Anne Beatts, an original Saturday Night Live writer who created some of the show’s earliest breakthrough characters, among them the nerdy high schoolers Todd DiLaMuca and Lisa Loopner, died yesterday. She was 74.
Her death was announced in a tweet by SNL original cast member Laraine Newman. A cause of death has not been disclosed.
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Beatts, who also created the 1982 CBS sitcom Square Pegs starring Sarah Jessica Parker, began her career in comedy writing with a stint at National Lampoon magazine, becoming the Harvard Lampoon spin-off’s first female editor. She wrote one of the magazine’s most notorious spoofs – an ad for the Volkswagen Beetle that featured a photograph of the floating automobile with the copy line, “If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be President today.” Volkswagen sued, ensuring the parody’s notoriety beyond the magazine’s readership.
While at the Lampoon, she met and began a romantic relationship with writer Michael O’Donoghue, and the two would soon take part in the development of Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live.
Along with her writing partner Rosie Shuster, Beatts, during her five seasons with the show, created such foundational SNL characters as Todd DiLaMuca and Lisa Loopner (played by Bill Murray and Gilda Radner), Laraine Newman’s Shirley Temple-like Child Psychiatrist, the lecherous Uncle Roy (Buck Henry) and two of Dan Aykroyd’s greatest hits: the cartoonishly sleazy salesman Irwin Mainway and Fred Garvin, the unlikely, schlubby male prostitute.
As one of SNL‘s first female voices, Beatts often spoke of the challenges and triumphs of those years. She famously clashed with the show’s early breakout star John Belushi, saying in a 2009 TV Academy interview that her early friendship with the volatile comedian soon gave way to resentment on his part.
“I had a complex relationship with Belushi,” she said. “Initially I felt very protective of him and thought of him as this sweet, pussycat guy…” Later, she continued, Belushi got “adversarial” with the women on the show and told “Lorne he should fire the girls and refused to be in pieces that we wrote.” Despite the strained friendship, Beatts said she considered Belushi “a genius.”
In all, Beatts was Emmy-nominated five times for SNL, winning twice.
In addition to SNL, Beatts created and produced the short-lived but fondly remembered Square Pegs. In the 2009 interview, Beatts said she chose to hire a mostly female writing staff since the sitcom was focuses on the friendship of two high school girls (played by Parker and Amy Linker). “They needed to be people who had been girls in high school,” Beatts said, adding that CBS demanded she hire comedy writer Andy Borowitz as “the token guy” on the writing staff.
Beatts said she learned of the show’s cancelation by reading the news in the New York Post, but was proud of the comedy’s influence on such future high school programs as My So-Called Life and Popular. “We were the first show to bring rock and roll back to television,” she said. “We were before Miami Vice.”
After Square Pegs, Beatts co-executive-produced the first season of NBC’s A Different World and in 1995 exec-produced the syndicated The Stephanie Miller Show.
For Broadway, Beatts wrote the 1979 one-woman show Gilda Radnor – Live From New York, and rewrote early drafts of the book for the 1985 Ellie Greenwich jukebox musical Leader of the Pack. She later called her short-lived involvement in Leader of the Pack “a disaster” that made her “long for the creative freedom of network television.”
Her year producing A Different World, The Cosby Show spin-off starring Lisa Bonet, was also was “very difficult,” she said. “I think that it was hard working with a star who was kind of getting down with her funky self and falling in love with Lenny Kravitz during that period of time. Her hours didn’t accord well with the production of a network television show.”
In 2006, Beatts co-directed/produced the series John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You with her writing and producing partner Eve Brandstein for their B-Girls Productions. Among pilots Beatts and Brandstein wrote and produced were Julie Brown: The Show and The Belles of Bleeker Street. Pending new projects were The Girl In The Room (about women in professional comedy) and The Funny Boys (Life at The National Lampoon).
Beatts reportedly was involved in the development of a new Blues Brothers project with Aykroyd and Judy Belushi, John Belushi’s widow. She was an Adjunct Professor in the Writing Division at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, as well as at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
She is survived by daughter Jaylene Beatts, sister Barbara, brother Murray, and nieces Kate and Jennifer.
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