“Stop worrying, Bill, It’s gonna work like Gangbusters.”


From OUR HOUSE to PROMISED LAND – “It’s gonna work like gangbusters” is what Ernie would always tell me when I had serious reservations about one of his ideas.


Let me share a “gangbuster” moment with you.


We were shooting FLIPPER in Australia. We were three weeks from production and still searching for an idea for our season opening two-parter.


It was approaching midnight when I said to him, “what if Flipper gets kidnapped?”


He crossed his legs, folded his arms, lowered his chin – what he would always do when giving an idea serious consideration –


And then he reached for the phone.


Ernie, it’s midnight, who are you calling?


He says, “I’m calling Tony Soprano, I’d rather have you kidnapped than Flipper.”


So, I say a few things to him – mostly in Australian...


And I stormed out and went back to my hotel room.


Three o’clock in the morning, the phone rings. I recognized the ring...so I don’t pick up.


But the phone keeps ringing and ringing and I figure I better get it or Ernie’s going to be banging on the door in his underwear.


What do you want?


Are you ready, he says, I got the idea.


Go ahead.


Flipper gets kidnapped.


ERNIE, I scream...as only a Jew can scream at a Mormon at three o’clock in the morning.


Wait, he says, I got more.


Flipper gets kidnapped and taken to Cuba to live in Castro’s new aquarium.


Bill, it’s gonna work like gangbusters.


But Ernie, we’re in Australia. They don’t have Cubans here. They don’t have Mexicans or Spanish. All they got here is a lotta white people.


That’s not my problem, he said.


Flipper’s going to Cuba. Adios Amigo and he hangs up the phone.

 

I'm not sad that Ernie escaped from his earthly prison.  I never want to remember him stuck to the wheelchair or using his computer to speak, even though he was inspiring and courageous in how he handled it every step of the way.


I want to remember Ernie the way I knew him over the last twenty years.  He was funny and exasperating -- usually at exactly the same time. 


He was fiercely loyal and exasperating.  He had a horrible temper and a huge heart.  Did I say he was exasperating? 


We broke stories together and we fought.  We wrote scripts together and we fought.  We played hoops and I lost.  We drove tens of thousands of miles together -- listening to the Rolling Stones and terrifying each other with our personal driving techniques...


And we went scuba diving around the world...usually breaking the rules, going deeper and staying longer than we should.  But I never really worried about it because I was with Ernie and Ernie wouldn't ever let anything bad happen to me. 


No, it wasn't that Ernie cared that much about me...it's that he cared that much about everybody.  If he could help, he would.  It was in his nature. Except for whistling.  It would drive him crazy when I'd whistle, especially in elevators.


I know Ernie's found a nice comfortable spot in heaven with a computer at his side.  He's busy taking it apart right now.  And we all shouldn't be too surprised if good things start happening here on earth -- like curing ALS or coming up with a solution for global warming.   Ernie will be hard at work (okay, maybe not hard at work) but he'll be noodling, writing a program and he won't be shy about passing it along for the big guy's approval. And Ernie, I have no doubt -- it'll work like gangbusters.


See you around pal. I’ll be whistling for you.

In order to tell you what I know about Ernie, I first need to explain how I met him.

I grew up poor in a mill town outside Pittsburgh, PA. When I was at Northwestern, I wrote letters to a bunch of TV people, telling them that I wanted to be a TV writer, what would they suggest I do, etc. Only one person wrote me back with advice – Earl Hamner, creator of my all-time favorite show THE WALTONS.

He told me that if I were ever in Hollywood, call him. Which, of course, I did, the month I got out here. He liked my writing and invited me in to meet him.

At his office, I saw a young 25 year old guy who Earl told me was a wonderful writer and person, Ernie Wallengren. I didn’t meet Ernie that day, but I soon got a call from him. He explained that he liked my work and that because Earl had given him, Ernie, his break, Earl asked Ernie to help me in return.

So I became Ernie’s protégé, both in writing, and to some extent, life. He became my own personal editor, reading draft after draft of what must have been dreck, until I had a great spec in hand.

I’m talking three years of dreck!

More than that, he took me to many lunches, even nights out with his friends, to break me out of my isolation. To give me good meals, when I couldn’t afford hot dogs.

Even more importantly than that was something Ernie did for me my second year out here. I was deeply discouraged by my lack of progress, and then I got Hepatitis, the kind you get from bad seafood. It was a terrible illness, and, at the worst of it, I wanted to quit. Pack up. Go back to Pittsburgh.

I’ll never forget the phone call Ernie made to me at that time. He told me, “You can’t quit. I believe you are a real writer – so does Earl. I won’t let you quit.”

I cried at that time and I’m crying now as I write you these words.

I did stick it out, of course, and though I broke through at Universal, Ernie soon got me a job at FALCON CREST, where I met Claire and Rod, my second family.

I can count at least four different times during my career that Ernie gave me work that changed my life. The last time was at PROMISED LAND, which is still, today, the best job I’ve ever had, after FALCON. Why? Because I was working for a man I trusted completely, both creatively and personally (Ernie was also my best man at my wedding). So I could strive for home runs, and I knew I had a coach to inspire me and believe in me.

Other things you should know about Ernie:

He is and has always been a devout Mormon. Even when he wasn’t. Even when he drank wine and Coca-Cola.

We had tons of talk early in our relationships about religion. Ernie was an expert in church history and dogma, and we had many playful jokes, kidding each other about our faiths. More than that, to understand Ernie, you have to understand his family and faith. Because he is a product of both. This great big family, competitive, rambunctious boys, and tremendous creativity throughout. A religion that believes in good works and the importance of family and friends.

Qualities Ernie has, of course. Plus, the greatest sense of loyalty I’ve ever met in a man.

You probably know that Ernie is an excellent piano player (by ear, I think), and computer whiz.

You know his great sense of humor and big heart.

And you probably know that no one has lived as “large” as Ernie. He drove the best cars, went on the best vacations, drank the best wines. He lived life to the absolute fullest, and had tremendous confidence in himself that he could work to support such a lifestyle – which he did.

And of course you know what a great writer he is. I’m still in awe of his talent and craft. What kind of writer is Ernie, what kind of man, when the chips are down?

Well, I always tell this story of Ernie: one thing Ernie was not was a good golfer. In fact, he was bad, try as he might. But every year, Lorimar had a charity golf tournament. Anyone who got a hole in one got a free vacation to Hawaii.

The only person ever to hit a hole in one in one of those tournaments was Ernie.

He was the consummate “money player”, on that course that day, in every script he wrote.

Now, no man is a saint and neither is Ernie. When he was younger, he was much more moody, and sometimes curt. He never gushed words at you to tell you how he felt – at least not me, anyway. You knew those things by his actions – like keeping you going when you wanted to quit.

I believe that Cheryl and his children made Ernie a better man, and that Ernie made Ernie a better man. I’ve never seen anyone grow as much as Ernie over time. How he turned back to his church, gave up drinking, threw himself so totally into family life.

Again, once, when I called Ernie while he was writing a script, he had five screaming kids around him. Now, I need near total quiet to write – I asked him how can he get anything done. His reply, “I LOVE it.”

Well, those are the high points, I think.

One more thing: what Ernie did for me was nothing short of helping me to achieve my dreams. Can you imagine?! He did that for me, and because of him, I have great craft and a wonderful career. And because of that, I can support my family.

Ernie gave me all that.

What an incredibly generous man.

No wonder that when I saw Ernie last Sunday, I did not, could not, see a man in a wheelchair. Because Ernie is the tallest man I know, in all ways.

Bill Schmidt

 

This was written for Ernie by Sharif Sharali, one of his basketball players and a close friend of Ernie’s chidren.  Sharif spent two days and two nights at Ernie’s side as he was dying and wrote this during the vigil.

HAND IN HAND

God forbid your dying day
But I’ll be there hand in hand
When you pass away
Even death couldn’t do us apart
Cause forever you’ll stay in my heart

When I was lost
You were the one who found me
When I was lost
You were the one who guided me
You showed me love
When no one else did
You saw something in me
When I was just a kid
When no one else thought it was worth it
You put up a fight
You gave me what no one could
You showed me the light

One day when you leave this mess
I’ll be a great day
For even an ANGEL has its nest
And I hope you look at me as a son
Cause to me you are a father
When no one else cared
When no one else would bother

I promise when you leave
I’ll do everything I can for your family
I’ll be there with an open heart and a helping hand
For you made me who I am today
You made me a man.

As time goes by…
Days after days and years after years
Know that I’ll still be shedding tears
For you’ll no longer be with me
And all I will have are our memories
And during my times of desperation
I’ll be okay
Cause you’ll be looking down at me from heaven
I know forever with me you’ll stay.

My hero, Ernie Wallengren, was a writer and a boys youth basketball coach in his spare time. He was a writer for "Bay Watch" and "The New Adventures of Flipper" . He coached for the Blue Eagle Force club team for ages 10 through 17 for more then seven years . What makes him my hero didn't come from his writing or his coaching, it came from the great person he was and the person he has helped me become. He showed me that life isn't about making money and having a good job, it's about the journey we all go through. The journey will make us stronger if we never give up and conquer our goals. Ernie Wallengren is my hero .

Ernie has always put others before himself and tried to make everything the best for other people. Before every basketball practice, he would pick up at least three players and drop them off . It was the same before and after every game, too. Ernie also always had a few dollars when you needed it for anything. We had these trips we called the AM-PM trips. He would have many players with him and we would go into AM-PM and you could get anything you wanted. He did so much more then a basketball coach is expected to do.

Coach Wallengren went beyond the amount needed to make sure every kid got the same opportunity to play basketball. Anytime you went to Ernie's house, it was full. He had his wife Cheryl, his kids Alex, Katie, Seth, Brian, Danialand at least 3 players. The players were always at his house just hanging out watching television, playing video games, swimming in his pool, and playing basketball. At one point, he even had one player live with him at his house for almost a year long when his family was going through rough times. Ernie always put others before himself.

In the year 2000, Ernie Wallengren was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, a nerve disease that has no cure. After he was diagnosed, it was a three year battle before he passsed away. The basketball team got a new coach when Ernie was first diagnosed. Even when the disease got so bad that he was in a wheelchair, he still came to the games and practices, even though it would take about three hours to get ready. When he was diagnosed, he still put others before himself. Before he passed he wrote me a letter, it said, "Whatever life throws at you, never ever give up." Ernie never gave up until his last breath on May 27, 2003. He was surrounded by his whole family and many of his basketball players. Most of the players looked to him as another father as I did. Ernie was the most helpful person I've ever met all the way up until his last breath .

Ernie Wallengren is my hero because he always put other people before himself, even during his desease and he showed great determination trying to fight Lou Gerhig's disease. He showed me that it is important to put others before yourself. Ernie also showed me that life is a journey and you must never give up and always try to fight your way through life. Ernie Wallengren is my hero .

Written by Shane from Woodland Hills

From Martha Williamson, Executive Producer of Touched by An Angel


Dear Friends –


I received an e-mail from Ernie Wallengren’s mother this morning.  His fight with Lou Gehrig’s Disease ended last night.  And Ernie won.


Ernie won because he never gave up.  He won because with every loss his body experienced, he challenged his mind even more.  He faced a terminal illness by coaching his son’s basketball team, by taking his kids to the movies, by learning to communicate by tapping his head on a halo and talking and e-mailing on his computer, by giving speeches to organizations to encourage others to fight the good fight.


Ernie won because he managed to find the blessing in all of this; I remember him telling me sincerely one day that that he was at peace – because God had given him what most people never get: the knowledge that they will die soon and the chance to do something about that.  Many of us remember Ernie as the tall, funny twelve-year-old in the body of a forty-year-old who wore Dennis the Menace T-shirts.  But when I saw him last, sitting straight in his wheelchair, smiling, making jokes with his computer voice and his eyes twinkling, waiting for me to laugh – well, I saw a man who had taken control of his life even if disease had taken control of his body.


Ernie was a tremendously funny, talented, sensitive guy.  We worked together, we fought together, and once or twice we cried together.  I will miss him terribly, and I won’t ever forget him.  He set a lasting example of how to live by showing us how to die.  With grace and courage and humor and faith.  That is Ernie’s gift to us and if we remember that, then we all win.


With love,

Martha

 

Check out Martha’s web site at: http://blog.beliefnet.com/MarthaWilliamson/

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