such lovely people and I would run into them in New York . . . you know, on the street . . . sometimes when I would run into them because we kind of lived in for a while near the same neighborhood, I would be able to update them on what was going on.

Ae13U: I gather from talking with others from the show that there wasn't a lot of contact with them once production was underway, particularly after they went back to the West Coast to finish production because the facilities in New York weren’t quite able to handle everything. It sounds like you once you were hired they weren't really working too much with the actors at that point, correct?

Denny Dillon: No, not at all. That's correct.

Ae13U: Everyone, from the Harts on down, put so much work into the series, it must have been a heartbreaker to see it end after one season.

Denny Dillon: In all your investigation, were you able to find out why NBC cancelled the series?

Ae13U: Based on my research and my conversations with Sherry Coben, Patrick McMahon, and Dr. Tom Cottle, I don't think NBC ever intended for it to run more than one season. It was a very expensive show for the network and they put it on at a time when it was guaranteed to be pre-empted by sports programming. The last episode reportedly only aired in four or five markets. The product commercials in the show were for a much younger age group than the show’s target demographic. I mean, they would go from Jarett’s n-word monologue in episode 5 to a toy commercial for pre-teens. Not exactly the age group the show was targeting.

They also didn’t do any merchandise marketing and failed to capitalize on the popularity of the Hot Hero Band and the musical guest performances. I just don’t think they knew what to do with it.

Denny Dillon: I'm sad to hear that. It was also, I really felt, truly, it was very ahead of its time . .  I mean, it had all those elements . . . Dr. Cottle was wonderful and the interviews they had with different celebrities about their adolescence . . . their honesty and vulnerability the celebrities . . . it was pretty astonishing.

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 5 “Fitting In” segment. After an intro with Michael Learned and Pam Dawber, Denny Dillon falls victim to the machinations of a makeover artist played by Claudette Sutherland (written by Sherry Coben).

Ae13U: With all those elements, the conceptual films, the sketches, the animation, the musical performances, the interviews not just with celebrities but also with teens in the “What’s In, What’s Out” segments, it gives a really good look at a specific point in time. In a way, it is a historical document as much as it is a TV series, though I’m not sure how feasible it would be to get it released on DVD with concerns over copyrighted materials in the music used on the series.

Denny Dillon:  Well, I know, I know what you're talking about, Jack. You know, I was on a show on HBO for six years, very ahead of its time, Dream On . . . every show in the world you can find, but you cannot find the show [there have been no video releases]. It was so superior, and I believe it's because of the clips from early television that were used in it . . .  The creators were, you probably know, Marta Kaufman and David Crane, who went on to create Friends, the exec producers John Landis and Kevin Bright, but it’s so frustrating. So, I know how Hot Hero Sandwich was just like one year . . . this little kind of gem in the universe . . . so I know all about doing something and people never seeing it.

Ae13U: I think that’s part of the reason why so many Hot Hero alumni have gotten together for this project. Those who’ve been involved in the show, they all know the promise of the show and they know what everybody missed by not getting that second season.

Denny Dillon: Fortunately, my career kept moving along, but it was disappointing and sad that either the time that it was on at 11 AM . . . or like you say these strange toy commercials following it and not knowing what to do with it was probably the biggest dilemma I would imagine because it was quite sophisticated. It wasn't for little children . . . but how much was it promoted? How much the network got behind it to move it forward?

Ae13U: In my conversation with Dr. Tom Cottle, he said that Bruce Hart really intended the show to run at 7:00 PM on Sunday night so parents and kids could watch together. That they put it on at 11:00 AM wasn't going to cause Bruce and Carole to compromise their vision.  They weren’t going to dumb it down for the kids because the network was pushing them in that direction.

Denny Dillon: Yes, and also you have at that time, just anybody's regular Saturday morning, if you have kids watching TV cartoons . . . by about 11:00, kids are going out and it really, really wasn't for little children.

Episode 7: All was not always laughs on Hot Hero Sandwich. Here, Denny Dillon’s character Marie, along with L. Michael Craig, helps Paul O’Keefe's character Ted deal with the passing of his grandfather, often the first death many young people face. Written by Sherry Coben.

Paying it Forward

Ae13U: Part of the mission of the Hot Hero Sandwich Project is to pass along our experience to the next generation of young people looking to pursue a career in the industry. You’ve had a long and successful career. Is there any advice you can share?

Denny Dillon: Well, you know, this is a bizarre question because first of all, I'm of a different, completely different, generation. When I moved to New York, how did I get in Gypsy the Broadway show? I went to the corner and there was a newspaper called Backstage and they were having auditions for a Broadway show, Gypsy, starring Angela Lansbury. I had an equity card because I was made a professional my last year of college, but you didn't even need to have an equity card then.  I went to the audition . . . I was number 200 . . . and ended up getting in that show.  I would say always New York was more friendly, I felt, than LA; however, some young person asked me something the other day and I thought, you need to ask someone young.

You know why? People now are influencers. They have YouTube channels. They promote themselves. I mean, I'm so old that you went to a casting director I’d have a book of photos of productions that I've been in and then I would talk, you know, one-on-one to the casting person . . . this doesn't exist anymore . . . it’s rude if you call somebody . . . and then in the old days . . . and I mean old, I mean old . . . I am old . . . [laughter]

Ae13U: [laughter] We’re all getting there . . .

Denny Dillon: In New York . . . if you wanted, you could leave a photo at the stage door in case they were having auditions.  It didn't mean that you were definitely going to get in a Broadway show.

You could see I'm more oriented towards the theater and often people see you act in the theater and then you end up being on television, but I didn’t have a clue of advice. I just find it mind-blowing.

I’m purposefully am not on social media. So, if people want to find me, they really gotta do the work, right?

Ae13U: Oh, I know that! [laughter]

Denny Dillon: You know, there's influencers and they go, “How many followers do you have?” It’s like, “What?” I mean I'm computer savvy and all that, but it's a different world. Before COVID, I would be asked once in a while to do a self-tape. Now it's all self-tape. Of course, I have an agent . . . but I wouldn't have a clue how to give advice to a young person.

Ae13U: Well, I think just that acknowledging the realities of the social media age is good advice. Be aware of the environment you're working in and know how to operate in it.

Denny Dillon: I personally I think it's sad. I'm glad I lived when I lived. When I was 35, I went out to LA because I've been at that time I've been in . . . maybe four Broadway shows. I've been told a million times, “You could probably make a lot of money in television.” I moved to LA and it didn't matter the Broadway [shows]. They were very respectful, but they wanted to see tape and so I had tape of Saturday Night Live because when our time was over on that show they were kind enough to give us some footage of our sketches. I had nothing of Hot Hero Sandwich. It was on my resume [but] no one had seen it.

And, you know, they were right. I did get some television there. Quite a bit. Then I realized I missed New York and I moved back. So, I actually live in the Hudson Valley, for 25 years now.

But it's all self-tape and when I do voiceovers, you're your own production [team].

Episode 6: In this dramatic scene, Denny Dillon’s recurring character Cathy (also from the phone friend’s segments) reveals how dysfunctional her family is and decides to run away, but with some help of her friends, and her bratty little brother (Adam Ross), discovers there are all sorts of families, and sometimes our friends are our families. Brief intro with Dr. Tom Cottle and Robert Guillaume.


Concluding Thoughts

Denny Dillon in a recent publicity photo (courtesy Denny Dillon).
Denny says she doesn’t have much advice for the next generation of actors because times have changed so much since she started out, but — with all due deference to the delightful Denny Dillon — I have to disagree. Yes, the way things get done in the industry has changed due to technology. Auditions have gone from in-person to on film, on tape, on digital video, and now on Zoom; however, in an industry succinctly summarized by actor Walter Huston, “In Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last picture,” after nearly 50 years in the industry, Denny always seems to be looking forward.

That work ethic is the best advice a promising young actor can get in any era, and the foundation for turning dreams into a career.

So, that image of Denny running in the opening credits is quite apropos of her career. You got to run to keep up, but you’ll have a good laugh while doing so.
●             ●             ●