James Vallely originally started out as a comic. He became a television producer and screenwriter. He was a writer and consulting producer for Arrested Development, the multiple Emmy Award-winning television show on the FOX network. He was also an executive producer and co-creator of Running Wilde, also on FOX, along with Mitchell Hurwitz and Will Arnett.
His work on Arrested Development won him a Primetime Emmy Award and a Writers Guild Of America Award.
He wrote for a number of TV series, including ten episodes of The Golden Girls, which was his first paid work as a writer, The John Larroquette Show, and Ladies Man. His daughter is former child actor Tannis Vallely.
T2C: When did you first move to Manhattan Plaza and how did you get into the building?
James Vallely: My wife and I had heard about Manhattan Plaza and we had just had a baby. We were about to be kicked out of our Weehawken apartment. We applied to Manhattan Plaza, but there was a 10 year waiting list. My wife Myra Turley, was an actress and she was in El Grande De Coca-Cola at the time. The building actually had a few apartments left and was looking to fulfill a quota for actors with kids. We got in immediately because we fit the bill. We received a 2 bedroom apartment for $300. That was in 1979.
I knew about the neighborhood and what I was getting into, but at 24, you have a “who cares” attitude. You’re not scared of anything.
T2C: What made you move out?
James Vallely: I got divorced, though we are still friends. Also NBC offered me work on “Double Trouble”, which was was life changing. That was 1984. I was separated from my ex and child, but Myra and Tannis came out for pilot season. When Tannis booked the show “Head of the Class” we were all in the same state.
No-one leaves Manhattan Plaza. We wanted to give the chance to another family.
I since have carved out a nice career, my ex-wife did lots of film and TV and my daughter became a casting director.
Manhattan Plaza gives you ties you never forget. It is the perfect way to do section 8 housing. The building had an artistic kind of lightness. It nurtures actors, who are always broke.
T2C: What made Manhattan Plaza so special?
James Vallely: Immediately all the parents bonded. To make it easier my wife and others created a school in the building. It was called the Manhattan Plaza School For Young Artists. It was on the 3rd floor under Kenny Kramers apartment. It went from K – 6th grade. There were over 100 kids. Parents paid $50 and had to volunteer one day a week. To help out, there was also a babysitting co-op. Parents would swap each other kids out, so it became a family thing. Kenny Kramer ran the co-op. He had a daughter Melanie who was ten. Kramer was always at home. Across the hall was Larry David, who was a comedian. He worked at The Improve. I would follow him like a puppy dog. I was doing comedy as well. Manhattan Plaza had two shows, one for singer and the other for comedians. Larry Diamond would MC. Larry, Kenny and I were all kids working on our craft. There is a tape of its somewhere. Kenny always had something going on and at one point we all made electric jewelry called “Manhattan Jewelry”. In 1981 Kenny had a new video machine and we would make videos. One showed cream from China that helped with baldness. We used Wolf Blitzer catch phrase ” Mama Would Be Proud.”
T2C: Did Manhattan Plaza inspire you?
James Vallely: If I hadn’t lived there I wouldn’t have met Larry and Kenny. The creative atmosphere, the contacts and learning how to audition helped me carve out a niche. When you would tell people what you wanted to do, it seemed unattainable. They would call you Shakespeare. Because of Manhattan Plaza, it became attainable.
T2C: What did living in the building allow you to accomplish?
James Vallely: My comedy partner and I spent several days creating a script. We were trying to do an act that basically ended up supporting us for eight years. We performed it at Good Times on 31st and 3rd. Other comedians on the line-up were, Andrew Dice Clay and Yakov Smirnoff. We performed at The Comic Strip, where Jerry Seinfeld was the MC. We became friends with Bill Mahr, and he got us on the line-up at Catch a Rising Star. In those days you couldn’t get reviewed at the uptown clubs because you weren’t getting paid, but you could get reviewed downtown. On the night we performed downtown, we got reviewed. A Daily News reviewer, Lorenzo Carcaterra gave us a great review and the next day NBC called. We auditioned on the same line-up as Jim Carrey and Richard Pryor. It was magical and happened way too quickly.
T2C: What are your fondest memories of living in the plaza?
James Vallely: One summer Sunday, Larry David, who basically had no job except he MC’d at The Improve a couple of hours a few nights a week and I were sitting at the courtyard. Manhattan Plaza had this amazing pool which was a big deal because no other buildings had one. We were young and could not believe our luck. When I asked Larry if he was going to The Improve he stated “I’m on vacation” and I said for what?
I really enjoyed all of it. You would get into an elevator and there was Angela Lansbury or Tennessee Williams. You felt like you were in the business. It gave me a swagger.
T2C: What were the biggest changes to the neighborhood?
James Vallely: Theatre Row changed everything. It only took like 5 years for the neighborhood to improve. Good neighborhoods spread. Theatre people are disciplined. Artists take care of their stuff. In these abandoned buildings, we saw theatres. In rat infested bombed out store fronts, we saw cupcakes.
T2C: What did living in the building give you?
James Vallely: Amazing contacts who I still keep in touch with. I miss it. I know live in Hancock Park, which is great, but it ain’t Manhattan Plaza.
T2C: What would you change from your time living in Manhattan Plaza?
James Vallely: I was only there for a couple years. There isn’t a day that I don’t say why did I leave here. It was a perfect opportunity.
T2C: What is your fondest memory of New York?
James Vallely: I am nostalgic right now in this pandemic. I don’t think were ever going to see the bustling of over crowded restaurants or noisy crowds again. At least I was there when it was bustling.
T2C: What would you like us to know that we haven’t asked you?
James Vallely: Watch “Arrested Development” and “Golden Girl” reruns, I could use the bread. Also if you know of any shows where you can shoot stuff from 6 ft away, let me know.
I studied with Stella Adler and the great Larry Blyden, who stated, “everyone needs a style. Style comes from what you do bad. Jack Cole favored his left side, because he had polio and it became his style. Rex Harrison was bad at singing, so he talked his way through it. Find what makes you have style.”
The documentary Miracle on 42nd Street, is available on Amazon and will soon be available to stream.