Today we were met with the sad news that writer Don Payne (Thor, The Simpsons) had passed away. Don was a friend to many, including our own Scott Weinberg, who wrote up the following personal essay about his experiences with Don, and what he meant to the people whose lives he touched.
The first time Don Payne e-mailed me was to say thanks for being "fair" to his screenwriting debut, the amusing but ultimately unsuccessful My Super Ex-Girlfriend. That Don was already established as a writer on no less a series than The Simpsons made the relative failure of Super Ex a little easier to swallow -- but I know he cared about nasty reviews. Don used to send me e-mails filled with links to Super Ex reviews. Some he listed as "negative but insightful" and others he categorized as "negative and WTF?" He loved his projects but he was never a priss about criticisms.
When the trailers for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer popped up, he cared then too. "Do you like how the Surfer looks?" he asked me more than once. The guy was a screenwriter and deep down he still cared how the special effects looked. When I told him I thought Fantastic Four 2 was a legitimate improvement over the first film his response was "Say no more. You've made my day." When he told me that he might be on board to (at least) cowrite the first Thor movie, Don was legitimately thrilled. He knew that this would be a tough Marvel character to bring to the screen, but he relished the challenge. He truly wanted to impress the millions of Marvel maniacs out there.
Several years ago I was in Los Angeles for about a week, crashing with everyone's great pal James Rocchi. When Don heard I was in town, he cleared an afternoon to buy me lunch, show me where The Simpsons gets written, and introduce me to a dozen funny people. This was an Emmy-winning Simpsons/Marvel writer. I know he had more important things to do that day than babysit me, but I'm so glad he did. That afternoon proved to me what I already suspected: that Don Payne was a legitimately sweet person who just happened to work in a cutthroat business. When I covered my first and only San Diego Comic-Con, I was elated to run into Don. Suffice to say that I was not enjoying my Comic-Con experience at all, and getting to chill out with Don was a unexpected treat.
The last e-mail exchange I had with Mr. Payne was a slightly silly one. "Hey, man," I asked, "why aren't you credited on Jack Reacher?" His response was "Ha. Wrong movie! I'm working on this James Patterson adaptation." And that was it. My last contact with a good friend who always stayed in touch, always had nice things to say about people, and always asked me about old Cinematical colleagues like Elisabeth Rappe and Erik Davis. With Thor: The Dark World coming up relatively soon, I'm sure I would have dropped Don an e-mail to say congrats and good luck. How I wish I'd sent that e-mail three days ago.
Rest in Peace, Don. I miss you already, and we barely even saw each other.
--dedicated to Don Payne's wife and children
Note: Below is a Simpsons storyboard that Don gave me during my tour of their offices.