By Olivia Tracey
Perhaps it’s the dreamer in me, but driving through the gates of Paramount Pictures, I feel like a 1940s movie star. I’m just driving the wrong car. For me, this studio, above all others, captures old Hollywood at its finest, when style was stylish, women were ladies and men were consummate gentlemen. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it is the venue for my meeting with the gracious Peter Casey, one of the co-creators and executive producers of the NBC hit comedy series "Frasier," now in its eighth season.
"I’ve had lots of labor-intensive years, staying at the office until 2 a.m., only seeing my wife and kids on weekends," he declared from behind the mahogany desk in his office.
Now things are different. With the phenomenal success of "Frasier" and more awards than there is space for, a three- or four-day work-week is the norm, with the added luxury of dinner at home every night. Very much a family man, he will celebrate his 18th wedding anniversary later this year with his wife, Irish American Rosemary Cronin, and their three sons, Conor, 14, Brendan, 12, and Liam, 6.
With all those Irish names floating around, it would appear that he is also very much an Irishman, right down to the "Wild Irish Rosie" number plate on his wife’s car. His talent as a writer certainly has an Irish flavor. He hires Irish American actors (John Mahoney), wears Irish sweaters, with one each for all the family, and even has his Jewish doctor suggesting must-read Irish books such as "How the Irish Saved Civilization."
Educated by family tradition with the Jesuits in San Francisco, he went on to work summers in Yosemite, where he joined with hoards of young Irish, singing along with The Clancy Brothers’ "Rising of the Moon" and sipping a beer or two between bars — musical bars, that is.
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Speaking of which, the first time he tasted Guinness was in Kenmare on his first trip to Ireland in the mid-’90s. His brother Jack paid an earlier visit to seek out their Cork ancestors and discovered Murrays on their paternal grandmother’s side and numerous distant cousins. However, while Jack, a member of the Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco, delights in doing Ireland by B&B, campsites and spit-on-the-floor pubs, Peter prefers The Shelbourne and the Park Hotel in Kenmare.
During this trip, he remembers being most pleasantly surprised by the food, and also struck by the incredible friendliness of the people, that dry Irish sense of humor, and mischievous glint in the eye. He also recalled leaving the Shelbourne Hotel to take a stroll to Fitzers restaurant on a glorious early summer’s evening.
"It was rush hour, with tons of people everywhere, and all these Irish faces looking just like the guys I went to school with," he said.
On arrival at Fitzers, the world got even smaller as it transpired that their friendly waiter had pals in L.A., who just happened to be neighbors of the Caseys on the very same street in Toluca Lake.
Mind you, the nicely groomed Toluca Lake was not always home for Peter Casey. Originally from Northern California, he majored in journalism at the San Francisco State University with plans of becoming a TV anchorman. However, he also took creative and scriptwriting classes and received much encouragement from his teacher, a former nun and published author. On the strength of a story treatment for a TV series which he wrote during that time and which was submitted to his teacher’s Los Angeles agent, he garnered representation with the same agent and arrived in Hollywood three days after graduation with $500 in his bank account, the memory of a tearful goodbye to his parents in Sonoma, and the promise of a Hollywood dream come true. He gave himself one year to succeed.
The reality turned out to be at least six years in "a crummy one-bedroom Hollywood apartment" and various survival jobs from pizza and sandwich delivery to telemarketing and working in a local liquor store at night. He always worked evening jobs so that he would be fresh and free during the day to write. He had no idea how to succeed, but he struggled on, learning through trial and error. Then, in the late 1970s, he got a job through an employment agency as a script typist. There, he hooked up with the proofreader, a struggling actor named David Lee. The twain became writing partners and, eventually, three and a half years later, they sold their first script, "The Jeffersons," to CBS. However, it was just one episode and then nothing happened for six months. Back on the pizza rounds, they were invited to submit another episode to CBS, which was received so positively that they were hired as studio writers and producers for the six-year run of the show.
Come 1984, they were hired by NBC as writers and producers of "Cheers." This was the turning point of their careers as the show was hailed as the most respected comedy on the air for its writing. Over three years into the run of the show, the men united with a third partner, David Angell, forming Grubstreet Productions. Their first project was "Wings," a solid show that ran 172 episodes over eight seasons. Then, as "Cheers" was winding down during the early ’90s, Kelsey Grammer expressed an interest in continuing to work with the same team. And so in 1993, "Frasier" was born.
The show and its creators have gone on to win countless awards from the People’s Choice and Television Critics Association to Producers Guild of America, and Catholics in Media. They have also won five Emmy Awards. As to the secret of his success, Peter attributes it to confidence and talent, determination without being pushy, constantly learning through reading, and, above all, choosing to work with good, honest and honorable people across the board. Well, it’s true that like attracts like and I’ve no doubt that the "Frasier" team are as blessed to work with Peter Casey as he is to work with them.