Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on January 19, 2017
There’s one picture of Becky Cole that she can stand looking at. It was taken in 2005, when she and other members of the Writers Guild were on strike outside Wainscott Studios.
She held up a sign with three rows of numbers that the strikers flipped to count the days of their protest. When they got close to 100 days, someone took a picture of Becky with her sign and it ran in The East Hampton Star.
“I looked a little ragged,” she said. “But also bemused and defiant. I like that.”
Becky grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a 1960s household she described as “bohemian” led by parents who were well-educated and creative. Bernard Cole was a photojournalist with assignments allowing him to travel widely and often. Becky’s mother, Gwen, was an artist who created detailed, exquisitely-drafted works.
Although Becky was an only child, she had a half brother and sister from her father’s first marriage; siblings she only got to know when she was nearly grown. “As an only child, I spent a lot of time alone,” she said. “I think it’s where a lot of my creativity came from.”
A good student in grade school, in junior high Becky began to struggle with what would be diagnosed years later as dyslexia. By the time she was 17, she dropped out of high school, moved out of her parent’s apartment and went to work. “I was in a hurry to grow up,” she said.
Her first job was in a studio that did work for catalogs, setting up jewelry to be photographed. Assigned to arrange 140 wedding bands for a shoot, her arm was twitching somewhere in the middle of the second day of ring-arranging and she knocked half of them over. She was immediately reassigned. Her boss told her he needed a way to keep track of the jewelry that came in to be photographed, and Becky established a merchandise control system to do it.Next, she wrote advertising copy for jewelry catalogs, “going to the thesaurus and making a list of synonyms for scintillating, brilliant and exquisite,” she remembered.
Becky moved into medical writing, supporting herself writing about disease, health and nutrition. A book-packager hired her to write books on fiber in the diet, and when she got a call about working on a book to be called “Loving Longer,” she guessed correctly it was a study of premature ejaculation. “They wanted me because of my medical background,” she said, “but they really just needed a writer.”
Becky wrote a script for the televisions series, “Cagney and Lacey,” that was made into the episode, “Right to Remain Silent,” which aired in 1986. Although she was paid almost nothing, it got her into the Screenwriter’s Guild. Starting in 1990, Becky was a staff writer for “One Life to Live,” responsible for a script every week, and sometimes two or three. She loved the work and the people she worked with until new management came in, fired the film and theater people who had been producing the program and replaced them with marketing executives.
When a new producer asked for a story line involving a romantic relationship between two characters, the unintentionally cringe-worthy plot twist was shelved when one of the long-time writers informed the executive that the characters she wanted to marry each other were brother and sister.
In 1994, when the soap won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series Writing Team, Becky was one of the eight writers honored. “We walked off stage, were handed our Emmys and were busy noticing that it’s really easy to stab yourself with the wings — very pointy! And there was Gladys Knight walking towards us saying she loved the show.” Becky said. “It was a very warm few minutes.”
As part of Shelter Island Library’s series Friday Night Dialogues, Becky will discuss her experiences writing for the soaps on Friday, January 20.
She had kept up her relationship with Shelter Island, even when living and working in the city. Her mother and father were full-time residents once they retired, and after her father died in 1992, she continued to spend extended time on the Island with her mother, moving out to care for her in 2000, and eventually inheriting the family home on South Ferry Road where she lives.
Becky admits to a few missed opportunities. “I wanted to marry, I wanted to have kids, but I missed all my deadlines,” she said, “Those are huge regrets in my life.”
After leaving the world of daytime drama, Becky worked refinishing furniture, a skill she learned early in life from her uncle. She is also an active volunteer, especially when editing and writing is involved. She’s worked with the 2Rs4Fun program that helps Shelter Island School students improve their writing and reading skills, and she offers editing and writing expertise in the Ferry Writers group that meets twice a month.
For almost a year, Becky has run a popular Shakespeare reading group at the library, preparing extensive notes to stimulate the group discussion for each play the group reads.
“It is truly the best thing in my life,” she said. “I love that prep work.”
She claims the distinction of sharing a bed with William Shakespeare, since the entire left side of her bed is “all books on Will. He takes up a little more than half the bed — he’s kind of a sprawler.”
Becky likes some of the changes she’s witnessed on the Island over the years. For example, when she was growing up this was one of the most conservative voting districts in the country, but in the last two presidential elections the Island voted for Obama and for Clinton, a development she observed as a poll-watcher. She also cites a more open-minded attitude toward people moving here from off-Island.
“I think it has become much easier for an outsider to get into Island life,” she said. “I think the movement of so many summertime people to become full time residents had something to do with it.”