from the author

I’d like to welcome you to the Tuesday Night Women’s Group. But first I need to tell you how I got here!

The Cracker Factory was an autobiographical novel that told my story of alcoholism and finding sobriety. In the novel, Cassie Barrett was me, and Charlie was my husband, George.

Here’s a little background, in case you haven’t met Cassie yet… Cassie is a twenty-something housewife, married at eighteen, three times a mom by twenty-two. Having gone straight from her father’s house yippie-skippy to her husband’s house, she’d lost something in the quick daughter-to-wife transition. Herself.

Overwhelmed by her responsibilities and frightened by her increasing anger and frustration, she’d taken to sipping, then nipping from the one-drink-before-dinner scotch until occa-sional blackouts and empty bottles hidden in the laundry hamper finally made her admit to herself that she might have a drinking problem.

Her husband thought she was too young to have a drinking problem. All the drunks he knew were over forty. Her mother advised her to learn to drink like a lady “but don’t quit because you’ll be no fun at parties.”

Cassie, who was becoming sicker and sicker, thought she might die from drinking before she was old enough.

With nowhere to turn, and in those days no treatment programs for alcoholism, Cassie Barrett had only one option. She signed herself into a pyschiatric ward she lovingly deemed “The Cracker Factory.”

In this book, The Cracker Factory 2: Welcome to Women’s Group, we pick up where The Cracker Factory left off. Cassie has embraced Alcoholics Anonymous and is a long-time member of a Women’s AA Group.

Cassie and her fellow AA members help each other to live sober the lives that had become unmanageable while they were drinking. The issues they discuss—the husbands, lovers, kids, careers and emotions that sometimes threaten to go out of control—are the heartaches, triumphs and love stories shared by women everywhere, not only by those with a drinking problem.

What else, besides staying sober, has Cassie been doing for forty-plus years? I’d like to tell you that my alter ego formulated a brilliant plan and then followed it meticulously. But, I had no plan. Things happened, followed by other things, leaving me in a constant state of astonishment.

First surprise: The Cracker Factory became a bestseller, and it was made into an ABC-TV movie starring Natalie Wood! Then, things really started happening. The Eighties, Nineties, and up to the present have been a whirlwind of the Unplanned Life which could be subtitled “Little Alice from Cleveland Falls Down the Rabbit Hole and Lands in Wonderland (Hollywood).”

In alternating memoir chapters of The Cracker Factory 2, I’ll take you with me through years of Hollywood life as a network executive, writer, producer, and boggle-eyed witness to celebrities, chauvinism, big producers, studios, epidemic cocaine use, and actors (both sweet and sour), all seen through my (and Cassie’s) unrelentingly sober eyes.

Opposite these memoir chapters, the Women’s Group invites you to sit at the table, pick up a script and play a part along with Cassie and her friends. Why stay sober? Because sober is better. Richer. More fun. Always. Relax. Listen in. The Women’s Group might just help you, too.

* * *

FIRST EXCERPT ~ Inside Women's Group

Chapter 1 continues....

* * *

SECOND EXCERPT ~ Memoir Chapter

While I was running the network relay, The Cracker Factory was finally published. I say “finally” because the prepublication process takes so long, you can forget you’ve written a book. “The book” seems like a dream you had long ago. Its arrival can come as a complete surprise.

When the first copy came to my house, my son Paul was so excited, he brought it straight to my office. With a smile like a sunburst, he thrust it under my nose. I stared at the cover. Oh my God, oh my God! It’s real! It’s here!

I jumped out of my chair and kept on jumping. Enthused, Paul joined me. Any network person going by in the hallway outside would have seen a thirty-something woman and an adolescent boy jumping up and down on an invisible trampoline. Undoubtedly they would have kept on walking, thinking that my office was being used for auditions. At the time, The Donny and Marie Show was on ABC, and they had some fairly weird acts.

Eventually we both calmed down. I asked Paul to take “the book” home with him. In my overwhelmed state, I felt that this copy of The Cracker Factory was the only copy in the world and I wanted it safe at home. When Paul left, I counted both blessings I’d been given: I’d held my own book in my own two hands and my son had been so happy for me, he’d dropped what he was doing and brought it to me. The first blessing thrilled me, the second touched my heart deeply and still does.

Just because I became adept at running back and forth with messages doesn’t mean that I truly fit into network life. To be honest, I never thought of myself as a “network exec,” but as a writer who’d fallen into network exec-ing much as Alice had fallen into Wonderland. I was there, round-eyed, breathless and clueless, on an excellent adventure.


While muddling through my accidental network career I was surprised to hear that ABC Television had bought the television rights to The Cracker Factory. Since my erstwhile agent was in Paree discovering that her swain was a less-than-noble man, no one had been working on this aspect of my book.

I found out much later (last Tuesday) that the actress Lana Wood had read the book, liked it, and brought it to her sister Natalie. Natalie read it, liked it, and wanted to play the lead role, Cassie Barrett.

Natalie wanted to option the book for her own company but ABC had beaten her to it. Out of courtesy, the executive in charge asked me to write the screenplay. As my screenplay progressed he requested changes, some so bizarre I thought that he must be sending me one-pagers from another movie of the week he was supervising. His requests had nothing to do with either my book or my life. His one-pagers tended to be single spaced seven-pagers, which also didn’t expedite the process. Very often the suggestions he made on page one would cancel out the changes he made on page seven. Finally, after completing the script, he told me that he was bringing in another writer because “my script lacked drama.” I told him that I was sorry my life was so boring, “I should have shot someone!”

In retrospect, he was right. At the time I’d never written a script and was trying to write one without knowing how. I wouldn’t know the difference until I actually learned how to write scripts and wrote many of them.

A new screenwriter came in. Our first meeting at lunch took me aback.

“No one in this movie will smoke,” he said.

“But Sir…begging your ’umble pardon…my book is about alcoholism,” I bleated.

“I’m death on smoking,” he responded, narrowing his eyes to make his point.

“Um…uh…the Cobb salad looks good.”

What could I say? When you sell the rights to a book, the rest is out of your hands. The people who bought the rights take over. This is neither right nor wrong. This is business. If you write something and consider every word non-negotiable, then don’t sell movie/film rights. The minute the writer cashes the check, the product is as gone as though it was a cracked pitcher he/she sold at a flea market. No one wants to buy a cracked pitcher at a flea market, then have a demented seller chase them down the street screaming, “Give that back, you cretin, it belonged to Aunt Tillie!”

When you’re a writer, it’s not easy to think of your material as a cracked pitcher but bottom line, that’s what it is. The trick of selling material without serious seller’s remorse is to sell to people who you know have taste. If the other kind, the crass and the careless, pop up first, wait. People with taste lurk everywhere seeking special material. You know who they are because they don’t push their way to the front initially and theirs aren’t the loudest voices.

The “special” person with taste and insight on this project was Natalie Wood, who brought every bit of her immense talent and experience to this project. She played Cassie Barrett with a depth of feeling and such admirable restraint I could only stand back and admire. When I say that Natalie was good to me, I mean that she was kind beyond all expectations. In her relationship with me, there was not one “movie star” moment. She was what all of us would call a “real person,” warm, thoughtful, and sweet behind the scenes.

She cared about The Cracker Factory as I know she did about all of her projects. Because she was Natalie Wood she had clout, so the people involved with the production had to listen to her suggestions. Because she had taste her suggestions were excellent and improved every aspect of the movie.

Because she cared about The Cracker Factory, she agreed to do extensive publicity for the movie. I appreciated that. Then she completely stunned me by insisting that I do publicity along with her. My first reaction was to run and hide in my closet.

I’d already done two book tours and had actually enjoyed them but only because I’d developed a strategy which had occurred to me on the set of What’s Happening?

One of the actresses on that show played a character of extraordinary charm, sweetness, and humor. Offstage, this same actress was truly psychotic, angry, volatile, and given to carrying concealed weapons in her hair. Yet she’d come out on stage and beam at her public like Glenda the Good Witch and they’d go nuts applauding their love for her.

I used to wonder how she did that. So one night, standing in the wings, I was wondering how a writer who spends all her time hiding behind a typewriter in part so no one will know who she is, can suddenly sally forth on a book tour like a “public personality,” a lecturer, a radio interviewee, a television performer, etc.

Then it struck me. I decided to pretend to myself that I was an actress playing a writer on a book tour. I did that until the stark terror of book tour appearances dissipated, though I must confess that the first time I wobbled onto The Tonight Show, I had to be pushed through the curtain by “crazy Shirley,” Johnny Carson’s able assistant.

But this, the movie publicity, my God…this was with Natalie Wood! I was terrified that I would embarrass her, so terrified that I knew that even my schizy but successful book tour stratagem would fail me.

Natalie took care of that. The first show we did was Merv Griffin. Natalie went on first. In those days “movie stars” didn’t do daytime TV so Merv was thrilled to see her. While Natalie answered Merv’s questions and gracefully steered the chat into Cracker Factory territory, she left me in the green room in the care of her husband Robert Wagner. R.J. Wagner then proceeded to tell me one funny story after another until I was called onto the set. I laughed. I howled. He was the funniest story teller I’d ever met and I knew dozens of comedy writers including George. By the time I actually walked onto the set and hugged Natalie, I was so relaxed from laughing I looked like a woman who’d been on TV forever. And so it went. Not only did Natalie include me, but R.J. went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. He’s a class act as was she, all the way. I’m happy I had the good fortune to meet her. I cried the day I heard she was gone; I’ll never forget her.

Thanks to Natalie and The Cracker Factory movie, my ABC career ended on a high note.

I had been thinking about writing a second book, about television, what else? Then someone offered me a job at Another Network. I opened my mouth to say no and instead, out of my big fat mouth floated, “Yes.”

And so, again accidentally and again Alice-like, I descended to the Dark Side of Wonderland.

* * *