Luke Perry, I Knew You When

Former “90210” Publicist Remembers the TV Star

Luke Perry, aka Dylan McKay, in 1990

When I heard Luke Perry had had a stroke, I expected him to live. That’s because a friend of mine recently had a stroke, his second one, at age 56 and he is recovering. My friend, like Luke, is fit and determined. He’s doing the rehab and regaining use of his left side. So after Luke’s stroke I figured he too would recover. A few days later, when I learned that he had passed away, my nonchalant “he’ll be fine” changed to “WTF?!” He was only 52.

I met Luke Perry—aka Dylan McKay—back in 1990, when I was a publicist for “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I worked for the venerable PR agency Rogers and Cowan in its television division. They hired me to help with the launch of Aaron Spelling’s new production (and Darren Star’s first series) despite the fact I didn’t watch TV, let alone own one.

My job was to get attention for the new show to increase its viewership by pitching story ideas around the show and its actors. This was before social media. Hell, it was before email. I had to call or fax—remember landlines and fax machines?—editors of publications like TV Guide and Tiger Beat, and talent bookers for shows like “Entertainment Tonight.” I had to write press releases and mail them—in envelopes, with stamps—a phenomenon now referred to as “snail mail.” Getting coverage was no easy task because even though it was Aaron Spelling’s baby, “ 90210” was brand new and the editors and talent bookers didn’t want to give it column space or run segments until they were sure the show would still be on the air after a few episodes.

They were so young then!

I managed to book a few interviews. I got one for Tory Spelling who was still too young to have a driver’s license. I had to pick her up at her family’s mansion and drive her to the meeting with the reporter. I got one for Jennie Garth and Shannon Doherty, to model second-hand clothes on ABC’s “The Home Show.” That one was a stretch but it’s the only show that said yes. And I booked one for Luke. I don’t remember who it was with, but I do know it was before he became the poster child for Teen Beat, a publication that at time was still reluctant to do anything.

He was meeting the journalist at the Hollywood Athletic Club, then a hip cafe and pool hall, and I was to accompany him—as if he needed a chaperone. As if the reporter were going to ask something so out of line I would be needed to run interference. But Luke had no scandals or skeletons. So all I did was sit there and listen, worrying the entire time about who was going to pick up the check. I wasn’t fully trained in publicity etiquette or PR budgets so when the bill was placed on the table I dared to ask Luke, “When your publicist from the network goes on interviews with you, who pays?” He replied, “Janine is pretty quick with the plastic.” I cannot count the times I’ve thought of that over the years in the face of a dining dilemma, and I have Luke to thank for the frequent use of my credit card.

I often hung around on the set, hoping to find some anecdote I could use for a story pitch—though it was also a ruse to get out of my windowless office. One day the cast was shooting a scene in the Peach Pit and the director had them repeat the scene eight times. I thought the first one was good enough, so was the second. By the third, I had the lines memorized and began to question what I perceived as a waste of both time and film. By the fourth, I would have stormed off the set in exasperation. I dare say Shannen would have too. But not Luke. He remained cool and calm, warm and friendly. In real life, he wasn’t a rich and troubled rebel; he was from the Midwest. He was humble and hardworking. He had done construction jobs before his big break and understood that if the show got canceled he might have to again.

“BH, 90210’s” Peach Pit was modeled after one of my favorite places
to eat pie, The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles.

A year later, he told “Entertainment Tonight,” “We start slapping each other when anyone gets too big headed. We made a promise going into this, ‘Look guys, no one expects we’re going to do anything beyond these 13 episodes, but if by chance we surprise the world and put out a quality program that people want to keep watching, let’s remember how we got there and what makes the show so good.’ The show is good…because it’s an ensemble piece. Everybody works and everybody brings something to it.”

Forget his good looks; Luke’s modesty is what made him so attractive.

 “Call us back when the ratings go up,” the editors and talent bookers had said.

The ratings did go up. And up. And up. But I left my job before the show became the sensation it went on to be.

The work of whoever became the publicist after me would end up being more reactive than proactive. Instead of begging the media for even just a mention, they would be turning down requests for cover shoots and guest appearances. Which probably only made the job harder.

Once I no longer worked on it, I never watched the show, even though it aired for an impressive 10 seasons. It set a new record as Aaron Spelling’s longest running series, surpassing his eighties hit, “Dynasty.”

I may act like I don’t care about the show, but I’ve always taken note whenever the “90210” cast appeared in the media. Like when Tori Spelling, all grown up, graced the cover of People magazine each time she married, divorced, or gave birth. Or when Shannen Doherty displayed herself on the pages of Playboy. When Jason Priestley grabbed headlines for crashing a racecar at 180 mph. And when Brian Austin Green, who was a pipsqueak of a kid when I met him, dominated the tabloids when he married that stunning thing of beauty, Megan Fox. When Luke Perry’s role as Archie’s dad in “Riverdale” was announced, it caught my attention mostly as I had read the comic books as a kid, but also—as with any “90210” news—I felt the remaining threads of a connection to the actors’ lives. After all, I had in my own small, short-lived way as a publicist, helped launch these youngsters into stardom, at least by making the initial introductions to the press.

The news of Luke’s death worked its way into my subconscious as I had a dream about him the night after he died. I was at his wake. Luke was sitting off to the side, looking relaxed and dapper in a suit and tie. I went over to talk to him, not sure if he would remember me. He said he did, and invited me to sit down at his table. I wanted to ask him for his parents’ address so that I could send them a condolence card, but I didn’t have the heart to be a buzzkill and tell him that his funeral was the next day.

Fox Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

I like to think that Luke really is sitting at that table, as relaxed and well mannered as ever. That maybe he’s still alive in a parallel universe, while being remembered and celebrated in this one as if he were still here. And he should be celebrated. He was one of the good guys. And god knows, we could sure use more like him.

The reprise of “Beverly Hills, 90210” was just announced, ironically on the same day as Luke’s death. As sure as the world keeps turning, the show will go on, but this time without Luke as Dylan McKay and without me as its publicist. They would never hire me back anyway, as three decades on I still don’t own a TV.

RIP, Luke.

The Reality of Selling a Reality Show

After several weeks in LA, I’m packing up the RV and returning to Portland. I’ve never been so looking forward to going back to the rainy Pacific Northwest – more specifically to the quiet, calm sanctuary of my little treehouse apartment set on the edge of a vast, womblike forest. These last weeks have reminded me that I’ve been a bit too ambitious in thinking I could resume the pace and normality of my life. My life before Marcus died. My life before that horrific day eight months, four weeks, and three days ago. And now that I look back on it, I can see not only how unrealistic I was to believe that making a TV show about pie would cure me of my grief but also how unfit I am to function normally in the world.

I learned this little fact last Friday as I sat in the office of the Vice President of Development at one of Hollywood’s biggest and most respected reality television production companies, making my pie series pitch. He was intrigued with my idea, about traveling in the RV and interviewing people around the country about pie. And he asked good questions, his first one being: Why pie? He got the whole pie-as-metaphor thing, about how pie represents generosity, community, healing, world peace. But then he grilled me on the chronology of my life.

As he sat behind his desk eating forkfuls of the apple pie I made for the meeting, I talked at rapid-fire pace about how I went from the dot com job in San Francisco to the pie baking job in Malibu, to moving to Germany to marry Marcus, to moving to Portland and then Mexico for Marcus’ job. Then I got to the part where Marcus got transferred back to Germany last summer and how I didn’t go with him. And that’s when tears began leaking out from my eyeballs.

I thought I could tell my story without crying. Sometimes I can. Not always. Not in Orlando a week earlier when I gave a speech at the Great American Pie Festival in front of a hundred people. In my speech about how pie can change the world, I almost lost it completely when I explained how it had only been eight months since my husband died. “Eight months!” I reiterated. In mid-sentence the reality of why I was standing there giving the speech paralyzed me. I’m here because I’ve turned to pie to heal my grief, baking pies and giving them away. Lots of them. The lump in my throat threatened to end my talk right then and there, but after I took a huge breath and a brief pause, I was able to resume.

I seem to have been putting myself in some highly stressful situations as of late. A speech to a hundred people? Sure, what’s a little pressure on top of a huge heap of debilitating grief. A pitch meeting at an A-list production company? Hey, why not put yourself in a position to be scrutinized for your appearance. Even with these bulging eyes permanently puffy from crying? Sure, go for it.

I’m not kidding. This meeting held so much weight I was advised to invest in getting my hair and makeup done for it. That sent me into melt-down mode. “I’m a writer; I’m not used to being judged by my looks,” I cried to my friends. “And if beauty comes from the inside, then believe me, I know just how bad I look these days. No amount of time in a god damned beauty salon is going to help.” But I did it. I spent (er, wasted) over eight hours in the hair salon and close to $600 in the beautification project.

So as I sat there in the VP’s office with my newly lightened and shortened hair, wearing my new pink lipstick – crying – I blathered on to the development executive, “Not going with him will always be one of my greatest regrets.”

After Marcus moved back to Germany I never saw him again. Until he was lying in his casket. “Good thing I’m wearing my waterproof mascara,” I joked, trying to laugh off my unprofessional lack of composure.

He asked me why I wanted to make this TV show. “So I won’t have to get a job that confines me to a cubicle,” I said. But I could tell by his raised eyebrow that he wasn’t buying my flippant sarcasm. I continued, a little too honestly perhaps, explaining, “Because I need to get busy. When we were shooting the pilot I was so interested in all the people I met, good people, and all because of pie. Plus, the shoot and travel schedule kept me completely engaged. It was the best I felt since Marcus died and gave me a purpose to keep going. I want to recreate that feeling.”

Then, clearly trying to sabotage any chance of ever working with this company, I spelled it out for him: “If Marcus hadn’t died I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. And I would rather have Marcus alive than trying to sell you some fucking TV show.” The tears spurted out even faster, making little water stains on my jean skirt. Whoa. Talk about not ready for primetime. Then again, this was a reality television company. And if grief over losing one’s far-too-young-to-die husband isn’t reality I don’t know what is.

I wiped my eyes and continued my nervous chatter with Mr. VP. Someone must have slipped truth serum into my coffee the morning of my pitch meeting because I couldn’t edit myself and my inappropriate comments. “But then, you see?” I held up my hands to him, moving them up and down to demonstrate unbalanced weight on two scales. “TV show or suicide? Okay, TV show.”

Yeah, he’s going to want to work with me. More likely he’s going to call 911.

When the meeting was over and I stuck out my hand to shake his, he pushed my hand aside and said, “No. Let me give you a hug.” So maybe I didn’t scare him away after all. Still, if I could repeat the meeting I would plan it for a week when PMS wasn’t looming around the corner.

People tell me they are inspired by my resilience, by how I’m moving forward with my life, not letting the loss of Marcus stop me from living. Well, people, I have news for you. This is not resilience. This is my misguided manic attempt to keep myself from joining Marcus in the afterlife. But maybe I am making some progress, because I am finally becoming aware of my futile actions.

I’ve learned from these past few angst-ridden, hair-tampering, money-draining, tear-filled weeks in LA that selling this TV show isn’t going to fix anything. And trying to rush the grieving process isn’t going to work either. I was afraid that staying in Portland was keeping my sadness alive, surrounded by too many memories of Marcus there – which was part of the reason I drove the RV down to LA this month, to escape my dark surroundings. But after a taste of the energy and composure – and copious amounts of makeup – it would take to sell (let alone make) this TV show I am appreciating the need to stay in Portland a little longer. I need to embrace the stillness and take the time – however painfully long it takes – to honor the process, a crappy, difficult, undesirable process that is far from over.

As my grief counselor has said, “Grief is hard work.” So instead of looking so desperately for something – like making a pie TV show – to avoid the pain of grief, I need to accept that I already have a job. And as much as I wish I could quit this job, I’m going to get back to it.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Or in this case, a full tank of gas and a big box of Kleenex.

TV Show Promo for “This American Pie”

Here it is! As promised, the sizzle reel for our pie TV series. We’re calling the show THIS AMERICAN PIE. In TV speak, a sizzle reel is considered a sales tool, a sort of movie trailer, used to get a meeting with cable network executives, just to, literally, get a foot in the office door. So look out, we’re going to be kicking down some Hollywood doors now. And walking in with homemade pie.

(Click twice on the video image to open it up in a new window, otherwise you’ll only see the left half of the movie. Just when I thought I had all this technology figured out.)

Pie Sightings in the Blogosphere

Sometimes people send me links to pie stories in the media and pie-related postings on other people’s blogs. I keep a running log of all of these, and I plan to mention them in a blog post at some point…yes, I know, I’ve become quite the procrastinator lately. But today pie-contest book author Gina Hyams sent me this post about Pie vs. Cake: A Scientific Approach and I knew it must be shared immediately! It’s from a blog called Hyperbole and a Half and its creator is fabulous, if not slightly insane. Reading her blog made me snort from laughing so hard. And though she doesn’t usually write about pie, she should take note from Pigmy Will and create a regular pie-loving character. Perhaps one of her shark-sloth or dinosaur-drag queen hybrids (like I said, slightly insane) could promote pie consumption the way she took liberties with the Cookie Monster promoting cookies. Just a suggestion.

As long as I’m taking a break from procrastination, let me tell you about a few other pie findings out there in the news and blogosphere.

Fellow Portlander Joel Weiler recently launched Make Me Some Pie, a blog dedicated to pie in pop culture, and obviously I have had my head buried under my down comforter for too many days in a row because I just saw that he already mentioned the Pie vs. Cake post from Hypebole and a Half a few days ago. I really must create that Google Pie Alert I’ve been putting off for months now.

And here you have, better late than never, Pigmy Will’s recent video installment, “Diet Pie.” I must admit to being thrilled at this one because the idea spawned from our TV shoot when we interviewed Pigmy Will’s creators. I mentioned a cocktail napkin I had just seen depicting two fat men eating pie with a caption reading “It’s just fruit.” Here is PW’s take on that. (Speaking of slightly insane…)

If the pie creativity continues to be this inspiring I might have to update my blog more often! I promise, I will, as there’s some great stuff to come soon — including an article on The World Needs More Pie in next week’s Portland Tribune, and we are just one voice-over away from completing the 2-minute promo reel for our TV-pielot.

Our New Pie Website is Live!

Creating our new website– –was almost as much fun as filming the TV pie-lot. We needed a home to promote all the pie-related projects we’ve been cooking up — pie parties, pie memoir, pie TV series, homemade pies for sale, and pie things we haven’t even thought of yet. For the pie blog you can still find us here on Blogger for now, but keep checking the new pie site for updates as we’ll be announcing news (like the fact I’ll be a judge at the National Pie Championships in Orlando, FL in April!), previewing the promo tape (known in the biz as a “Sizzle Reel”), and more.

A friend in Paris, Jeb Buffinton, praised the new site on his Facebook page stating,
“‘Give piece a chance!’ Beth’s new website is simply constructed, delightfully light, a bit flakey yet with substance, and the contents are warm and delectable.”
Well put!
The web design — fresh, fun, clean and cheerful — is thanks to fellow pie lover, talented graphic artist, and creator of the Pietopia pie/writing contest, Tricia Martin.

Pie TV Shoot Stats

As promised, we added up the numbers for our pie TV shoot. Here’s the final tally.RV Road Trip
Number of miles driven in the RV (RT Portland-Los Angeles, and including my Christmas trip to Arizona): 4,521
Number of miles I drove RV prior to this trip: 0
Number of parking or speeding tickets: 0 (yay!)
Number of dings on the RV roof from parallel parking too close to trees: 4
Number of hours spent caulking the leaky roof: 5
Number of times Janice fought to keep Jack off her lap before giving up: 9

Number of times people honked because of our pie sign in the window: 67
Number of Café Lattes served to Janice over 12 mornings: 12
Number of times we sang “Pants on the Ground”: 26
Number of times we imitated Pigmy Will’s voice: too many!

Number of In ‘N Out burgers eaten: 3 each

Pie Interviews and Consumption

Number of pie bakers interviewed: 12
Age of oldest person interviewed: 92
Age of youngest person interviewed: 7
Number of people we taught to bake pies: 13 (14 if you include Janice)

Number of pounds of apples purchased: 160
Number of pies baked: 58
Number of pie slices given away on National Pie Day: 384
Number of pieces of pie eaten in 12 days: 21 each!
Number of pie varieties eaten: 12
Number of bites of coconut cream pie Janice ate: 1
Number of pounds gained: 0 (Ha!)

Number of months since Marcus died: 6 (you didn’t think I forgot about him, did you?!)
Number of times we thanked him for doing “advance security” for us: 24
Number of times I cried on camera about him: 3
Number of hours out of 8 I wished he could have been with us giving out pie slices on National Pie Day: 8

Follow up
Number of post-shoot (hand-written, not email) thank you cards I’ve sent so far: 0 (gotta go so I can get those written!)
Number of hours I’ve spent (so far) working out content for the next 12 episodes: 6

Are They Trying to Tell Me Something?

This is the box of t-shirts we had made for the TV shoot. We had imprinted on the shirts “The World Needs More Pie” but the box label stated something slightly different: Beth Howard Needs More Pie.

If they were trying to tell me something, well, I couldn’t agree more!

TV Pilot: What’s Next?

What happens when you spend 12 days shooting footage of other people baking pie? If you’re Janice, you fly back to your home in New Jersey, bake five pies (having never previously baked a pie in your entire life), and invite your whole family over to test your new culinary skills. (Janice’s friend Marguerite pictured below.)Janice was definitely paying attention from behind the camera. Look at those happy pie eaters! (Pictured below are Janice’s siblings and friends.)
While it’s well and good that we spent the past 2 weeks expanding our pie baking abilities, now what? What are the next steps in making a TV pie-lot?

One, we write a treatment. A treatment is the synopsis of what your show is about, along with the outline of what each episode will look like. Here’s a sneak preview of ours. Mind you, it’s a work in progress.

Pie is comfort. Pie builds community. Pie heals. Pie can change the world. That is what Beth Howard, journalist, blogger, and former pie baker to the stars in Malibu, always believed. But when Howard’s 43-year-old husband dies suddenly and unexpectedly, she must put her theory to a personal test. As part of her grieving process just a few months after his death she packs up the RV her husband left behind and hits the American highways and byways in search of the real healing powers of pie. During her journey she interviews an eclectic array of people – pie bakers, shop owners, apple growers, social activists, philanthropists, cartoonists, song writers, 92-year-old grandmothers, and even a pie-delivering bike messenger – people who make the world a happier place, and who help Howard ease her grief, all because of an iconic American dessert.

“The World Needs More Pie” is a docu-reality series of one-hour episodes hosted by Beth Howard. Howard seeks out fellow pie bakers, pie lovers, and people who use pie to help others. She goes into their pie shops, their commercial kitchens, their fruit orchards, their homes, and beyond to explore not only their pie baking techniques and tips but to learn about their real lives. She always wants to know “Why pie?” but she delves further with quirky questions like, “If you were a pie what kind would you be?” and more pressing ones like, “How can pie change the world?”

In the pilot – er, pie-lot – we follow Howard as she teaches others (from 9-year-olds to 30-somethings) how to make pie, enlists her friends to help her make 50 pies to give away for free on National Pie Day, visits her old Malibu pie baking employer, and stops off at several legendary diners to sample the pies that made them famous.

Traveling in the RV around the USA, every episode of the series is a new adventure in people, places, and pie. With the arrival in each small town, big city and everywhere in between, we meet new characters in their own environments. The stories are as plentiful, rich, and abundant as the many flavors of pie we get to taste along the way.

Examples of future segments include:

• The Ultimate Pie Connoisseurs – Inside the lives of Truckers and their favorite truck-stop pie

• We’ll be the Judge – Howard is invited to be a pie judge at Crisco’s National Pie Championship in Orlando, Florida

• Blueberry Wars – The competition is fierce. Who’s got better berries – Oregon, Michigan, or Maine?

• *Cream of the Crop – Where does whipped cream come from? We gain a closer connection to our food by talking to dairy farmers (*We do variations on this segment for other pie ingredients as well – flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fruit, etc.)

Howard documents her story daily on her blog: She writes about her own journey through grief, about the inspiring people she meets, about the many valuable lessons learned along the way, and, of course, about the pie.

So give a piece a chance. Grab a fork and come along for the ride.

Two, Janice and her sister Lisa travel to a TV development conference in Washington, D.C., where they pitch the show idea to executives who can actually get this show on the air.

Three, we set up follow up meetings with any interested TV execs and hope they give us the thumbs up, along with the cash and crew to go back out on the road, crisscross the USA like a lattice crust, and bring you many more pie stories!

Hopefully, we pique the interest of a hungry network/cable channel. But navigating the world of television can be more obstinate than rolling pie dough on a hot day, so wish us luck!

Day 11: TV Pilot — LA’s Legendary Apple Pan

Several weeks ago, when we first started on this Great Pie Adventure and I began to schedule pie interviews, The Apple Pan was the first place I called. I had eaten there 20 years ago and as soon as I hung up from the call I rushed over there to satisfy my awakened craving for a Hickory Cheeseburger and a slice of banana cream pie. So since the shoot in a way began with this place it seems fitting that Apple Pan was our last stop — and last pie — of the TV pilot. We were allowed in at 9AM, two hours before the official opening time. We hadn’t yet made it all the way back from San Francisco the night before and had slept at a truck stop along I-5 in the RV. I got behind the wheel at 4:30AM , driving in my pajamas, to make it to West LA in time. We walked in the door at 9:15. Whew! (We would have been on time if I hadn’t had to change out of my pajamas.)

We were just in time to see the pie bakers in action. Jose prepped more dough while Rodrigo attended to the pies already in the oven. We learned that Rodrigo has been baking pies at The Apple Pan for 10 years and Jose has been there 12 years. But these guys are newcomers compared to the other staff members. One guy who works behind the counter has been here 30 years. And another employee retired after working here 53 years.The owners of The Apple Pan take pride in the fact that NOTHING has changed since the diner opened in 1943 — and they mean nothing. Not the menu, the recipes, the red vinyl stools, not the wood paneled walls, and not even the employees. In a world of hyperfast change, this is a place where people seek — and find — comfort.

We know this because when the doors finally opened to customers at 11AM — they were lining up outside and we witnessed every bar stool occupied by 11:02!! — we interviewed the diners on why they like to eat here. “Because it’s the best burger and pie in town. You can always count on it being great.” But they don’t keep coming back just for the food. They return — again and again, generation after generation — because of nostalgia. “I used to come here with my dad,” one man tells us, “and my grandparents used to bring him here before that.”
At last it was time for Janice and I to get down to business and try the pie. Sunny, the owner and granddaughter of the founders, brought us a piece of Boysenberry and a piece of Banana Cream.While we LOVED LOVED LOVED the pie (just look at the huge portion of bananas in that slice!) we equally enjoyed our time with Sunny (pictured above) and her mother Martha (with bedhead me below). They are so positive and cheerful who needs to come for the food? Their warm smiles were nourishment enough. That said, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss the pie. (Pictured is Janice, below, looking very happy, because berry pie is her favorite.)

To every ending there is a new beginning. No sooner did we polish off the cream pies Jose and Rodrigo showed up with two plates of their apple pie, piping hot from the oven. They stood there, waiting in anticipation for our assessment, until we dug into it. How could we refuse?
Crispy, flaky crust. Soft, warm filling. Cold, creamy ice cream. Hot, strong coffee. Oh. My. God. What a perfect balance of textures and flavors. No wonder The Apple Pan continues to do booming business after 63 years. While it’s rare to find a business that isn’t either wanting to expand in size or trying something new to keep up with the competition, we agree, we wouldn’t want them to change a thing!

NEXT: Wrapping up the shoot, doing voice overs and intros, revising the treatment, and getting Janice to the airport. The interviews — and pie tastings — may be done for now, but the real work is just beginning. So stay tuned to the blog. We’ll be giving you more updates as we progress, as well as a final tally of pies eaten, supplies used, and more.