The Perfect Storm

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The subtitle of this captivating showbiz autobiography (written with Steve Stoliar) is “From Henry Street to Hollywood.” Howard Storm made it up from the rough and tumble Lower East Side to the palm-lined boulevards of Beverly Hills, fighting his way out of poverty as a baggy-pants straight-man, a vaudeville entertainer, a borscht-belt social director, a nightclub comic. Then, deep into his career, he decided that he’d had enough of Mafia club owners, unruly audiences, crooked booking-agents–-and transitioned into television as a sit-com director and occasional writer.

Pretty soon he was working on shows like “I Love Lucy,” and “Love American Style,” but it wasn’t until he became the director of “Rhoda,” starring Valerie Harper, that he could put his scuffling days behind him, especially when he got a call from Garry Marshall’s office with an offer to direct a new series that he was developing: “Mork & Mindy,” starring Pam Dawber and Robin Williams.

Howard stayed with “Mork & Mindy” for three years and was so impressed with Robin’s range and versatility “that at the end of the first season I tried to get the screen rights to ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ he writes, because “I thought Robin would be perfect as Holden Caulfield. J.D. Salinger wouldn’t budge. As a matter of fact, we couldn’t even get to him to be officially turned down. It would have been a brilliant movie, and Robin was young enough then to play a seventeen-year-old and get away with it. We’ll never know how that might’ve turned out.”

Close as he was to Robin, Howard still could not save his friend from the ravages of cocaine and alcohol. Although Robin was still able to hit his mark “and entertain studio audiences, he was no longer playing full out. I told him, ‘Robin you’re so good that the audience accepts seventy-five per cent, but I know you’re not giving me a hundred percent. Your work is getting mediocre. My work is getting mediocre. If you’re not willing to come in here and give a hundred per cent, I’m going to leave.”

Robin tried his best to sober up, but without success. Howard did leave the show (for “Taxi”) and never worked with Robin again, though his suicide in 2014 came as a terrible shock. “It’s just so very sad. There will never be another Robin Williams. Of all the performers I’ve seen–-the brilliance of a guy like Jonathan Winters, the brilliance of Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason–-he outshines all of them, because he was a better actor than any of them. The things that came out of his head were just incredible. I believe he was a savant; that he was born with that somehow. He’d remember things from forty years earlier or he’d quote from a book. Unlike someone like Dennis Miller, he didn’t do it to show you how smart he was. There was always a sweetness about him.”

THE PERFECT STORM is packed with dozens of honest and revealing show-business stories like that. As Dick Cavett said in his intro, the “only problem with this book is that it ends.”