Fay Kanin--writer, producer and past president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences--was talking about dignity.
Receiving the second annual Genii Award for production at the 32nd annual Genii Awards luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel Saturday, Kanin also urged her audience to "give the lie to" the "cliche, that glib put-down of Hollywood, that labels Hollywood as Tinseltown."
Sharing the spotlight with Kanin at the ceremonies sponsored by the Southern California chapter of American Women in Radio and Television was actress Sharon Gless, also known as Sgt. Chris Cagney of "Cagney & Lacey," this year's Emmy winner as best dramatic actress in a series, who received the 32nd Genii for acting.
Indeed, at times the Genii event seemed like a "Cagney & Lacey" family affair. Gless' acting and police partner, Tyne Daly, also known as Detective Mary Beth Lacey and a three-time Emmy winner in that role, was mistress of ceremonies, while her husband, director Georg Stanford Brown, who received a best director Emmy this year for a segment of "Cagney & Lacey," was master of ceremonies.
Kanin--a two-time Emmy winner for "Tell Me Where It Hurts," about middle-class housewives who form a support group, and "Friendly Fire," based on the true story of an Iowa farm family whose son was killed in Vietnam--said she recently came across her first screen writing contract for MGM while leafing through some old boxes.
She recalled that at the time, which was several decades ago, she read the contract in its entirety--"something I've never done since"--and came across a startling clause that said MGM was the screenplay's author.
Kanin said, "Since it was an original, I was sure it was a mistake, and I pointed it out to my agent who carefully explained the technicalities of copyright law by saying, 'It's just a formality; it doesn't affect your money.'
"I said, 'It affects my dignity.'
" 'Dignity,' she told me, 'you can't write into a contract,' " Kanin said, while her audience of some 350 industry insiders, friends and family of the Genii winners, laughed.
"She was right," Kanin admitted. "You can't. At least not yet. But you can write it into your working life. You can choose projects you believe in, and fight whatever battles are necessary to get them realized well. You can work with people you respect and forge relationships with people who mean something." As for Tinseltown--"tinsel meaning gaudy, tawdry, of no worth"--Kanin added: "I resent that every time I hear it. It deprecates the consummate skills, the experience, the dedication and the downright hard work that is the strong underpinning of the glamorous base of Hollywood. "A town," she added, "that has produced 'Citizen Kane,' 'Grapes of Wrath,' 'Roots,' 'Dr. Strangelove,' 'MASH,' 'Midnight Cowboy,' 'All in the Family,' 'Network,' 'Jane Pittman,' 'Cagney & Lacey,' 'High Noon' 'Friendly Fire' . . . "
Esther Shapiro, co-executive producer of "Dynasty" and "The Colbys," who was last year's winner of the first Genii for production, presented this year's award to Kanin. Actress Lindsay Wagner, who was a winner last year, presented Gless her award.
Shapiro recalled: "I first met Fay Kanin when she wrote and produced 'Friendly Fire,' and I was privileged to be the executive at ABC on the project. She blew me away on that one.
"I never tire of telling people about the night that I read her finished script," Shapiro went on. "I called her at midnight, dragged her out of bed and told her that in my opinion she had just written a landmark in television history. . . . I mean we're talking world-class here," she said of Kanin.
Wagner suggested that Gless could "make cuff links" from her dual awards. And, in an obvious reference to the interminably long ceremonies at the 31st Genii event, Wagner added: "It's very exciting to see you all awake--unlike last year."
Wagner added that she had waited so long for her award, she "thought my clothes would go out of style."
In contrast, Saturday's event was crisp, even amusing. As Brown began the proceedings, characterizing the winners as "pioneers of sorts," Daly, on cue, interrupted:
"What do you mean 'of sorts'?" Daly asked in mock dismay.
"Twenty-two years!" Brown said slowly, referring to the years of their marriage.
Each winner had a retinue of speakers: For Kanin, producer Norman Lear, who co-produced last year's TV movie "Heartsounds" with her and actress Nanette Fabray, among others. For Gless, actor Robert Wagner (who worked with her on a television series 20 years ago called "Switch"), and "Cagney & Lacey" producer Barney Rosenzweig, among others.
"This is my favorite thing to do on a lazy Saturday," Lear began as the room resounded to sitcom-like laughter. "Wake up about 11, put on a shirt and tie, drag myself down to this great ballroom--and have chicken . . . "
At her turn, Gless sounded a bit breathless--and nervous. She said she was happy to be surrounded by close friends. The audience also included her father, Dennis Gless, a retired sportswear executive, two brothers, two cousins, a niece--and down front, a table-full of the men from "Cagney and Lacey."
"I know what I do well," Gless said, "and making speeches is not one of them.
"I can't tell you how proud I am," the actress added. "It (the award) means a great deal to me," And she grinned: "I love prizes!"