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Feb 28, 2011 4:23 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Guild Hall Honoree A Quadruple Threat

Feb 28, 2011 4:23 PM

It can be said that former Montauker Marshall Brickman is enjoying the fourth act of an ongoing career—he’s a comedy writer, screenwriter, film director and is now writing the book for smash Broadway musicals. Conceivably, he could be all four of the honorees on Monday evening when Guild Hall doles out its 26th annual Academy of Arts Lifetime Achievement awards.

However, Mr. Brickman, who has also spent time in Springs and Amagansett but now lives full time in Manhattan, will share the spotlight and will take home only the award for Literary Arts. The other recipients, all South Fork residents, are Dick Cavett for Performing Arts, Elizabeth Peyton for Visual Arts and Lewis B. Cullman for Leadership and Philanthropic Endeavors. The ceremony will be held at Cipriani on 42nd Street. Actor and director Bob Balaban will be the master of ceremonies, and the honorary chair of the event is Alec Baldwin, who of late has been no stranger to awards ceremonies.

If life had turned out differently, Mr. Brickman, who might well be the only Guild Hall honoree born in Rio de Janeiro, could have been receiving the award going to Mr. Cavett. Initially, he set out to be a musician after attending the University of Wisconsin.

A former classmate, banjo player Eric Weissberg, invited him to join the folk group the Tarriers, which Mr. Brickman tarried with for three years. Then, in 1965, Mr. Brickman joined another group, the New Journeyman. Alas, he did not journey with band mates John and Michelle Phillips long enough before they went on to form the Mamas and the Papas. But he and Mr. Weissberg would later collaborate again, on the soundtrack for the movie “Deliverance.”

For Mr. Brickman, television was the new frontier, as well as his second act. He moved full time to New York and prowled the comedy clubs while looking for writing jobs. And he found them, writing for “Candid Camera” and then “The Tonight Show.” At the age of only 28, he was the head writer for Johnny Carson’s show, easily the most popular of the late-night programs. Mr. Brickman points out, however, that this feat wasn’t quite as remarkable as it sounds.

“No one else wanted the job,” he told The Press in an interview last week. “I didn’t even have an office. I had an old Royal typewriter on a metal rolling stand and I would push it into whatever office was empty to write my jokes. The head writer was an old guy, meaning he was probably 40, with five kids and his contract was up and he wanted a raise of something like $20 a week. They wouldn’t give it to him.”

That’s when Mr. Brickman’s big television break began, though not quite as auspicious as it might have been.

“He called me in his office and said he was leaving for Los Angeles where they hand you the money as you get off the plane. He did, and they did—he wrote for ‘Happy Days’ and other shows,” Mr Brickman continued. “He gave me his joke file and half a box of cigars and said I’m the new head writer. I found out that job was the hardest one. Guys like Cavett just did the monologue. I did everything else.”

Still, it would seem that Mr. Brickman had many years ahead of him on “The Tonight Show.” But two people changed that. One was Mr. Cavett, another writer on the show. When he left to do his own show as a late-night rival to Carson, Mr. Brickman went with him.

“I defected, much to Johnny’s displeasure,” he recalled. “But the show had become predictable to me. Dick was a friend, and what he was going to attempt seemed exciting. And it was.”

The other person who had a hand in Mr. Brickman’s career path at that time was Woody Allen, he recalled.

“I first met Woody when he was the opening act for the Tarriers at the Bitter End in Manhattan,” Mr. Brickman said. “It was one of his first stand-up gigs. His act was treated with total silence. The audience didn’t know what to make of him. But I would sit in the back and listen to the brilliant material. Years later Charles Joffe, who with Ed Rollins managed both of us, suggested we try writing together, I was game.”

Mr. Brickman and Mr. Allen’s first screenwriting collaboration was “Sleeper” in 1973. Their next two films are considered by many the best in Allen’s filmmaking career, “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,” released in 1977 and 1979. “Annie Hall” received the Academy Award for Best Picture, star Diane Keaton was named Best Actress, Mr. Allen won Best Director, and Mr. Brickman and Mr. Allen won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

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