Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
NO PRESSURE TO BE PERFECT
A guy who flunked 1st, 4th and 10th grades might not have been expected to grow up to be one of TV's most successful writer-producers, but Stephen J. Cannell, 54, triumphed despite his dyslexia, a learning disability undetected in the '50s, when he was struggling, with tutors and remedial courses, to keep up in school. Back then, the Emmy-winning creator of Tenspeed & Brownshoe, Wiseguy and The Commish wanted most of all to be a novelist, but he started churning out scripts to support his wife, Marcia, and four children.
When was your dyslexia diagnosed?
When my daughter Tawnia was in sixth grade, she was having troubles like I'd had. After her condition was diagnosed, I asked to be tested. I was 35, but by then people in Hollywood had started calling me "brilliant," which was like giving water to a man in the desert.
You say that having dyslexia turned you into a productive writer. How so?
Since I was always the stupidest kid in my class, it never occurred to me to try to be perfect, so I've always been happy as a writer just to entertain myself. That's an easier place to start.
How else did you compensate?
Because I was weak in recall, sequencing and reading, my imagination became a very strong muscle. When I was 12, stuffed animals still held some joy because I could project personalities onto them. They were real to me. I also developed survival skills. Today I can take bad news, body blows, cancellations of shows I really love, because, as a kid, I got good at pushing forward in the midst of big disappointments.