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FOG! Chats With Author and Classic TV Advocate, Herbie J Pilato

Photograph by Dan Holm

Herbie J Pilato is a not just a fan; he lives and breathes television.

Originally, seeking fame in fortune in Los Angeles, he slowly built an up and coming career as an actor, performer, and served as a prestigious NBC Page, before turning his friendship with Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery into a career as a writer.

With a love of classic television, Pilato has been active as a voice of the history of the medium, writing books centered around such series as Bewitched, Kung Fu, Life Goes On, as well icons of television from the 50s through the 70s including Montgomery, Mary Tyler Moore, and movie star Sean Connery.  He recently won the 2023 Los Angeles Book Festival Award For Author of the Year and Best Independent Book of the Year for Retro Active Television: An In-Depth Perspective on Classic TV’s Social Circuitry.  

Recently, Bear Manor Media released an update of his The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman Reconstructed.  Herbie was generous with his time and we discussed the book, both beloved Bionic series, and his upcoming projects.

*  *  *  *  *

FOG!: Thanks for taking the time to chat about the new edition of your fantastic book, The Bionic Book, which takes a look at both the classic TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. I assume you were a fan of both of these series when they initially aired?

Well, firstly. Thank you so very much for your kind words about the new edition of my Bionic Book. I absolutely loved both shows as a kid. I used to run in slow-motion while seated at my desk in Miss Ganzini’s 8th Grade Class at St. Anthony of Padua’s. Used to drive her crazy. Though my classmates loved it, especially when I’d mimic the whole raised-bionic-eye-brow-thing that Lee Majors used to do. And I remember how happy I was when The Bionic Woman got a series of her own. Lindsay Wagner’s on-screen presence and talent were mesmerizing. Even as a kid, it was clear to me how gifted and unique an actress she was…and of course, to this day remains.

=Herbie J Pilato with Lyndsay Wagner / Photo: Herbie J. Pilato

Growing up, what made television such a magical medium? What was your favorite series to watch?

It was a special time back then. Every show was spectacular. There was showmanship in the way the programming was presented, produced, written, and performed. There was a class and elegance about every series that is severely missing from TV today, as well as at the movies, as they used to say.

You moved to Los Angeles from New York to break into show business, appearing as a guest actor, a singer, and an NBC Page. During this time you started a new aspect of your career, as an author, with your first publication, The Bewitched Book, later revised as Bewitched Forever, and befriended series star Elizabeth Montgomery, whom you wrote about in two acclaimed books: Twitch Upon a Star, a narrative biography, which is now in audiobook form, and The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery, an encyclopedia of her entire body of work.

What was that experience like for you as you shifted from a fan of the series and star to her becoming a colleague and friend?

Elizabeth was an amazing human being. She was so down-to-earth, and unaffected by her stardom, or family background, really.

Being the daughter of the famed film and TV actor Robert Montgomery, for one, could have easily encouraged her to adopt an ‘attitude.’ But she had none of that.

When I first met her, because I had studied her work for so long, I felt like I knew her. I never asked her for her autograph or a photo with her, or to twitch her nose. I didn’t want to be ‘that guy.’

And she respected that. She respected me because she knew I respected her as an individual, and for her work as an actress, before, during, and after Bewitched.

You moved back East to become a caregiver to your parents. Was it at this time that you decided to focus on your writing career?

Yes, and caring for my beautiful mom and dad, Frances Mary Turri, and Pompeii Herbert was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But I had written the proposal for the original Bewitched Book, while I was in L.A. before I moved back to Rochester. I had also written a TV-reunion-movie for Bewitched, which I submitted to Bill Asher, who produced and directed the original series, and who was then married to Elizabeth. He loved my reunion script, and at the time, was developing a new Bewitched series, titled, Bewitched Again. As a favor to Bill, Elizabeth was going to make a cameo in the new series. But the financing fell through for that show, and that’s when I transferred my Bewitched energy to writing a companion book about the original series.

You’ve now written over a dozen books on the entertainment industry and most recently have published Connery, Sean Connery: Before, During, and After His Most Famous Role, and the revised edition of The Bionic Book. What was the genesis of the update and what were the non-negotiables that you felt were necessary for the new edition?

I was quite pleased with the way the original Bionic Book turned out, but over time, I noticed a few things that I wanted to change and refine. I altered the narrative from ‘past tense’ to ‘present tense,’ changed the phrasing here and there, added a few new photos and behind-the-scenes anecdotes; added some updates on some of the cast and crew biographies, and such. In addition to the wonderful Foreword that Richard Anderson wrote for the original edition, there’s also now an all-new Introduction by Terrence McDonnell, who wrote some wonderful Bionic scripts, about which I’m especially pleased and honored. The overall production of the book received an upgrade, from its new vibrant front and back cover design with new color photos of Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner to the interior quality of the paper stock. I like to think of it as when Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, gave an upgrade to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man wardrobe and gear in the Marvel Universe.

Herbie J Pilato with Lee Majors / Photo: Herbie J. Pilato

Some forty years later, why do you think that audiences of all ages are still entertained by the Bionic Universe?

It’s about the reality of the characters. As played by Lee and Lindsay, Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers were not Superman and Wonder Woman. They were human beings, who were placed in the extraordinary circumstance of having their bodies and ultimately their lives transformed by cybernetics. They never set out to be ‘secret agents’ or superheroes. But they were always heroes by nature…of humanity, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Whether combined or separate, those elements of character define what true heroism is all about.

Steve and Jaime have flaws just like the rest of us; they laugh, cry, and get hurt, emotionally, and physically. In all of those ways, they become more accessible and more relatable. Superman, Wonder Woman, and other superheroes of every Universe, DC, Marvel, etc., at least the way they have been written and performed in recent decades, I think have become more ‘human’ in their essence because of the developing inspiration of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman…as characters…and as iconic TV shows.

You’ve been back in California for some time and readers might also recognize you from your talk show series, Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, which is available on both Amazon Prime and Shout! Factory TV. You’ve interviewed a large number of legends of classic television. Who are your favorite living dream guests who have yet to make an appearance?

Truly? I’ve already met, interviewed, talked with, and written about everyone I have always wanted to meet, interview, talk with, and write about. I’m honored to have befriended more than a few icons of the classic television realm. And assuredly, I don’t take any of what I have experienced for granted, everyone from Elizabeth Montgomery, to Lee and Lindsay, to David Selby from Dark Shadows, and on and on. But as to who to one day sit down with on a TV set and have a conversation with for all the world to see?

I’d love to do that with Carol Burnett, and talk about her legendary variety show; Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. about Here’s Lucy, my favorite of their beloved Mom’s shows; Marlo Thomas about That Girl, William Shatner about the original Star Trek, the six Brady Bunch TV off-spring cast members about the original Brady sitcom, and Dick Van Dyke about The Dick Van Dyke Show. Those remain my dream-on-screen-one-day TV interviews.

If you were going to be stuck on a deserted island and could bring ten complete classic TV series with you, what would you bring?

Bewitched, ‘natch. The Six Million Dollar Man. The Bionic Woman. The Twilight Zone. The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Waltons. That Girl. Wonder Woman (the first season). Life Goes On. Kung Fu. The latter two, of course, like Bewitched and the Bionic shows, are particularly special to me, as I’ve written companion books to those shows as well.

What do you have coming up?

I’m very excited about three of my upcoming books: One Tough Dame: The Life and Career of Diana Rigg, Christmas TV Memories: Nostalgic Holiday Favorites of the Small Screen, and Lucas/Spielberg: Their Multi-Billion Blockbusters and More.

One Tough Dame will cover Diana Rigg’s personal and professional existence before, during and after The Avengers. The Christmas TV Memories will focus on a select group of animated, live-variety shows, TV-movies, and episodic installments from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, and a few from the ’80s and other decades, while the Lucas/Spielberg book will concentrate on their ‘Big ‘80s’ films, and a few others from that era.

I’m also working on combining my Kung Fu Book of Caine and Kung Fu Book of Wisdom into one, new volume; developing a TV movie based on my childhood memoir, The 12 Best Secrets of Christmas: A Treasure House of Holiday Memories Revealed; recording a Christmas music CD, Christmastime with Herbie J Pilato, in which I perform covers of a few classic Christmas carols, and I am returning to acting.

For more information about Herbie J Pilato, visit www.HerbieJPilato.com.
The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man & The Bionic Woman
Reconstructed (Special Commemorative Edition) is available now

 

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