So I received a message on Facebook from a gracious woman in Michigan who had read You Might Feel a Little Prick. It was actually two messages in one: the first part was her saying that she enjoyed the story, (thank you!), but it was the second part that gobsmacked me.
She wrote, “I imagined Sikorski as Luther Gillis.”
Following that was a winking emoji. I knew it was a winking emoji because I looked it up on Emojipedia.org. This one implies a shared secret.
For those not intimately acquainted with the hundreds of characters I’ve written for TV and film, Luther Gillis was a guest star I created on the original Magnum P.I. He was played by the late and great Eugene Roche, pictured above.
Quick tangent: one of Eugene’s most gut-wrenching performances was that of Edgar Derby in the movie of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Edgar was an idealistic middle-aged teacher turned G.I. who defended American ideals to the traitor Howard Campbell, then cared for the ill Billy in a German POW camp. Edgar Derby survived the war, including the horrific fire-bombing of Dresden, only to be executed for “stealing” a teapot from the rubble. If Eugene Roche did nothing else, that performance would have indelibly etched his place in movie history.
Luther Gillis was an old-timey private detective from Saint Louis who came to Hawaii on a case, a case which happened to be the same one Magnum was working on. Hilarity—and ultimately, some pathos—ensued. I came up with the notion of having Luther do his own voiceovers to compete with the traditional voiceovers Magnum did on every episode. The conflict between them was not only about their completely divergent ways of solving the case, but also their completely divergent ways of looking at the world. The words were on the page, but Tom Selleck and Eugene Roche supplied the chemistry and the magic.
The character of Luther Gillis was so successful, particularly in the ways he interacted with Magnum and Higgins, that we brought him back every season thereafter, five times. There were no Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic back then: we got cards and letters from the viewers. Which takes more effort than clicking or swiping.
Okay, the point here is that even though it was forty years ago, the reader in Michigan remembered Luther Gillis. Not only remembered Luther, but she caught the similarities (a polite way of saying I stole from myself) between Luther and Lt. Sikorski, who enters You Might Feel a Little Prick also speaking in the first person.
Coincidence? Nope. Busted. Of course, the two characters are similar. Maybe Luther was a little tougher; and while Sikorski talked a tough game, he was ultimately as soft a touch as the Detroit Lions defense.
Still, they are basically the same guy. However, in the Magnum P. I. episodes I only had forty-five minutes to tell a story, and our stories were never strictly about the guest actor, but about how that character affected Magnum and the other core characters’ universe. Which Luther Gillis did quite impactfully. Nevertheless, I always thought that there were more depths to plumb with that character—or one like him. In this case, Lieutenant Sikorski. He’s one of three protagonists in YMFALP and ultimately he is the story’s moral core.
If Luther Gillis had never existed, then neither would have Artemus Sikorski.
So you see why I was not only blown away but also humbled that a character I created, who only appeared five times over a five year period forty freaking years ago on a TV show, spoke to the reader in Michigan.
Damn, that made me feel good. It would have made any writer feel good.