Saturday, December 24, 2022

Recent reading: "Life's Work: A Memoir"

Life's Work: A Memoir by David Milch

David Milch is the writer/producer of a number of successful television shows including NYPD Blue and Deadwood. After teaching English at Yale for a number of years he started his TV writing career on Hill Street Blues and never looked back. A few years ago he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and, with his wife and children filling in blank spots, embarked on his memoir while he still could.

Milch was the son of a surgeon who was also an alcoholic and chronic gambler, and he seemed to adopt the worst of his father's qualities. He was drinking by age eight and running bets for his father. He spent years consuming drugs in such quantities it's a wonder he lived long enough to meet anything but a premature end. On the other hand he was also book smart, an avid reader and writer. He attended Yale where multiple-Pulitzer winner Robert Penn Warren became his mentor.
When an old roommate, who was on the Hill Street Blues writing staff showed a sample of Milch's writing to his boss, Steven Bochco, Milch was hired on and his television writing career was off and running. He would win four Emmys, three Writers Guild Awards, two Edgars, and three Humanitas Prizes for his work.

Although he eventually stopped using drugs, another of Milch's bad habits was gambling on horse racing, a skill he picked up from his father. In February 2016, the world found out just how bad that habit was when a Hollywood Reporter article described how, having earned $100 million over his career, Milch managed to gamble himself into a $17 million hole. He and his wife owed millions to the IRS and had to sell the home in Brentwood where they'd raised their three children, as well as their vacation estate in Martha's Vineyard. In the book he describes having bet more than a million dollars in a day, more than once.

There's also a great story about how, years after David Caruso's infamous departure from NYPD Blue (which is covered in the book), their daughters met at college and became lifelong friends. 

Ten years later, when my eldest was heading to Yale and looking at the Southern California admit list ahead of some event, she sees the name of David Caruso's daughter, they were the same year. She says to me, "Is this going to mess me up? Is she going to hate me?" I say, "It's a big school. Don't worry about it."
The first week of school, they meet at a party, and they become best friends. 
That's the funny part of the story. Here's the touching part:

(Re: Greta Caruso) She's amazing, funny, tough-minded. And she and my daughter have this ease with each other, and you realize part of where it comes from is they have this shared understanding that their fathers have been tough to love and they love them anyway...

Milch also continued to teach writing even after his success in television and was extremely generous with fledgling writers. There are some videos on YouTube of him discussing the writing process that I'l be checking out. But he is so cerebral that a lot of what he wrote in his memoir went right over my head, and it's not like I'm some illiterate idiot. But seeing his intellect and creativity shown at such a high level makes it even more tragic when the dementia sets in and begins to rob him of his brilliant mind. For better or worse, Milch has lived a life of worth writing - and reading - about.

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