Robert Pirosh died on Christmas Day, 1989, in Los Angeles. He was born in Baltimore in 1910.
But prior to that Christmas Day in L.A., Pirosh taught screenwriting at the University of Southern California.
He was considered a credible screenwriting coach because he had written the screenplays for Gathering of Eagles (1963) starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor and Hell is for Heroes (1962) starring Steve McQueen.
Prior to that, Pirosh wrote and directed Valley of the Kings, a 1954 adventure movie, and was nominated to receive an Academy Award for his 1951 film, Go for Broke!
Two years earlier Pirosh had in fact won the 1949 Oscar for his screenplay of Battleground, a movie about the siege of Bastogne in World War II.
Pirosh found his inspiration in his diaries, having served as a Master Sergeant in the 35th Infantry Division. One bitterly cold and forlorn day during the battle of the Bulge, Pirosh led a patrol into Bastogne to support the surrounded American forces there.
Bastogne is a long way from Baltimore and being surrounded by people who want to kill you is not the mark of a very good day. Pirosh was awarded the Bronze Star.
But war and movies about war were not what Robert Pirosh had planned for his life. Prior to serving in WWII, Pirosh had written some of the funniest lines of Groucho Marx’s career. In the screenplay for A Day at the Races (1937,) Pirosh has Groucho saying, “If I hold you any closer, I’ll be in back of you,” and picking up a telephone to say, “Room Service? Send up a larger room.”
Groucho Marx and Robert Pirosh became lifelong friends.
We won’t take the time to talk about Robert Pirosh as a writer for The Waltons, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Bonanza, My Three Sons, Family Affair, Combat! and The Fugitive. Our interest is directed at the letter that started it all, a letter blindly sent by 24 year-old Robert Pirosh to every producer, director and studio executive in Hollywood:
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
385 Madison Avenue
Robert Pirosh has been gone for 23 years, having successfully satisfied the demands of a 79-year adventure.
As Chancellor of Wizard Academy, I hereby bestow on Robert Pirosh The Order of the Beagle, the highest award our little institution can offer. Based on his letter and what can be pieced together of his life, Robert Pirosh was our brand of crazy.
Do you have nominations for The Order of the Beagle? Send your suggestions and the rationale behind them to MicheleMiller@WizardAcademy.org
Wizard Academy belongs to you. What do you plan to do with it?
Roy H. Williams
PS – The nomination of Robert Pirosh to receive The Order of the Beagle was made by William Hackett-Jones, Wizard Academy’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, stationed in Saint Petersburg.
PPS – Dave Nevland tells me the Soviet Union isn’t there any more. But I don’t believe him.
Hear Dean Rotbart’s interview of Richard Kessler, a longtime friend and advertising legend on Monday Morning Radio.