Monday, December 3, 2012

T.V. Writer and Pioneer Claire Whitaker

claire whitaker at a celebration for an iconic television show for which she wrote.

my enormous extended family is crowned by a diadem of amazing women who i admire more and more with each passing year of my life.  orma claire whitaker peterson is one of these women.  when i was growing up my mother and her sisters spoke in hushed tones about the sophisticated "cousin orma"--beautiful, brilliant, talented, urbane.  she loomed large in my imagination because she was a professional writer, what i wanted to be when i grew up. so the first time i remember meeting her was at my wedding, and even though it was a big, crazy event more than two decades ago, i still remember her turquoise jewelry and the beautiful gift she gave us from santa fe, her current place of residence.  because she was such a figure in my imagination, my first meeting with her was etched into my brain.  later we struck up some sporadic email and phone conversations and i still remember, seriously, every word she's ever said to me.  two things in particular stand out:  1) we were talking about writing for television, and she told me that she thought the medium had so much potential that it hadn't lived up to.  she was present at the beginning, and has worked on several iconic, important shows in television history.  so she would know.  2) she told me to "find a way to do my poetry."  she advised me not to go into television writing as i would risk becoming a hack.  these words are with me often as i struggle to find a way keep doing poetry in a world that doesn't value it much.  but enough of that.  i'm so honored that claire agreed to write for us.  i want the people in my community to know about this fascinating person, and it is with great pleasure that i introduce her to GITP readers.   --l.c.

Guest Blogger Claire Whitaker:
I am never bored.  Since childhood I have lived in my imagination, which often surprises me.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m not sharing my mind with a stranger – someone more exotic and adventurous.  I am often startled – sometimes shocked – to see what has leaked onto a page.

I am going on 85 and don’t remember when I didn’t write.  The Great Depression was the background for my childhood; it encouraged imaginative play and trips to the library where you formed ideas of alternate worlds that were far more exciting than your own.  I wrote my first poem when I was six.  It began, “I dreamed I was riding a cloud in the sky and saw the moon come floating by….”

In grade school I was editor of our student newspaper. I bluffed my way through high school with theme papers and essays.  I won a college scholarship in a short story contest and after graduation joined the staff of a local newspaper, writing news and trivia.  Under the name of Thalia Boldface I penned a weekly column that somebody told me was boring.  It probably was.

Later I wrote educational films, LDS church films.  I was a stringer for the Deseret News.  I got a job working part-time at an advertising agency.    And there, watching my little dramas of laundry soaps and steam irons acted out in the studio upstairs, I fell in love with television.  It wasn’t an easy segue from a typewriter on the dining room table to an office in Hollywood, not while trying to raise five children, but with a lot of luck and encouragement it came to pass, proving that miracles still happen.

Decades later I discovered the luxury of a retirement that allowed me to continue working.  On my own.  No deadlines.  No network notes or summons to the set.  But here’s where my tight place comes in:  having been reasonably successful I am no longer hungry, and it has made me lazy.

These days I write for my own pleasure -- the ultimate indulgence -- and scuttle fleeting thoughts of sharing my work, except perhaps with family.  Loving the process of writing itself, I am not motivated beyond the final product.  And if I don’t feel like finishing my screenplay I can always move on to that second or third novel-in-progress.  It seems enough to have an audience of one – me – who is enormously entertained by what I write.

But recently I attended the reunion of an ages-past tv show and was touched to have fans approach, old scripts in hand, and ask for an autograph.  If I am remembered for an episode I wrote forty years ago maybe I should try and publish something more lasting.  Something that would say:  this is how and why I lived.  That could be my end-of-year goal -- edit a lifetime of poetry and see if it might find a wider audience.  I’ll think about it.

Meanwhile, life inspires me – every waking day and dream-filled night.  As for legwear, I prefer skin.  I am quite hairless so I don’t even have to shave!  



  1. this is awesome. I was named after Erin of the Waltons. :) I should have guessed there was an LDS connection. Wow, inspiring woman!