Along with frequent collaborator Rosie Schuster, Anne Beatts was one of the original writers on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) and her efforts resulted in some of the most memorably hilarious moments found on that legendary program. In addition to helping break new ground for women in that medium, Beatts also managed to surmount the Boy's Club comedic brain trust at National Lampoon, becoming the magazine's first female contributor. While she and Shuster were instructed to concentrate their efforts on the three "SNL" female cast members, they still managed to concoct memorable sketches for most everyone. Beatts' willingness to fight for her material did not always sit well with co-workers, but that situation was created at least in part by the tougher conditions that she and Schuster were forced to work under. The results usually spoke for themselves and along with her fellow writers, Beatts shared a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series. Following "SNL," she created "Square Pegs" (CBS, 1982-83) though low ratings ultimately killed the acclaimed sitcom after a single season. Beatts also found a new vocation as Adjunct Professor in the Writing Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, where she taught a course on writing for late night comedy programs. While her later television ventures mostly fizzled, Beatts accomplished much during her time with "SNL" and fully deserved her status as a true pioneer and trailblazer for female comedy writers and showrunners.
Anne Patricia Beatts was born on Feb. 25, 1947 in Buffalo, NY. Her father served as tutor for the son of an affluent household and the family alternated between Florida and Connecticut during the first few years of Beatts' life. Both of her parents wrote in their spare time and Beatts was encouraged to read, a talent she acquired by age three. An instructor position for her father with IBM resulted in another move and Beatts attended grade school in Millbrook, NY. Although she was involved with several student clubs and functions, Beatts found her years as a student of Somers Central High School a difficult experience. Trying to blend in and invariably failing, she found a much more pleasing atmosphere at Montreal's McGill University. Beatts graduated from that institution with a degree in English, which she utilized to gain employment as an advertisement copywriter for various businesses. During this time, Beatts converted to the Jewish faith, partially out of her reverence for such writers as Bruce Jay Friedman and J.D. Salinger.
Following a few years in that line of work, a year-long trip to Europe, and more advertising opportunities in London, Beatts' intelligence and sharp sense of humor earned her a place on staff at National Lampoon. The publication's first female writer, Beatts initially struggled to find approval from the otherwise all male staff. She and fellow scribe Michael O'Donoghue struck up a relationship and after contributing material to the print version of the magazine, Beatts switched over to the "National Lampoon Radio Hour" (syndicated, 1973-74). When that program ended, she and O'Donoghue worked on "Shame of the Jungle" (1975), a considerably altered, English dubbed version of the French animated feature "Tarzoon, la honte de la jungle" ("Tarzoon, the Shame of the Jungle"). Beatts and O'Donoghue came up with a new script and Americanized jokes for the adult flick, which featured new dubbing by John Belushi and Bill Murray, performers who would later figure into the venture that really made Beatts' career.
"Shame of the Jungle" was a pretty dismal enterprise, but much better things were soon on the horizon. Beatts and co-author Deanne Stillman signed a deal for the publication of their book Titters: the First Collection of Humor by Women(1976) and she and O'Donoghue were among the initial people hired to work on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), Lorne Michaels' new late night comedy program. The schedule was chaotic and the writers were often under intense pressure to meet production deadlines. Facing familiar prejudice regarding their abilities, the female contributors had it especially tough, but Beatts and Schuster still came up with some of the show's most memorable sketches and characters. While frequently asked to concentrate on sketches for Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, the pair also created some of the era's iconic "SNL" components, including loveable nerds Todd Di La Muca & Lisa Loopner; Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute; and Irwin Mainway, sleazy manufacturer of lethal toys. The show gradually caught fire, producing several comedic superstars, and Beatts and her fellow gagsters were awarded a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series in 1976. Beatts also contributed material to "Gilda Radner - Live from New York" (1979), the comedienne's Broadway show, later captured on film and released to movie theatres as "Gilda Live!" (1980).
Beatts sometimes rubbed co-workers the wrong way, but found it necessary in order to ensure that her material survived the planning process and made it to air. She ultimately left the program in 1980, a time when "SNL" was in a state of creative flux that almost brought about its cancellation. The break from those relentless years ended when Beatts came up with the concept of "Square Pegs" (CBS, 1982-83), a sitcom based on her years as a high school outsider that starred Sarah Jessica Parker. As creator and producer, Beatts had a difficult relationship with the show's production company, which often bristled at the style of humor. Reviews were largely positive, but ratings were middling and the show was axed. Beatts moved on to other endeavors, including the Broadway show "Leader of the Pack" (1985), and was one of the comedic talents recruited for the all-star benefit "Comedy Relief" (1986), which brought her a CableACE Award. She was lured back to the world of network programming for "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-1993) and asked to salvage a show that had lost its producer shortly after shooting began. Although the comedy was renewed and continued to run for several years, Beatts was fired following the first season, which had been a trying experience for her due to various problems, including a fractious relationship with star Lisa Bonet.
After producing such unsold pilots as "The Belles of Bleeker Street" (1991) and "The Elvira Show" (1993), Beatts served as executive producer and occasional writer for "The Stephanie Miller Show" (syndicated, 1995-96), a late night talk program that lasted one season. Beatts resumed writing, penning the humor column "Beatts Me!" for the Sunday edition of The Los Angeles Times and revisited her "SNL" years via the Emmy award-winning anniversary special "Saturday Night Live 25" (NBC, 1999), a three-hour clip show celebration of the show's finest moments. Beatts occasionally returned to television work in the years that followed, directing the 13-part anthology series "John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You" (Here! TV, 2006), a collection of offbeat, LGBT-themed motion pictures hosted by the beloved Prince of Puke from his Baltimore home. She also acted as director and executive producer of the webisode series "Dr. Lupe's Love Picante" (2007), written by and starring Grace Fraga. Beatts also became an Adjunct Professor in the Writing Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at USC, where she taught the course on writing for late night television, and independently offered a five-part instructional series on creating and performing sketch comedy.
By John Charles