by Herbie J Pilato
With her new book, THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: EPISODES IN MY LIFE AND CAREER AS A TELEVISION WRITER, Rita Lakin writes so well what she knows so well about.
A ground-breaking talent, Lakin was one of the first female writers who graced the behind-the-scenes of the small screen. Her first TV script, “A Candle in the Window,” an episode of Dr. Kildare, executive produced by David Victor (Marcus Welby, M.D.), was a fine precursor of what was to come:
Featuring former film star Ruth Roman, “Candle” told of the devastating loss a nurse experiences when her husband dies after she served for years as his primary caregiver. The episode also featured a young Ronny Howard, then also appearing as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, as Rowman’s young son, and was directed by Sydney Pollack (as his first credit as well, years before Out of Africa, Tootsie and Bobbie Deerfield, and countless other monumental gigs for both the big-screen and small).
As Lakin explains today, “It was my first assignment on TV. I was recently widowed and that’s why David Victor wanted me to write a story on that subject. Believe me, I knew a lot on that subject.”
Other TV assignments followed and were a diverse mix including segments of some of TV’s most beloved classics like The Invaders, Family Affair, The Mod Squad and The Rookies, Dynasty, and Nightingales, which Lakin created. The varied episodes of these series allowed for Lakin’s prolific ability and unique perspective to shine, as it did with several well-known TV-movies, which helped to define the genre, such as Hey, I’m Alive (1975), starring Sally Struthers and Ed Asner isolated in the wilderness, and A Sensitive, Passionate Man (1977), starring Angie Dickinson and David Jansen (and based on the book my Barbara Mahoney)
Lakin writes about these and so much more in THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM.
As the press release for the book relays, “Rita Lakin was a pioneer, a female scriptwriter in the early 1960s when Hollywood television was exclusively male. For years, in creative meetings, she was literally the only woman in the room. In this breezy but heartfelt remembrance, Lakin exposes us to a long-forgotten time when women were not considered worthy or welcome at the creative table.
Widowed with three young children, she talked herself into a secretarial job at Universal Studios in 1962, despite being unable to type or take dictation. But with guts, skill, and humor she rose from secretary to free-lancer, to staff writer, to producer, to executive producer and show-runner, meeting hundreds of famous and infamous showbiz legends along the way during her long and unexpected career. She introduced many women into the business and was a feminist before she even knew she was a feminist.
Unknown to the general public, she reached an audience of millions, week after week, year after year. The relevance of her personal journey, charming yet occasionally shocking, will be an eye-opener to today’s readers who take for granted the abundance of female creative talent in today’s Hollywood.
A must-read, indeed, for any aspiring, novice or veteran television writer.
Learn more about Rita and get your own copy of The Only Woman in the Room HERE
Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and the author of several classic TV companion books. He is practically a founding father of TVWriter™ and is a Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J Pilato HERE.