Goodbye to a Mentor

I was shocked earlier today to hear the news that Stephen J. Cannell, prolific television series creator and author, has passed away from cancer.

Last year I had the chance to meet Mr. Cannell at book signing for his Shane Scully novel, “On The Grind“.

That day at my local library, I was feeling especially low about my prospects as a writer.

After a fantastic talk with details about his journey from being a dyslexic child to creator of such shows as The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, and The A-Team, I wanted to ask Mr. Cannell if he had any suggestions for a better way to query agents with my own writing.

I waited until the entire line had gotten their autographs and no one waited to distract, then I walked up to Mr. Cannell, a Hollywood legend by anyone’s standards, and I boldly asked him my question.

What followed was not just an answer, but an almost thirty minute long conversation in which Mr. Cannell was supportive, asked questions, gave advice, mentored, guided and encouraged me.

At the end of the conversation, when his handlers were pushing him out the door, he took out a piece of paper and wrote down a phone number. He told me to call his office to schedule a continuation to the conversation.

I was beyond geeked out that he would be so generous. I tried calling and spoke with his admin several times, but given Mr. Cannell’s crazy hectic schedule, I was never able to speak with him again. No matter, the thirty minutes he spent with me will resonate forever.

Today I’m a bit saddened as I say goodbye to an intensely creative and prolific man who is, in many ways, both hero and mentor to me.

The best way I can honor him is to just keep writing.

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  • Anji

    How many times have we seen his name on the TV Screen?

    My husband tried to tell me someone else (besides Tony Curtis) had died, but couldn't remember who.

    Your post is a lovely tribute to him – keep writing!

  • Elise

    Hollywood is typically all about that old saying, "The higher a monkey climbs, the better you see his ass."

    Apparently, this man was an exception to that rule. I have so much respect (and admiration) for people who achieve great success and still feel compelled to mentor. Making such a positive impact on young people's lives is the most awesome legacy a person can leave.

    Thanks for sharing that. :-)

  • Karen Fayeth

    Anji – I know, it's amazing how many shows Cannell was responsible for over the years. Many of my favorites from childhood.

    I love that now iconic end to his shows depicting him smoking a pipe, typing, then ripping the paper out of the typewriter. He even mentioned that in his talk with a laugh.

    He was a rare fellow. I'm still a bit sad.

  • Karen Fayeth

    Elise – As part of the conversation, Cannell mentioned that when he was starting out, he'd finagled through a friend to get a script in front of a powerful exec.

    That exec told him not only was his script bad, but that he'd never make it in the business.

    So from that, he said he vowed to himself to NEVER say that kind of thing to an aspiring writer.

    That incident could have made him hard, but he chose the other route. I have huge amounts of respect for that.

  • Amanda

    Karen, I am here from Jamie's blog. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.He was a very special person. RIP Stephen. Hope you're feeling better too:) Amanda x

  • PattiKen

    Hi, Karen. I'm another here from Jamie's place. I love your story about Stephen Cannell. It's wonderful when someone who's "made it" takes a little time to encourage newbie. It can make all the difference, can't it?

  • Karen Fayeth

    Hi Amanda! I recognize your name from Jamie's blog!

    Welcome! And thanks for the good thoughts, I'm feeling a lot better but not yet 100%.

  • Karen Fayeth

    PattiKen – Welcome! Thanks for your comment and your thoughts on Mr. Cannell. It sure does make a difference!

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