Lennie Shulman’s ‘random journey’ to horseracing world
By the time he embarked on his “extremely random journey” from Hollywood screenwriter to features editor at Blood-Horse magazine in Lexington, Lennie Shulman had already started his own weekly newspaper in Tucson, Ariz., and was a sports reporter in Upstate New York.
“So the moral of my life,” said Shulman, “is I can’t hold a job,” which elicited laughter from his Coffee Club audience at the Woodford County Library on Feb. 2.
“My life has been very random,” explained Shulman, who has also written two novels, including “Long Way From Home,” and a nonfiction book about jockeys called “Ride of Their Lives.”
“…And I just want to talk a little bit about the randomness of my career.”
Shulman said he moved to Los Angeles in 1980 (when he was 25) and spent 20 years in Hollywood writing for television, film and comedy.
For eight or nine of those years, he was a writer and producer for the TV show, “Kids Incorporated,” and later worked on several HBO television shows because of a conversation he had with Andrew Dice Clay after watching the standup comedian at the Comedy Store the night before.
“We hit it off,” remembered Shulman, who later went with Clay, who “remains a friend to this day,” on his trips to Las Vegas.
Listening to two guys “talk horses for hour after hour after hour,” during lavish parties at Caesar’s Palace reignited Shulman’s fascination for horseracing. So a couple of years later, he visited Kentucky to see all of its “wonderful horses.” Shulman had earned an Emmy Award for his writing on a primetime special that introduced a national TV audience to Fox’s NFL coverage, but his Hollywood career was now stalling. So he wrote letters to horse magazines and later landed a writing job at Blood-Horse magazine’s Lexington office.
“This is how I ended up in Kentucky in the horseracing world,” said Shulman, who at one time in his life thought he was going to become a famous screenwriter and now lives “a half-mile off the road” in Nonesuch – a world away from the nonstop bustle of Los Angeles.
“I’ve been there since 2000 and I’ve never regretted it. It’s a wonderful place,” he said.
“…When I leave work in the afternoon and drive back to Nonesuch, you leave it all behind.”
Coffee Club gatherings on Friday mornings at the Woodford County Library (visit its online calendar to learn about future guests) provides a venue for interesting people to share their stories, according to organizer Geri Isaacs.
“It’s really special to be in a library,” Shulman told his Coffee Club audience last Friday morning, “because, really for me, it all started in a library.”
Growing up in Westbury – a small town outside of New York City – Shulman and his brother made weekly Saturday visits to a children’s library “about a block from my house.”
Each time Shulman walked through the library’s “giant wooden doors,” he remembers being “hit in the face” by a “fantastic musty smell of books.”
So with his mother’s blessing to read any book “as long as he read,” Shulman said he read every baseball book that library had on its shelves.
“I believe,” he added, “that got me started loving the language, and loving reading and books – and really got me going on my path here, which is really a good thing because writing is about the only thing I can do.” Fortunately, the Syracuse University journalism graduate said he’s been able to keep himself and his dog fed with what he earns as a writer.
“There are just so many great characters in the horseracing world … and it’s just great to be able to tell their stories,” said Shulman.
He said his most memorable story was about horse owner David Milch, a Hollywood television writer known for such shows as Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and Deadwood, who was also a problem gambler.
“Most people – when you interview them – they’re guarded a little bit. They’re not going to just empty their soul to a stranger, necessarily,” said Shulman, 63.
“You try – as an interviewer – to get them to open up as much as you can, but people aren’t going to tell you their deepest, darkest secrets. Well, David did.”
Writing this 2002 story where Milch likened betting on horse races to being a heroin addict in need of a fix led to people in the horse industry wanting Shulman to lose his job at Blood-Horse.
“Thankfully, for me, the people at the magazine stuck up for me,” said Shulman. “…It was a difficult story to tell.” He described writing about someone’s life – and telling their story – as a responsibility that he doesn’t take lightly.
“Behind every horse,” said Shulman, “there’s a story.”