Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


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Remembering Those Who Inspire Us

Screenshot 2015-01-10 11.57.11Flipping through the internet, I randomly came across a picture of Jane Dornacker, the traffic reporter who died in a helicopter crash in 1986 and whom I briefly knew. The photo lead to a Pinterest site listing people who’ve died before the age of 50. So many losses there. Including Jane. The memory of her inspires me.   Indeed, it drove me to write my book of short stories “Hitting Water”.

I bring up Jane because she is the beckon in my book. She’s the goddess of mojo, the grand queen of inspiration. I really need it now. 2015 is starting off in a funk for me. Maybe a little JD will get me back on track.

Jane was a friend of Whoopi Goldberg, back when they performed on the San Francisco comedy circuit. I think of Whoopi because in the year that’s past, she’s lost some very well known friends: Mike Nichols and Robin Williams.  Within the sorrow, I wonder if she would like to read a person’s view of an old friend of hers, how in their loss, they have inspired others to live.  I feel that Jane has allowed me to do that this year (and the years ahead), even after all these years after the amazing memorial service for her at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. So, I’m thinking of sending Whoopi a copy of my book.

Here’s the thing about presenting my book to Ms. Goldberg (if she ever does receive it) : I mentioned her in my story “Jane in a Plane. And as the mighty hand of Thor has shown me, as my heart stopped beating upon noticing this – long after my book was officially published – I misspelled her name. Yes, I admit openly and wholeheartedly – that the one person whose name is mentioned in my book, a book that went through two passes by an editor and one go with a proofreader – has that one particular person’s name misspelled. Apparently, thirty years of seeing Whoopi’s name in lights in the entertainment industry didn’t sear into my brain well enough that her name is spelled “Whoopi” not “Whoopie”.  Yes, despite the edits – no one noticed. Except my comedian acquaintance Sharilyn Johnson who told me, “Ya might wanna spell her name right.”

What??!! Run off to find the chapter. There it is…”Whoopie.”

By the way, Sharilyn has written a phenomenal book book about The Colbert Report – “Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z”. Check it out!

So, perhaps in making this error in my book, it’s a great opening line on the note I plan to attach to a copy of “Hitting Water’.  Maybe it will show chuztpah. Yes, it could reveal the byproduct of do-it-yourself publishing, exposing cracks and dings that  go along with self publishing process. But if she does receive the book, it could show her that there is a little Jane Dornacker in all of us.

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A Forgetten San Francisco Legend

Jane& Whoopie

Oh, the way the internet can sweep in you strange directions. While providing the finishing touches to my book Hitting the Water, I dilly dallied a bit on the Google search engine to get a feel for the San Francisco comedy world of of the 1970’s and 80’s. You see, one of my stories is an autobiographical account of a SF comedian I knew briefly when I was an intern at a now defunct radio station in New York City – 66 WNBC-AM. Her name was Jane Dornacker, a talent who was making a name as New York’s favorite traffic reporter, and who was also considered a San Francisco comedy legend.

The circumstances on how I got to know her were strange – otherworldly, in fact.  I was in college, and had just been taken on as an intern at the station. Jane was their helicopter traffic reporter. One morning, while doing the traffic from the sky, the helicopter she and her pilot were on crashed into the Hackensack River.  They both survived; however, afterwards, Jane was grounded, assigned to do traffic reports from the confines of the newsroom at 30 Rock for three months until they procured another copter. That’s how I got to know her. Sitting around various news desks, talking about life in between traffic reports.

Although Jane told us about her life, the distance in time since I last spoke to her is so vast, that I needed some Google action to remind me and provide a little more history into her life previously discussed over cups of coffee and the din of newsroom wire machines back in 1986.  I found the picture above, over at SFGate.com.  Jane had performed with Whoopie Goldberg back in 1983.

It brought back old memories. Jane who would tell us about her days in San Francisco, her intermingling with Goldberg, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and A. Whitney Brown. Apparently, she was in the bay area comedy pantheon, being watched by producers during her one woman shows – to the point where Lorne Michaels was courting her as a possible new Saturday Night Live cast member. This was around the time I got to know her. It’s what initially brought her to New York, where I guess she decided to stay for a while even though she didn’t get the SNL gig.

The reason why knowing Jane was “otherworldly”, was due to what happened several months later – after my internship ended, and I said goodbye to the newsroom, including Jane. You see, a helicopter crash resulted in her staying on the ground long enough for me to know her. But in October of that year, inexplicably, the new helicopter they sent her up in crashed…this time in the Hudson River. This time…she didn’t make it. Jane died on the air, while reporting traffic for the afternoon drive time.

It’s sad to think how that talent was wasted, and what we could have seen from this quirky, funny lady who was a bit like Joan Cusak, if Joan Cusak turned up the sexy pilot light and sang punk songs. (That’s what Jane did when heading up her SF band Leila and the Snakes).

So, hats off to my quirky old acquaintance from so many years ago. Her story stays with me as I remember her voice and the time spent in a small newsroom in Rockefeller Plaza that no longer exists.