Anne Beatts, one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live and the creator of the 1982 sitcom Square Pegs, has died at age 74. The announcement came from Laraine Newman, an SNL original cast member, though no further details have been confirmed.
Beatts began her comedy writing career as the first female editor of the National Lampoon magazine, a spinoff from the Harvard Lampoon. It was there that she met Michael O’Donoghue, with whom she would closely collaborate as they developed Lorne Michaels‘ brainchild that ultimately became SNL.
With writing partner Rosie Shuster, she created some of the show’s most memorable characters, including Todd and Lisa (played by Bill Murray and Gilda Radner), Uncle Roy (Buck Henry), Irwin Mainway and Fred Garvin (Dan Aykroyd). Finding herself once again as one of the few women in the room, Beatts frequently stood up for her pieces and purposefully hired a mostly female writing team when she launched Square Pegs.
“I always say very freely when people ask, ‘How did you get into comedy?’ … ‘The same way that Catherine the Great got into politics,” she told Television Academy in 2009. “It wasn’t like some Machiavellian scheme on my part. … It was just that I was attracted to people who were doing things that I wanted to do.”
“I remember once at Saturday Night Live having spent the night in my office,” she noted. “There was a heavy snowfall overnight, and I looked out the window onto 5th Avenue and I saw that the entire street was covered with pristine fresh snow. I just felt very joyful, and I thought the eight-year-old me always wanted to stay in the city — when you would be going to FAO Schwarz and the Museum of Natural History — and I was always like, ‘Someday I’m not going to leave.’ I thought if someone had said to that eight-year-old, ‘Well, yes, you will do this; you will have this moment,’ I would have been just thrilled.”
Square Pegs, which ran for one season, starred a young Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker as two teenagers in their first year of high school. Part of the show’s legacy became its heavy use of contemporary new wave music, including a theme song performed by the Waitresses and a musical guest spot from Devo. The rock vibe even extended to the casting: Among other cameos, Doors drummer John Densmore appeared in an episode as part of a fictional band.
“My idea for Square Pegs was that, since rock music is very important to kids, that there should always be rock music on the show,” Beatts said in an interview at the time, adding, “I think that it’s integral to the show.”
She elaborated on the show’s musical legacy in a 2018 Yahoo! interview. “It was groundbreaking, but nobody [at the network] wanted us to do it, because they thought that it would interfere with the dialogue!” she said. “And they sure didn’t want to spend the money on it. No one, no one, no one wanted us to do it. But I knew it was important to keep putting music in there.”
Beatts found more TV work after Square Pegs: Among other projects, she coproduced the first season of the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World in 1987-88, wrote a 1991 episode of Murphy Brown and co-penned the 1993 TV movie The Elvira Show. She also worked in other mediums, including Broadway productions (cowriting Radner’s 1979 one-woman show), humor columns, multiple books (as both a writer and editor) and teaching (including a stint as adjunct writing professor at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts).
“We were doing comedy for us,” Beatts told the Vancouver Film School in 2011, reflecting on the philosophy of early SNL. “Do we think this is funny? We’ll put it on the air.”