YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

COVER STORY : The Bucks Start Here : Write a great song (or play or TV show) and cash those royalty checks forever. Pretty great gig. Who's cashing in, and who's not? You might be surprised.

November 05, 1995|Diane Haithman | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale ,

A tale of a fateful trip .

It started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailing man ,

The skipper brave and sure ,

Five passengers set sail that day

For a three-hour tour. . . .


Shakespeare it's not. Producer Sherwood Schwartz, who wrote the lyrics of this theme song for the 1964-67 TV series "Gilligan's Island," would be the first to admit it. Schwartz also wrote the lyrics to the theme for the 1969-73 family sitcom "The Brady Bunch"--rarely cited as a classic.

But there's a payoff to having penned those words. Schwartz, 78, says those two songs alone pay him about $60,000 a year in royalties.

Besides earning royalties each time the shows are rerun on TV, Schwartz said, he gets checks every now and then from unexpected sources. For example, Ted Danson recited the "Brady Bunch" song lyrics as a wedding toast in the 1989 film "Cousins." And Schwartz once received a royalty check for less than a dollar when a marching band in a football stadium played "Gilligan's Island" at halftime.

Theme song royalties represent a tiny fraction of the Schwartz empire; Schwartz created "Gilligan's Island" as well as "The Brady Bunch" with son Lloyd Schwartz, 49. Both shows have spawned successful TV reunion movies, including the 1989 ratings blockbuster "A Very Brady Christmas," and the two earn healthy sums for their roles in creating these enterprises.

The Schwartzes wrote the book for a 1992 stage musical, "Gilligan: The Musical," and an as-yet-unproduced film ("Gilligan's Island: The Movie"). "The Brady Bunch" inspired this year's "The Brady Bunch Movie" (which the Schwartzes produced) and an earlier stage satire called "The Real Live Brady Bunch" (which they did not). There was a "Brady Bunch"-based cartoon series and a touring singing group (for which the Schwartzes waived their right to profits), and now there is a "Brady" CD-ROM.

Still, Lloyd Schwartz said in a recent interview with his father at the latter's Beverly Hills home, royalties and residual payments for all of these projects represent the icing on a very large cake.

The younger Schwartz, who has also written plays, enjoys getting modest checks from around the country because it lets him know where his work is being performed. And, like his father, he has musical credits: "We wrote a movie called 'The Invisible Woman,' and we wanted the song at the beginning of the movie to be like the song 'Tequila,' where there's a whole lot of music and then one word--'Tequila!' So we had a bunch of music, then the line was: 'She must be around here someplace.' We [Lloyd and Sherwood] wrote the lyric together. So I joined ASCAP for writing half of the lyric 'She must be around here someplace.' "

(ASCAP is a performance-rights society that makes sure that the owner of the copyright for a piece of music is paid for public performance of that song; BMI and SESAC serve similar functions.)

"It's like Christmas," Lloyd Schwartz said. "It's not like any other business I know. You open up your mailbox, and there's a check for some show you did a long time ago that's now playing in Australia. Sometimes they're large, sometimes they're small. I have friends who have gotten zero dollars and zero cents--but they get a check."

Royalties and residual checks are like getting paid on Tuesday for a hamburger today. Actually, it's more like getting paid every time the hamburger is shown on cable. All facets of the entertainment industry--theater, film, TV and music--offer the enticement of royalty or residual moneys to be made not only for immediate services but for many years beyond.

"I have a friend who, whenever he would write an episode of something, would take the money and buy something for his house," Lloyd Schwartz said. "He would say: 'That's the "That's My Mama" couch [from the 1974-75 series about a Washington barber].' Everything in his house was identified by show."

Added Sherwood Schwartz: "I have a lot of writer friends who wrote so many episodes of so many shows . . . that they can collect enough money to make a living now without really doing any work."


Gordon Davidson, artistic director-producer of the Music Center's Center Theatre Group, said royalties from plays originated at the Taper, Doolittle and Ahmanson help the Taper continue to develop new work.

"Every deal is different. But royalties have played a modest factor in the life of this theater--and thank God for that," he said.

"The biggest moneymaker for the Taper was [1981's] 'Children of a Lesser God,' and the reason is it ran for two years on Broadway, two years on the road and two years in London [and became a 1986 movie]. It's a very important funding bridge for us.

Los Angeles Times Articles