by Lorie Lewis Ham
This past week the mystery and television world lost one of the greats, Stephen J. Cannell. One of TV’s most prolific screenwriters and producers, he was involved in creating over 40 TV shows and has left behind an incredible legacy having written 450 TV episodes and produced or executive-produced more than 1500 episodes. In the spring of 1986, he had six, hour long shows on in primetime: The A-Team, Hunter, Stingray, Riptide, The Last Precinct on NBC, and Hardcastle & McCormick on ABC. In the mid 90’s, he turned his hand to writing mystery novels and wrote 16 before his passing, the latest, The Prostitutes Ball, set to be released on October 12.
I grew up on A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Rockford Files, and many of the other Cannell shows. I still remember how at the end of his shows you would see him pulling a sheet of paper out of his typewriter and tossing it in the air. Since I had a secret dream of writing for TV, he quickly became one of my heroes. When I learned he suffered from dyslexia, and still managed to be so prolific, my admiration of him grew. Though he didn’t realize he had it until in his 30’s, the disorder caused him to flunk three grades before he finished high school, yet he rose above it and accomplished so much. You can learn more about his life and career on his website
At a Los Angeles Times Book Festival several years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Stephen on a panel for the first time and two things stick in my mind to this day—he wrote every day without fail, and how he triumphed over his dyslexia. Afterward I waited in line with excitement to meet him and have my book signed. I was a newly published author myself; my first book Murder In Four Part Harmony had just been released. I decided to be daring—as he signed my book and I told him how much I loved his work, I gave him a copy of my book not really expecting him to read it. He accepted it graciously and I walked away elated at having met one of my heroes.
A couple of years later I met him again at a mystery conference and stood in line to have another book signed. Imagine my surprise when he not only remembered me, but remembered my book and had read it! I’ll never forget having Stephen J. Cannell tell me he liked my book and telling me to keep writing and never give up on my dream. That is a moment that will stick with me forever. Here was this man who had accomplished so much, and had every reason to have an ego and yet there was none. He was one of the kindest and most gracious people I have ever met and the memories of our brief encounters will always be special to me.
When I received a tweet about his passing, I felt like I’d lost a friend. Though he is no longer with us, he will remain an inspiration to me in my writing. The world feels a little emptier with his passing. I have to admit that while I loved his TV shows, I still haven’t read his books, but I will now make it a priority! It’s my last chance to spend some time with a hero of mine.
Because Stephen had such a huge impact on my life, being a part of instilling in me a love for mystery/adventure when I was a teenager that led to my writing mystery novels, I felt compelled to share my memories of him. I highly encourage anyone else who has memories of this man to share them here in our comments section—whether they are of personal encounters, having seen him speak, or just being affected by his work. Let’s pay tribute to one of the greats!