March 10, 2008
Malvin Wald, a television writer I had interviewed at length for my oral history project, died on March 6 at age 90. Malvin was a marvelous spieler. Everything he said seemed to have a hook and a punchline, like he was pitching it to a story editor as a possible assignment. You could tell immediately how he managed to amass all those hundreds of writing credits, and why he needed to take on a succession of junior writing partners just to keep up with them all.
I’m not as certain why Malvin’s career remained firmly in the poverty row of schlock shows from Lock Up to Daktari – whether the quality of the writing never quite lived up to the enthusiasm of the pitch, or if the big break just never came – but as far as I could tell it didn’t bother him at all. In his living room was a bookcase full of his Daktari scripts, bound in leather as if they had been The Defenders or Hill Street Blues.
Malvin, whose brother was the legendary producer Jerry Wald (the primary basis for Budd Schulberg’s character Sammy Glick), was a trove of Hollywood gossip and wasn’t at all hesitant about sharing it. Even in his last years Malvin seemed to always have a byline in some obscure publication, usually some anecdote about the movie business or his days in the First Motion Picture Unit (the group of Hollywood types, including Ronald Reagan, who made training films at Hal Roach Studios during World War II).
When I dropped by his Sherman Oaks house one sweltering day in 2004, Malvin’s coffee table was littered with these – magazines, books he’d written intros for, liner notes – piled up alongside the formidable tray of prescription pills he was taking. And he proferred suggestions about how I might get into print very aggressively, calling me out of the blue with ideas for months afterward.
Malvin had an odd, macabre sense of humor, too: He used to have an obituary for the jazz pianist Mal Waldron taped to his front door, with the “-ron” crossed out. Now the “Mal Wald” obit is for real, but I’m glad that I was able to record a detailed Q&A about the former’s television career that will eventually be published.