“Success is outliving your failures” – Erma Bombeck


  (Erma Bombeck, February 21, 1927 – April 22, 1996)

When I think of someone like Erma Bombeck, who was so naturally funny and seemed to just slide into the world of writing and fame, it is difficult to believe that she ever failed. But, fail she did, and quite publicly. And yet, she saw it for what it was and moved forward, in spite of whatever setbacks she might have felt.

In 1975, many years after she had begun writing her newspaper columns and published a few books, Erma started appearing regularly on the TV show, Good Morning America. These spots began as two or three minutes of her zany twist on life and evolved into longer interviews with celebrities and soon she became a TV staple and a roaring success. This lasted for 11 years.

It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else. ~ Erma Bombeck

Eventually, because of her popularity, many different offers began to come her way. One was to adapt her 1976 book, The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, for a television movie, which, if successful, might lead to a permanent sitcom slot. On October 25, 1978, that TV movie starring Carol Burnett and Charles Grodin aired on CBS.

Unfortunately, critics hated the show, according to Erma’s biography on the University of Dayton’s ermamuseum.org page. 

Even so, a year later, ABC asked Erma to develop another sitcom idea. And so, she came up with the concept for a show called Maggie, about an ordinary family from Dayton, written from the mother’s point of view. Although Erma had no experience writing for television, she agreed to write and executive produce the show. 

Hollywood, here I come!

Fast forward…four grueling months of writing, producing, boomerang travel, excruciating hours and long stretches away from family, the show was produced and managed to hang on for eight weeks before it was eventually cancelled. Some people pointed to the fact that ABC kept moving the show into different time slots, and then cancelled it too soon, before its audience could find it.

Erma’s assistant writer on the sitcom, Karyl Miller, recalled that Erma was very disappointed that the show had been dumped so soon without really having a chance. Miller, who went on to write for the Cosby Show and others said, “It was kind of sad. Erma said to us, ‘You girls are going to go on to some other sitcom, but this was my only sitcom.’ And it was true. She was disappointed. It really hurt her,” Miller said in an interview with WYSO radio.

There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, “Yes, I’ve got dreams, of course I’ve got dreams.” Then they put the box away and bring it out once in awhile to look in it, and yep, they’re still there.~ Erma Bombeck

Two very public disappointments, which some might call failures, yet Erma continued on with her writing, publishing many more books and columns before her death in 1996.

Things work out the way they are meant to be

One has to wonder, if Erma had ‘made it’ in Hollywood, would she have written any of her later books? We might never have read I Want to Grow Hair; I Want To Grow Up; I Want To Go To Boise: Children Surviving Cancer, or, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing In The Pits?

Erma is quoted as saying, “Success is outliving your failures.” As the author of 15 books in addition to more than 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns, speaking engagements, and political activism, I would say that Erma knew what she was talking about.

Tomorrow: Erma’s early writing.

This post is part of my “Erma Bombeck Gratitude Week,” in honor of her passing on April 22, 1996, and in appreciation for her positive impact on writers and women everywhere.

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