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Why Our Favorite TV Girls – From ‘Golden to Gilmore’ – Adore Screenwriter Stan Zimmerman

By Debra Wallace

Hollywood, CA. — (The Hollywood Times) 5/11/2024 — As a boy growing up in a small suburb near Detroit, Michigan, Stan Zimmerman envisioned a big acting career that would earn him enough money to purchase a mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

While his acting aspirations didn’t quite pan out, Zimmerman adjusted his sights a bit, and found success as an award-winning TV writer, producer, director, and playwright, working on such hit shows as The Golden Girls, Roseanne, and Gilmore Girls.

He grew up surrounded by three strong, intelligent women; his mother, his grandmother, and his sister. All of them supported his imagination and creativity.

He spent time in his basement directing and acting in plays with the neighborhood kids. At seven-and-a-half years old, he was the youngest student accepted into a prestige summer theater school program.

After high school, he was awarded a work-study scholarship to New York City’s Circle in the Square, where he met his first serious boyfriend and became Andy Warhol’s unwitting photo subject One Night at Studio 54.

He also met Jim Berg, a journalism student at NYU’s University Without Walls, thus forming a writing partnership that continues to this day. Their latest project is naturally an all-star, female ensemble Christmas comedy movie for Lifetime!

Throughout his life, most of Zimmerman’s friendships have been with women. He credits those friendships and the women in his family with his ability to connect with creative women who have played a pivotal part in his career success.

Accompanied by journal entries, his new book, The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore, (Indigo River Publishing), details Zimmerman’s relationships with some of entertainment’s most notable women, including Lily Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard, Lauren Graham, and Alexis Bledel, and, of course, all four of the iconic Golden Girls; Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty.

“The funny thing, the dream and the reality are not that far apart, and that’s why I stress for young people to never stop dreaming and not just save the dreaming for when you’re asleep but when you’re awake,” Zimmerman recently explained. “I just had an extremely vivid imagination. I created my TV network in my bedroom, and I also created plays in my basement and would talk the neighborhood kids into being in them.”

Stan, please tell me about the highlights of working on Gilmore Girls.

Stan Zimmerman: I was very excited and honored that [show creator] Amy Sherman-Palladino invited Jim and I to be on staff there.  She had had issues with past writers and not being able to keep anybody on staff that she liked. We met Amy on Roseanne and instantly fell in love with her, not only for her fishnets and her hats but also for her genius and her mind. She also covered her desk with about a thousand candles and lit them all, and that’s how she worked.

We were on staff at Roseanne and there were about 21 writers, but Amy was really special, and had such a unique voice, especially for Darlene. She took a liking to us and would grab us when we would split into different groups because the staff was so large, and we stayed in touch with her all through the years. And then for some reason on season five of Gilmore she called us and said, “Come to the Chateau Marmont,” and that was all I needed to get my car and run over there not knowing what she wanted.

But she wanted us to leave development for a year and go on staff there, and so we said yes.  And then at that time, there were no DVDs or you couldn’t watch the show online, so about five boxes of video cassettes came and for the weekend I sat there, ate, and watched the show.

I had only seen the pilot and maybe a couple of episodes and fell madly in love with all of the characters. I knew it would be something I could write because I had an extremely strong grandmother, mother, and sister, and it kind of paralleled, the relationship between Emily (Kelly Bishop), Lorelai (Lauren Graham), and Rory (Alexis Bledel).

The Cast of Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls features three of my favorite TV characters. As a writer for the show and as an admirer, why do you think the show is still popular and becoming a go-to for new generations of viewers?

You know, The New York Times said that Gilmore Girls was the sixth-watched show last year, and this is a show that’s been off for more than 20 years?

I think it has such a unique voice. Amy loved those fast-talking Rosalind Russell movies, so you can feel that influence there. What Amy also did which was very unique, and I’ve taken that to other shows, is that she would plant a little seed in an early episode and it would suddenly grow into full stories.  When you think of Logan, we meet him just in a little spurt, and then suddenly he becomes more entwined in Rory’s life. And that’s kind of how life is, and I really admire her storytelling, and it’s very unique and unusual as far as hour shows.

Also usually in an hour show, you would start a storyline and end it within that episode, and she had much more serialized stories, which are also more like real life.

A Book That Provides a Trip Down Memory Lane

Why did you write your book? Did you achieve what you wanted from it?

I wrote the book because people kept looking at me and going, “Wait, you wrote for all of those women?  Why?  How?  How did you find those voices?” And the more I thought about it, the more I went back to my grandmother, my mother, and my sister and attributed to them having strong voices and growing up around smart, funny, intelligent women.  They taught me to always speak my mind but also to listen and be sensitive which is not usually how men are raised.

I think being an outsider and being gay made me more of an observer. Also, I learned that when I started acting lessons at age seven, they taught me to watch other people, and I’ve been doing that in my writing as well. I wanted to explore that, and luckily, I kept journals during all of my years starting in college, and then through all the different shows, and I wanted to make this a valentine to all of these great women that I’ve worked with.

Are you and your writing partner, Jim Berg, still working together?

Yes, we just did a Lifetime Christmas movie last year. We got the gig about five weeks before the strike and had to write it quickly. We wrote A Divas Christmas, which stars Donna Mills, Loni Anderson, Linda Gray, Morgan Fairchild, and Nicollette Sheridan.  It was such a hoot to write, and again it was very on-brand. We had the assignment, five women wanted to work together, and we pitched a bunch of ideas and they liked all of them.

Uncharacteristically, to give a writer the option, they said, “What do you want to write?” And we decided on this specific story and we had a ball.  I wish there wasn’t a strike and we could have gone to set and hung out with them. I didn’t get to know them till much later when the movie was released and we had a party when the strike was over. I was like, “I have to write more for these women.”  I’m not done with them yet.

That’s good. I am sure it was a blast working with them.

And we’re working on plays as well. We did Silver Foxes, which we wrote as a pilot but we turned it into a play when no network or streaming company would read it. The shorthand is, it’s kind of a gay men’s Golden Girls. It’s an ensemble of older gay men living in Palm Springs, and the wonderful Michael Urie directed a sold-out run we had last run in Dallas at Uptown Players, there’ll be a Midwest premiere in Ohio of the play, and it’s been published by TRW Plays.

As I move more into the theater, I’m finding ways to connect and combine art and advocacy, creating a play called Right Before I Go. Which takes real suicide notes and puts it in a play, because a very close friend of mine died by suicide and I wanted to provoke conversation when I found that there was so much shame around the topic. I’ve been touring the country and performing in many places with people like Virginia Madsen, Oscar nominee, Hill Harper, Vanessa Williams, Blair Underwood, and also college students and high school students.

I loved reading your book. I just devoured it. What has the reaction been so far?

So, people are responding to the writing of the book and feel like it’s as if they were sitting down and having a coffee at Luke’s or a glass of rose with Miss Patty.  It’s very fulfilling, and I love connecting and having people see behind the curtain as to what it’s like living out here and surviving.

So, how does your teenage dream of a career compare to what you’ve accomplished?

Here I’m kind of doing the same thing, but actually with actors that are on TV shows, so it’s just a grownup continuation of my lifelong dream.  And at the time a lot of people said, “Just play, Stan.  Don’t take things too seriously,” but I always included play along with the seriousness.  I guess maybe because I’m a Libra, and so it’s very balanced, but all of it is done with a big part of my heart.

Author Stan Zimmerman celebrates his new book

You’ve got a lot of no’s along the way and you got kicked to the curb a couple of times.

I’m still getting kicked to the curb. Now I’m getting kicked to the curb because I’m old and people feel you’re not relevant.  But there are so many people my age or younger who even can understand the feelings that I’m going through now, so I think all voices are vital to the conversation and content creation today.

Spending Time With The Irrepressible Amy Sherman-Palladino

Since we have been talking about Amy Sherman-Palladino, were you a fan of her show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?

I was. I’m so involved in theater now, and being a director, you end up taking on so many different roles within the product that I didn’t have time to keep up with that regularly. We would text intermittently and keep in touch. I’m so proud of her and what she was able to do with that.

I did help on her show Bunheads. I went to a lot of the auditions for those roles and then worked with her on the pilot, and that was extremely fun.  I was hoping to work on the show since I did have a background in ballet and had studied with Joffrey, Jim and I were supposed to work on it. But then Dan Palladino was going to do, I think an animated Flintstones at Fox, and that fell apart and so he came on staff and we were kicked to the curb again.

The Cast of The Golden Girls.

Thank You For Being A Friend

Let’s talk about writing for Golden Girls.  Tell me some highlights you put in the book, and your friendship with Estelle Getty.

It was just a huge career opportunity at a very early part of our life in Hollywood, and to have landed on that show in season one, and to have seen and been there as it exploded across the world, was fascinating. I somehow knew to take every inch of it in.  I wish the work environment had been more welcoming, we never felt like we belonged there. As I write in the book, there were never those director’s chairs with our names on it.

But to counter that, luckily, we had started up a friendship with Estelle Getty and she kind of took us under her wing. We stayed friendly years after my involvement with that show. We didn’t get to know the other women that well. Rue McClanahan did talk to us a bunch, she was very approachable.  I wish I had known that Rue and I had gone to the same summer stock theater in Hampton, New Hampshire, obviously years apart, but I would have loved to have talked to her about that.

She had such a love for theater and character, and that came through. She challenged us as writers to not just make jokes about Blanche and sex but to get in and challenge who that character was. That was something that Jim and I took to every show that we worked on after that.

It was really fun to be in Hollywood and see, that they used to show Golden Girls at gay bars in West Hollywood on Saturday night. You would see on the street; it became quiet because everybody was inside the bar watching and laughing. It was a phenomenon and not something that anybody in the industry expected would explode in that way because it was just not the norm for television. There weren’t shows about older people, let alone older women. And it was the years of Three’s Company that they felt sold, so I think it broke the mold.

Why do you think that Golden Girls continues to have such legs?  It’s on Hallmark practically all day and all night.

I’m getting more residuals now than I did about 10 years ago because it’s on so much. I think again it’s comforting. During these troubled times when you watch the news and it feels like we’re in an upside-down world, we can always tune in and we know that no matter how much fighting or trouble comes into that house in Miami, they’re going to end up back at the table with cheesecake and making up, and still being friends and thanking each other for being friends.

Also, its about fears as we all get older that we’re going to end up alone, to know that you have people in your corner that will always be there is very comforting.  It’s just a really funny show, so we knew we were writing for the best of the best actresses and there was no dumbing down of jokes or stories.  They told us not to focus on writing about issues, such as the issue-of-the-week like Facts of Life did, but to make them integral to what women of that age would be going through.  Do it honestly but with a lot of humor, and that’s what we did.

Several actors have starred in several of Amy’s shows including Sutton Foster, Kelly Bishop, Milo Ventimiglia, and Liza Weil.  Why do you think that is?

Well, you create families on these shows, and a lot of times the show will end and there’s this separation anxiety that you go through. And you’re like, “Wait a minute, I miss seeing you. I used to see you every single day and share all these meals with you.” Luckily, we’ve maintained that relationship with Amy, we went to her wedding helped her out on different shows, and were there for her when she went through difficult times and was unemployable. People did not want an outspoken woman.

Right. Nobody wants an outspoken woman!

They still don’t! We would take her to lunch and say, “Keep fighting, we can’t have a world without your voice in it. It’s too important.”

So, what are a few things based on the book, which is based on your life, that you’re most proud of and happy to share?

I am proud that I could be as vulnerable as I was.  Sometimes in this business, you want to just put on a happy face, but there are many times when you feel like you want to give up and people are telling you, “No.”  Luckily, I had a great writing partner that we would hold each other, but also in any business is the ability to reinvent yourself. When there were moments when my writing partner did not want to work in television anymore, luckily, I found and returned to theater, which is my first love.

That kind of reinvented me as a director, and then as a theater writer, creator, and producer.  That’s really where my focus now is because I just love being in a theater with live people, whether it’s hearing laughter or tears because something that I created is very powerful. Especially post-COVID, being around other humans and having a shared experience I think is very important.

I couldn’t believe theater was giving up. That’s what it felt like to me. So, I kept doing, at least once a month, these readings on Zoom with big people like Wendie Malik and Melissa Peterman. I just couldn’t stop, and then finally I just exhausted myself and probably all my friends. I kept thinking, isn’t there a way we could just come together?  It was a little bit of living in denial, but we had to find a safe place to return to the theater and I hope we’re getting there.

The Many Iconic Women Who Made An Impact 

Tell me about your experience with Lilly Tomlin.

Well, my relationship with Lily Tomlin started as a child watching her on Laugh-In.  I had never seen anybody like that or anybody that did characters like that. She was so smart and funny and edgy, but just a unique point of view. I also loved that she was from Detroit like myself, so I thought if she got out and made it, so could I.  I became obsessed with her, and I made my mom take me to J.L. Hudson’s department store and stand in line waiting for an autograph.

Not knowing years later that I’d be writing a movie for her and got to show her that autograph, which I still have. Becoming friends with her, having her in my home, hanging out with her and having dinners, respecting her, and having her be a part of my life as an adult. Even when I went to do my play Right Before I Go at Cass Tech, which is the high school that she went to in Detroit, she couldn’t appear in the play but she offered to record an opening announcement all on her own.

That’s just the kind of woman she is, and she has just been an inspiration. One of the happiest moments was when I had the pleasure of introducing Lilly to my mother, I took my mom on her birthday to see Signs of Intelligent Life in Santa Barbara when Lily revived it.   had seen Lilly workshop it in Santa Barbara way at the beginning of the process of that play. It was such a joy to be able to do that.

You were inspired by the many women in your personal and professional life.

True, and I didn’t know at the time when I had outlined the book how it would end. I thought it might end with Gilmore Girls, and then I kept working with more women in theater, and unfortunately, the ending of the book became the death of my mother and realizing that she was my one true ‘Golden Girl.’

I could see you at the end going to the nursing home to see your mom, and then your close relationship with Gilmore Girls actor Liz Torres. I laughed a lot while reading your book, and I cried, too.

I wanted to touch upon grief, which I think is universal. I didn’t want it to just be a show business book, but also a book about resilience and how you keep going. Someone said to me, “I never met your mom, but I feel after reading the book I did because I knew who you were.”  I am the man I am today because of my mom, and all of the wonderful women in my life from childhood until now.