My fondest memory of Eddie Adler—one of many I will cherish—is from more than twenty years ago, on a beautiful June day in London (and if you watched any of the recent TV coverage of the Queen’s soggy Jubilee celebration, you know how rare those pretty June days in Britain can be).
It was a Sunday afternoon, and we spent a couple of hours walking through Hyde Park searching for the son of a friend of Eddie’s. He was supposed to be participating in one of several softball games American ex-pats were playing in the park’s expansive fields of green. We never found him but had a great time, just shooting the breeze. Eddie spoke of the time he and his family lived in London while he worked on a TV series; I recalled the brief period I had been a schoolboy in the UK, a naïve kid from upstate New York thrust into grown-up land and awestruck by the country’s history.
That was it, that’s all—just a pleasant walk on a nice day, but memorable. I was always improved in Eddie’s presence, as was anyone who ever had the pleasure of his company. He served four terms as the Writers Guild East’s president, a term as vice president and a remarkable 16 terms in all on the Guild council, a feat that puts him on the side of whatever angels watch over those writers with iron pants, unstinting patience and a devotion to this union and its members. These qualities Eddie had in abundance; the antidote to the aches and pains of union work was his abiding natural wit, kindness and ebullience of spirit.
Eddie was working as a New York City cabdriver, the latest in a string of odd jobs that had ranged from short-order cook to numbers runner when his novel, Notes from a Dark Street, was published in 1962. The attention the book received helped him get work as a TV writer. A native New Yorker—of the Brooklyn persuasion—he never made the full-time move to the West Coast, except occasionally to pitch and woo at the networks and studios (I suddenly remember being with him in LA once when he was working on a TV movie with James Garner).
Instead, he made his bones working on a number of series in the sixties and seventies, shot in New York, that used the city as character as much as backdrop: The Nurses, with Zena Bethune; the legendary East Side/West Side, produced by Arnold Perl and David Susskind, starring George C. Scott as an NYC social worker and Cicely Tyson; Hawk, featuring a young Burt Reynolds as an Native American detective in the Manhattan DA’s office (I’m not making that up); and N.Y.P.D., a series, also produced by Perl and Susskind, that was stark and honest about New York cops a quarter century before NYPD Blue hit the air.
In the eighties, among other projects, Eddie worked on Night Heat, a cop show in which Toronto stood in as a forlorn substitute for New York, and one of my old favorite escapist pleasures, The Equalizer, starring the dapper and seemingly implacable Edward Woodard as a former agent for a CIA-type service turned private detective doling out justice, protection and compassion. Just like in real life.
All these characters and story lines sprang from the imagination of a diminutive, bearded New Yorker with boundless energy, just the right amount of irascibility and a happy dedication to work, friends and especially family—he got such great joy from his two sons, Tony and Joe, and his remarkable wife, Elaine, a potter and force of nature all her own—Mother Earth to us all.
Together or singly, Eddie and Elaine were a delight. Once I forgot that my then wife and I had a dinner date with them. I was on deadline and it simply had slipped my mind. The phone rang. “Where the hell are you?” Eddie growled and after a couple of minutes of feigned indignation, accepted my wimpy excuse. A discount florist had opened in my neighborhood; the next day I sent over two dozen roses. Eddie and Elaine reacted to the slightly less-than-prime blossoms as if they were rubies. Never again did I forget the chance for a meal with them. Each was priceless, in every sense of the word.
The Adlers lived and rollicked in a narrow East Village townhouse, but Elaine died in 2003 and Eddie never fully recovered from the loss. His last few years were spent in Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania, memories shrouded in dementia. It was a privilege to know him and I will miss his love and camaraderie. To paraphrase what John O’Hara wrote upon hearing of the sudden passing of George Gershwin, Eddie Adler died on June 8, 2012, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.