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March 16, 1990 - Image 76

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-03-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I ENTERTAINMENT

Debt Defying.

Full Circle

Continued from preceding page

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was the greatest thing I ever
studied," Burnstein explains.
"If you read them, you would
love to write them!"
However, after graduating
from U-M, Burnstein, newly
married, traveled to the
University of Wisconsin to
begin law school. On his way
there, he says, "I was already
saying, 'What am I doing?
This is not what I want.' "
During Burnstein's first
legal writing assignment, he
quoted Lady Macbeth to prove
that someone could collect
damages for emotional pain
and suffering. "The teachers
thought it was great stuff,"
Burnstein says. "But for me,
I'm trying to somehow sneak
Shakespeare in there."
Burnstein left Wisconsin
before the end of his first year.
He returned to U-M, where he
earned a master's degree in
English, with the intent of
moving on to the Ph.D. pro-
gram. The question that
plagued him, and the English
Department, was what good is
a Ph.D. in English in the real
world? The answer was not
much. So in 1974, Burnstein
declared his academic career
closed.
"Just making that decision,
finally breaking out of school,
it's like, somehow you're being
rewarded for doing what you
want to do," Burnstein says.
"Everything I tried started to
work!"
Detroit's Jewish Communi-
ty Council had a grant from
the Institute for Jewish Life to
produce a 30-minute
Chanukah story for television.
Burnstein submitted a script
about a young corporate
lawyer ("which shows you
where my mind was," Burns-
tein says) who takes in a
homeless man during
Chanukah. His script was
chosen and the drama was
aired.
"It wasn't a lot of money;'
Burnstein says. "But what the
hell, the first thing you write
is going to be syndicated na-
tionally, and all this publicity
— this is easy. Who would've
thought it would be this easy."
But Burnstein soon found
out that writing drama profes-
sionally was not that easy.
He supported himself with
various freelance writing pro-
jects for several years, in-
cluding advertising and
magazine writing. But he was
a dramatist at heart. "Every-
time I'd do an article, I'd see
a screenplay," he says.
Meanwhile, Burnstein found
a job with North-
wood Institute, teaching
Shakespeare at Selfridge. "I
always wanted to teach
Shakespeare to somebody
whom you didn't think you
could teach Shakespeare to!'

The classes have since been
opened to the public and are
no longer offered exclusively
to the air base's personnel.
Burnstein also teaches on-site
at a Ford plant.
When Burnstein decided to
tackle Hollywood, he went
through his cousin, who is Ed
Asner's lawyer. Burnstein
wrote a script for the "Mary
Tyler Moore Show" and sent
it to Asner.
"Ed liked it," says Burns-
tein. However, "my timing's
impeccable. It was the last
season of the show!'
Burnstein wrote another
script for Asner's next show,
"Lou Grant." Again Asner lik-
ed it. But another Hollywood
trap thwarted Burnstein's
hopes: the show had a contract
with union writers and ac-
cepted no outside scripts.
Burnstein then tried to
write a TV movie for Asner.
Although the script was never
bought, it did earn Burnstein
his first agent. Then the agent

When Burnstein
decided to tackle
Hollywood, he
went through his
cousin, who is Ed
Asner's lawyer.

took a job with a production
company. It took Burnstein a
year to land another.
"Now I realize the truth
about Hollywood," Burnstein
says. "The hardest thing is
getting an agent."
The original "Learn to Fall"
script, written as a TV movie,
earned Burnstein his second
agent. The script was soon op-
tioned by the Raystar Com-
pany, which made a deal with
CBS to air it. Timothy Hutton
agreed to play the lead.
Negotiations with Hutton
lagged, and when he was
finally offered the money he
had originally asked for, Hut-
ton, through his new agent,
announced that he no longer
did TV work. Without Hutton,
CBS would not close its deal.
"Learn to Fall," fell.
a
got
"Everybody's
Hollywood story like that,"
Burnstein says. "But when it
happens to you, you don't
know what the hell hit you."
Burnstein began rewriting
the script as a play. "Learn to
Fall' is based on a childhood
friend of Burnstein's — the
now-famous Buffo the Clown
— who dropped out of school to
attend clown college. It was
recently optioned again and
may yet become a TV movie.
Burnstein met another
Detroit-based writer, Kurt
Luedtke, before the first
"Learn to Fall' TV deal
collapsed.

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