Monday, March 14, 2016

Bill Lutz, original writer of Scooby-Doo (1969-70)

Scooby-Doo and I go way back.

drawing I made in 1980

But it wasn't till several years after I ran this series of interviews with voice actors and musicians involved with the first seasons of the character that I realized I had never looked into my counterpart—the writer of the first season.

His name was Bill Lutz, and to quote his granddaughter, "Bill is Scooby-Doo's biggest mystery."

He is credited with writing all of season 1 of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? On 7/17/15, after asking around about Bill for a few months, I found out via the Writers Guild of America that he died on 9/8/73. Scooby was four years old. I was only one.

The WGA kindly forwarded a request from me to the name on file for Bill. Soon after I heard from a young woman named Amanda Lapsansky, Bill's only known grandchild. (Sound familiar? Right down to the first name…)

She told me the following:

  • Bill was an only child, the father of Amanda's father Jan (who often went by Jon) and Amanda's uncle Gary
  • Jan died in 2010
  • Gary had no children and died in the '90s
  • Amanda didn't know her dad; he left when she was two and battled alcohol, same as Bill; it's why Bill died early
  • Amanda met her dad only when he was dying
  • Bill's wife (Amanda's grandma) had a new partner in late '80s; she died in early '90s
  • Amanda inherited everything her grandma had…but, as you will see, that included sadly nothing of Bill

Interview with Amanda:

photo by Katelyn Folmar

What is your relationship to Bill Lutz?

Bill Lutz was my grandfather on my father's side. My father was his eldest son, Jan (Jon).

You were born after he died. What do you know about his life (childhood, marriage, career)?

I sadly know nothing of his childhood or provenance. I know he was a young writer in Brooklyn when he met my grandmother, Jane, a Polish immigrant working as a seamstress at a department store. They married and he became a writer on the game show Queen for a Day.

 Bill is possibly in this photo.

As the entertainment industry continued its migration to Los Angeles, my grandparents followed, settling in Sherman Oaks. It was then that his career really began to surge, and he was asked to write for The Lucy Show, The Addams Family, and perhaps most iconically, Scooby-Doo. He wrote the entire first season (Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?).

He and my grandmother had a happy marriage for a long time, but in the sixties, they both fell prey to alcoholism. My grandmother was able to rehabilitate. Sadly, my grandfather was not. They divorced in the late sixties. He died of kidney failure caused by alcoholism in 1973 [9/8]. He left it largely unchecked and untreated and died suddenly while working out at a local gym. Sadly, his eldest son [Amanda's father] would die exactly as his father did, of liver and kidney failure, in 2009.

Though Bill had his demons, he was quite devoted to his family and was active in his church. It's hard to know if his faith was true and personal, or if church was simply something one did, but he did contribute his time and his writing talents to his church community. It's a shame that his talent and his love were damaged by addiction.

Who told you the stories you know about Bill?

My mother and my maternal grandmother have told me everything I know so far.

What other family does he have left?

As far as I know, I am the last surviving member of the Lutz family.

Before I contacted you, did you know he wrote the first season of Scooby-Doo?

I knew he wrote for the show, but did not realize until recently that he wrote the whole first season. That was a pretty exciting revelation.

Do you get royalties, and if so, how often and for what?

I do get royalties whenever shows that he wrote are aired. I normally get about thirty cents to ten dollars an episode, depending on the popularity of the show and the amount of writers. The checks come sporadically and range from thirty cents to fifteen hundred dollars. The larger checks tend to come from France and Italy, where apparently, Scooby-Doo and Addams Family reruns and marathons are quite popular.

What possessions of Bill's do you have?

I have his Queen for a Day business card, as well as some love letters he wrote to my grandmother. I have a short children's story he wrote and a recording of him reading it aloud on vinyl. There are a few more small things that have nothing to do with his career, and apparently a box in storage that will hopefully hold some treasures.

What do you think when you learned someone wanted to interview your family about Bill?

I was quite surprised because I never knew him and never really knew any part of that family. It's hard to measure the impact of someone who was behind the scenes and died while he still had so much to contribute to the entertainment industry. Yet I was also excited, because I knew that his work has become part of the cannon of American pop culture. It's good to see some recognition. It's nice to not be the only person who knows what he did.

Anything you'd like to add?

His life did end tragically. His addiction ruined so much of what was good in his life, and the specter of alcoholism from both he and my grandmother created a black hole in the family line. I was able to escape because I was raised by my mother and maternal family, and most everything about me comes from them. It is easy to focus on the sad or painful moments of his life, but it's important to remember, at least for myself, that his work helped bring joy to so many people. I have to believe that's worth something.

Interview with John Gustafson, a friend:

Please introduce yourself and your career.

After high school, I enlisted in the United States Air Force and was a B17 Navigator. After the service, I graduated from UCLA in 1948 as a mathematics major. I spent a few years in the motion picture industry in the era of major musicals. My work in musicals included solo work in Brigadoon and Kismet and choral work in Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady. From 1956 to 1975, I was Pastor of Worship at 1st Baptist Church of Van Nuys, Van Nuys, California.

What was your relationship to Bill Lutz?

I met Bill Lutz in the late 1950s. He attended 1st Baptist Church. In the '60s and early '70s, his son Jan was on the youth staff of the Church.  Bill wanted to use his talent to help in the music ministry, thus he wrote two Christmas scripts and helped direct the productions. Bill Lutz was very helpful to me in those years!

What kind of person was Bill?

He was a winsome person, unassuming, didn't seem to care about credit for what he did to help us.
Any funny/interesting anecdotes about Bill?


Do you happen to remember anything related to Bill's work on Scooby-Doo? His inspirations? His thoughts on the finished product?


Do you remember hearing that Bill died?

Yes, however I don't remember how I heard.

Do you have any photos of Bill?


What did you think when you learned someone wanted to interview you about Bill?

I was surprised and possibly didn't realize what an important person he was.

What are you doing these days?

I retired from Grace Bible Church in Sun City, Arizona in December 2005, at the age of 82.

Anything you'd like to add?

I'm afraid I haven't been a lot of help to you in this project. I wish you much success in this noble venture!

Bill Lutz, where are you? (said in Shaggy's voice, of course)

8/1/18 addendum: someone I don't know emailed me Bill's obituary...with photo!


Jeff Trexler said...

I guess it's only appropriate that his life is a mystery, but I hope that you find one of the Christmas scripts with Satan concluding, "And I would have gotten away with it too, if weren't for that meddling Kid!"

Comicbookrehab said...

This DOES explain why the first season episodes are considered the best of the series of all.

Major Noize said...

Very cool article! 👏👏👏