An item that caught my eye in a Sunday issue of the Los Angeles Times 20 years ago remains the strangest story I’ve yet come across in the entertainment section of a newspaper. It said that the novelist Thomas Pynchon, who has never consented to be photographed or interviewed by a journalist in his adult life (unless this 2001 Japanese Playboy interview is authentic), had given script notes to John Larroquette of Night Court fame for an episode of the actor’s new TV series. Stranger still, one of these notes revealed Pynchon’s preference for the great rock’n'roll singer Roky Erickson over Willy DeVille. What a marvelous time to be alive, I thought, with what remained of my mind. Remember, this was ten years before Pynchon appeared in an episode of The Simpsons looking like the Unknown Comic, and in company so incongruous as to beggar belief.
Unlike some sitcom actors you could name, Larroquette likes to read books. (He has an impressive collection of first editions with a particular focus on the work of Samuel Beckett.) For one episode in the first season of The John Larroquette Show, in which Larroquette played John Hemingway, the alcoholic manager of a bus station in St. Louis, the actor had an idea for a story about Pynchon. He sent the script to Pynchon’s agent—who I believe must have been Melanie Jackson, to whom Pynchon has been married since 1990—and the author obligingly replied. I’ve never seen the episode, “Newcomer,” which had aired several months before the article appeared, but I hold out hope it will turn up on YouTube.
Here’s the meat of the story reported by the Times:
Pynchon has a special love for the losers lost on the wayside of the American dream. So co-executive producer Larroquette decided to feature Pynchon in a script and sent the work-in-progress to Pynchon’s agent for approval.
“We made up a novel that he hasn’t written—and he gave us permission to say that he had written ‘Pandemonium of the Sun,’ ” Larroquette says.
The mysterious, never-photographed Pynchon refused, however, to let a “Larroquette” extra, in a plaid shirt, be videotaped from the rear and represented as Pynchon.
One scene called for Hemingway’s antagonist, the lunch counter operator, Dexter (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), to reveal, quite casually, that he’s a longtime pal of the much-traveled writer.
“You must have seen him, he was sitting here last night!” Dexter insists. The script says Pynchon was wearing a T-shirt with the picture of a certain, obscure musician.*
“Pynchon, through his agent, wrote back and says, ‘Would you please make it a picture of Rocky [sic] Erickson on the T-shirt?’ ” Larroquette says.
“I looked up Rocky Erickson. He was a psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll musician in the ‘60s who was institutionalized shortly thereafter and spent most of the rest of his life in an insane asylum. Somebody that Pynchon liked, I guess.”
*Willy DeVille of Mink Deville
Dr. Timothy Leary talks about his wish to meet Thomas Pynchon