Beauty. What a weird thing to try to describe, and yet what a profound goal. Act One seeks to create stories of truth, goodness, and beauty. But what is beauty? Where do we find it?
Look no further than Jack. I first met Jack at the Act One opening retreat, where he led us through an exercise to examine our favorite comedic moments in movies. Everyone brought films to share. I brought the movie Sideways, where the character of Miles and his buddy—oddly enough, named Jack—chased the last remnants of their carefree lives as they sailed into middle age. In the film, the character of Jack couldn’t help but be selfish, dishonest, and downright miserable—a complete opposite of the real Jack standing in the room who taught me everything I could possibly hope to understand about beauty.
You see, Jack was more than our weekend retreat guide. He was a lifelong youth leader, a marathon competitor, a bold runner of the bulls in Pamplona, and an ever-present guide and mentor to me as I learned the craft of television writing—and life. Me, and so many others.
Jack spent years and years as a consultant for the Warner Bros. Writing Program, poring through thousands upon thousands of scripts to cull the best and the brightest writers and give them a chance at their TV-writing dreams. But he did more than just choose program participants. At Act One, he cultivated us, giving up his Saturdays, his evenings, and so much of his time to teach us, to encourage us, to turn us into better writers—and better people. Because Jack never lost sight of the fact that stories are powerful, and TV equally so. So he pushed us to be great people first, and great writers second.
And oh how he reveled in our success. Jack would sit in front of his TV watching the shows that his students wrote, taking particular pleasure to point out on the TV screen each student’s name he had the joy and privilege of knowing. But the privilege was ours.
I quickly learned that Jack and I shared the same birthday, March 6. Every year on that day Jack would call together his closest friends to watch his favorite movie, Casablanca. And each year, right as the movie drew toward that classic ending scene between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Jack would pause the film and hold up a glass of wine, and he would look at those gathered in the room and say, “Here’s looking at you.” And he meant it. He loved us.
At only 62 years old, Jack became very ill and those of us who knew him well gathered in his hospital room to say our goodbyes. But instead of talk, we quietly began to sing a soft that would have made him smile: “You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh…” and the rest of the lyrics to “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca. Then, in a fitting—and almost perfectly-scripted—ending to that evening, we all raised our hands and said, “Here’s looking at you, Jack.”
Friends, family and everyone else showed up at his memorial service—it turned into a real and genuine celebration of a life that influenced so many people. Every television show in town for the past 20 years was represented by some writer who, in some way, was touched and influenced by Jack’s selfless, giving life. His beautiful, beautiful life. What is beauty? It’s Jack. His life. And his enduring influence. Act One is richer for his time. We are all richer for the beauty he gave our lives. And we continue to search out opportunities to find and share that beauty, in our writing, and in our lives. “Here’s looking at you, Jack.”