The Time I Ruined Elliott Gould’s Night

In late December 1999, I picked up Variety and read a story by Josef Adalian (@TVMoJoe to today’s Twitter fans) that ABC was canceling a first-season sitcom called, It’s Like, You Know.

The decision felt personal. The show featured an East Coast writer (Chris Eigeman) who moves to Los Angeles and is immediately both seduced and repelled by the City of Angels. In December 1999, I was also a recent East Coast transplant in LA, having moved there from Washington, D.C. in late 1998 to start a magazine (TV Online) on the intersection of entertainment and technology. And like Eigeman’s character, I found living in LA a schizophrenic experience. Another Day in Paradise, a favorite saying of LA residents to describe life there, often felt more like tip-toeing through Dante’s Inferno, particularly for a guy raised in a strict Catholic environment.

I also was upset because It’s Like, You Know seemed like a great vehicle for Eigeman to finally get a chance to shine in the bigs. The actor was sensational in Whit Stillman’s brilliant but cultish comedies, Metropolitan and Barcelona, as a self-absorbed ruminator on all things unimportant. And his off-beat style was perfect for the role of the New York writer who can’t believe every LA woman looks like she fell out of Vogue while every LA man never seems to need a job.

And lastly, the show’s cancellation meant that I would no longer see Elliott Gould play himself. That’s right. Among the many of the show’s inside jokes was that the main characters always seem to bump into Elliott Gould, the real Elliott Gould; he’s driving a car, walking down the street, whatever. It’s part of living in Los Angeles. No matter where you go, you will see someone you know. Or, more precisely, someone you know from TV or the movies. He or she might be in aisle 12 of Ralph’s or in line at the Coffee Bean on Main Street in Santa Monica. And there’s a good chance you’ll see him or her again in the next several days.

LA is really just one big small town.

I had been a fan of Gould since I was a kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he starred in such iconic classics as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, M*A*S*H, The Long Goodbye and California Split. But he became an all-time hero to me in March 1976 when he appeared as a presenter at the 48th Academy Awards. Rather than engage in the usual pitter-patter, or read stiffly from the teleprompter, Gould smirked (as only he could), looked at the camera, and said, “Indiana, 86-68.”


Elliott Gould in M*A*S*H.

The 1976 NCAA basketball championship between UCLA and Indiana was on CBS at the same time as the Oscars. And Gould, being a huge basketball fan (and not a bad player, as evidenced in California Split), decided that announcing the final score of the game was more important than anything else at that time. It was a cool move from Hollywood’s coolest cat.

And that brings me to the time I ruined Elliott Gould’s night.

Cut to five days after I read the Variety article reporting the cancelation of It’s Like, You Know. It’s a lazy Sunday night the day after Christmas and I decide to go with a buddy to a Main Street dive in Santa Monica to have a few beers. The place is nearly empty, but we take seats in the corner near the front door. Then I look up and see Gould sitting besides himself in the middle of the bar. He appears to be nursing a beer and staring straight ahead at his reflection in the mirror.

Now I had been in Los Angeles for a year so I know the uncool thing is to go up to a celebrity and start talking. You just don’t do it. But this was Elliott Gould, the guy who put the 1976 college basketball final ahead of the goddamn Academy Awards. He was my hero so I was going to talk to him.

“Hi, I have to tell you something,” I said, siding up to him. “You’ve been a hero to me ever since you came out at the Oscars and said, “Indiana, 88-68.”

“No,” he said quickly. “It was 86 to 68.” (Which, of course, it was.)


Elliott Gould in California Split.

The fact that I remembered such a trivial moment 23 years later seemed to impress him and he invited me to sit down. For the next hour, we talked about movies, and movies, and movies. He talked about Robert Altman and how he always seemed to have a sixth sense for which actors would be best for certain roles. By example, Gould wanted to play George Segal’s role as the repressed writer in California Split, but Altman assured him that the part of  ‘Charlie,’ the devil-may-care compulsive gambler was perfect for him. (Which, of course, it was.)

Gould didn’t always appreciate Altman’s heavy-handed tactics on set, he said, but he couldn’t argue with the results.

There was nothing that Gould seemed unwilling to talk about. I almost brought up his eight-year marriage to Barbra Streisand, but even after a few beers, I though better of that.

Finally, I said to him that I was sorry that ABC had cancelled It’s Like, You Know.

He paused and looked up at me. “They cancelled it?”

“Yeah, I just read it in Variety.”

“No wonder my agent didn’t call me back,” he said, shaking his head.

Gould’s demeanor suddenly changed. He kept shaking his head and fidgeting and finally pulled out some cash for the bar bill.

“I have to go,” he said.

And off he walked to a SUV parked across the street on Main Street, got in, and drove away.

But, oh, the story isn’t over.

A week later, I go to a movie in Westwood and who’s standing outside the theater with his son? Yes, Elliott Gould, just like it was a scene in It’s Like, You Know.

This time, I don’t say anything to him. I keep walking, hoping he doesn’t recognize me.

A week later, I see him again standing outside a different theater. I don’t say anything this time, either.

And I never saw him again.

Featured image: Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye.

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The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

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