LB: RIP Mort Sahl and Joanna Cameron

by Larry Brody

During the past couple of weeks, two shoebiz people I knew – sort of – passed away without getting much attention from the press for doing so.

The first was Joanna Cameron, an actress remembered primarily for a ’70s kid show called The Secret of Isis.

The second was Mort Sahl, one of the fathers and best known practitioners of in-your-face-political-stand-up comedy.

I met Joanna five or six times during her Isis days, and all of those times we were at parties. Someone would grab me and pull me over to meet her, or grab her and bring her over to meet me.

Joanna would look at me blankly, in a preoccupied or puzzled way, and say, “Hi, glad to meet you.”

I would look at her and instantly feel terrified by her beauty and shocked at her blankness and say, “Hummina hummina hummina.”

That’s all I could say. I was so overwhelmed by her looks that nothing else would emerge. For about five minutes would stand with whomever had brought us together, usually a host trying to do the right thing, and listen to him or her tell us all about each other and why we were worthy of being at the party, and then, when our host found another duty to perform across the room, we would smile and drift our separate ways.

I met Mort many, many times at the World Book and Newsstand, which occupied the primo corner of Cahuenga Canyon and Hollywood Blvd. in the heart of a sadly deteriorating Hollywood. It was long after his salad days and the beginning of mine (for the record, mine made up a much smaller and less luminous salad.)

No one introduced us. We would simply find each other standing at the same magazine rack, usually filled with political or underground mags, where we would look over what was available and each would give the other his opinion regarding what to read.

No names or credits were exchanged. We just felt easy together and yakked away.

“Do you believe this pompous twit is still shooting his mouth off?” Mort would say about William F. Buckley.

“Do you believe this one’s still making his living yakking at Dick Cavett?” I would say about Gore Vidal.

We’d each pick a dozen or so magazines (and comic books for me) and walk off into the alley adjoining the newsstand, where each of us, as known and “preferred” customers had parked, and drive our separate ways.

Over the years I’ve thought about that part of my life a fair bit, wondering why it was so easy to talk to Mort, one of the most clued-in – and condescending – people I knew, and so difficult to even be in the same room with Joanna, one of the least clued-in – and way too uncomfortable to ever even fake condescension – people I’d ever met.

Ah well. As a certain politically oriented, ground-breaking comedian used to say (to me at the newsstand), “They’re both well out of it now.”

In other words:

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.