Welcome to AppendSix, six literature-related facts and notes about pop culture. In this installment, we look into the cheesy-yet-lovable 80s/90 NBC Saturday morning comedy, Saved by the Bell.
I had the pleasure of speaking with creator Peter Engel about Bell and other topics discussed in his memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell. The first AppendSix item is about him.
Peter Engel, Father of Bell
On 15 November, SbtB fans and TV enthusiasts will be able to read Peter Engel’s memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell. It’s a very good biography on the whole, though Bell fans may be disappointed there’s not enough content about their show.
Engel’s textual self-portrait is that of personal and professional transformations and triumphs. He, a Jewish New Yorker, sought to make the Great American Sitcom, but became a titan of teen television in sunny Burbank, California. The title and Peter Engel Productions logo on the book will get sales from nostalgic fans, but he’s also saved by Jesus. I ponder whether some Christian bookstores will stock it, but the memoir has adult language and some intense situations.
That mini-review out of the way, I found Peter to be a cool interview subject. Check out my 20+ minute interview where he discusses his showbiz career and some of the TNBC shows, including Bell and its lesser successor, Saved by the Bell: the New Class.
Peter has some amusing anecdotes of star Dustin Diamond in the book and spoke glowingly of him during our interview. Now, here’s an essay of Diamond and Behind the Bell.
Going Behind the Bell
The actor who played Screech Powers is no stranger to being tabloid fodder. At about the same time as I interviewed Engel, a local TV station aired the Dr. Oz interview where Diamond presented himself as remorseful and apologized to his castmates. Peter Engel spoke glowingly of Diamond during our interview. Diamond sure took a very bumpy road to get to that point.
Diamond became a source of Saved by the Bell controversy when his book, Behind the Bell, came out in 2009. Reading about this book is surreal when I tried to unravel the salacious claims. Behind was to be published by Gotham Books, but Gotham passed on it for the contents being “unpublishable.” Before Diamond’s agent found another publisher, the first ghostwriter was fired due to “scheduling issues” before another ghostwriter finished the manuscript.
The new publisher was Montreal-based Transit Publishing, headed by Pierre Turgeon. Before Dustin Diamond, Transit put out a book about Michael Jackson. While they published what was once “unpublishable,” Transit closed shop shortly after publishing Behind. It was reported in 2010 that Transit had legal woes (Link paywalled). It could’ve been that Turgeon bailed from the North American market before Diamond and other authors could take him to court.
Indeed, Diamond told Dr. Oz the publisher closed and moved to France after the controversial book came out so he wasn’t able to sue them. However, it seems so weird Diamond signed away his rights that he, in 2009, couldn’t stop publication or somehow distance himself from the published work (having a picture of him removed from the cover, for instance). That the ghostwriter heavily exaggerated what Diamond told him or her as Diamond claims is plausible, but I can’t confirm that.
I say “weird” because Diamond has a history of making questionable professional deals. He’s appeared from lowbrow stuff like Celebrity Big Brother UK, Surreal Life, and Celebrity Boxing, to appearing in a porn movie called Saved by the Smell (but, but, his body double did the… hard work).
Furthermore, he has been convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and disorderly conduct and has served prison and jail time. For those who love the “child star gone bad” media narrative, the ugliest parts of Diamond’s life are the gift that keeps on giving.
A Spiritual Self-Help Guide That’s Not a Lark
Look, out, e.e., cummings, there’s, a, new, poet, with, an, odd, gimmick.
As Lisa Turtle, Lark Voorhies once asked, “What is art? Is art art? Are we art?” With a title and subtitle like True Light: A, Superior, Take, Unto, The, Premier, Haloing, Of, Tenuation. Readily, Available, True Light, Provides, Resource, Into, Time’s, Motifed, And, Vestuved, Authenticate, Revelation., Voorhies pushes the limits of how art can be enjoyed or edified.
True Light is a New Age/spiritual/whatchamacallit book published by Bloomington, Indiana-based iUniverse. From what I’ve read of it, Voorhies’ book is loaded with commas. I’ll never understand why the comma-fest. I’m not sure if Lark knows why she needed commas. What profound point is she trying to make?
This book is ridiculous that it’s earned ironic 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon. The Kindle version is $6.15, but it’s $6.15 too much. Preview the book from Google Books to experience “art.”
Lopez, an actor/emcee who’s also a “triple threat stage performer,” has published several books. Most of them are health and fitness that are sure to make the ladies swoon because they eating non-fattening food and ogling a former Dancing with the Stars contestant.
More interesting than that is his memoir where he dispenses “Marioisms,” surely seizing the opportunity before Nintendo’s lawyers do. An excerpt of his book details the childhood of a chubby kid before starting his ascension into some sort of Tejano Adonis. From what I’ve read, he seems like a pleasant fellow.
Don’t want to reminded of how awesome he is? Mario’s got all the literature bases covered with Mud Tacos, a children’s book about two kids concocting a new fine delicacy: tacos stuffed with mud. leaves, and worms. That’s more intense than How to Eat Fried Worms.
At Least It’s Not Showgirls
With positive reviews and described as “a teen girl’s guide to life, love, friends, and growing up, in an intimate diary format,” it’s so refreshing to find a book by a SbtB alum that doesn’t have bizarre grammatical gimmicks or soul-draining gossip. Ask Elizabeth offers advice and guidance for young girls. Typical issues Berkley has gone from showgirl to Dear Abby/agony aunt for millennials.
Ask Elizabeth has been covered by Entertainment Weekly and Common Sense Media with favorable reviews to the mixed assessments by Kirkus Reviews noting that Berkley’s conversational style may not connect with some readers and editor/columnist Chauncey Mabe who made this relevant criticism:
The only thing I could find objectionable […] is the explicit assumption today’s parents can’t relate to the pressures facing today’s girls (but a washed-up 37-year-old actress can).
This, of course, is hogwash. Girls have wrestled with the same pressures to be pretty, thin and compliant at least since the days of Evelyn Nesbit. The key problem isn’t that parents don’t understand kids, but that they don’t give them enough time and attention.
As I’m not a father or teacher taking care of girls, I’m neither so excited to recommend Ask Elizabeth nor so scared to advise you to stay away from it. However, Berkley left some advice on her Ask Elizabeth YouTube channel, completely with zany brightly colored backgrounds and monochrome Liz head.
Cruising For a Good Story
In my interview with Peter Engel, he did reveal that Beth Cruise is a pen name. The author visited the set for information about the Saved by the Bell behind the scenes book. The prolific Bell scribe’s true identity is totally unknown to me; Engel didn’t know who she is. But…
As I’m finishing up this list, Fantastic Fiction says Beth Henderson is Cruise. Wow, I completely overlooked this.
According to Fantastic Fiction, Cruise has published over three dozen books about Saved by the Bell, original recipe, College Years, and New Class, between 1992 and 1994. I did own one of these books, Kelly’s Hero. Here’s what I’ve wrote about it in 2014:
_Kelly’s Hero_ is faithful to the show’s heavy-handed plotting. What’s on the page doesn’t match the energetic verve of what we see on TV. Basically, Hero is about the evils of sexual harassment and the perils of putting competition over love. The subplot, where Jessie and Lisa takes on Slater and Screech in a scavenger hunt, is cringe-inducing in that Jessie believes her love of Slater is the most important thing in her life.
Yes, that feminist, popping-caffeine-pills-for-an-A-plus-or-whatever Jessie. To be fair, both she and Slater are petty and selfish and Lisa is a tool. Hilarity ensues.
The main plot involves Kelly getting a new job at the country club where Zack’s father is a new member. Mr. Morris hopes to win the support of a man whose creepy son, Brad, is managing the club’s restaurant where Kelly is waiting tables. Brad is nothing but a lech while Kelly is sloooow to take back her dignity. With the help of the titular “hero,” Zack, and a co-worker, Kelly exposes Brad as the creep he is in front of his father.
In all the Saved by the Bell literature, I noticed that Good Morning, Miss Bliss hasn’t been explored. So, how would “the middle school years” fare if Miss Bliss’ kids gone into high school? Fear not – yours truly gives a glimpse of what might have been: Good Morning Miss Bliss moves to high school.