A Conversation with Billy Van Zandt

His latest book, "Get in the Car, Jane! Adventures in the TV Wasteland," was published earlier this year.

Your new book came out right before the pandemic. Was the timing good or bad? 

It’s good in that there are people sitting in their houses running out of things to watch on TV. But it’s bad in that I was going to travel around doing book signings. That had to be canceled.

There’s a chapter titled, “Paris or New Jersey?” What’s that about?

I started writing plays before I started writing for TV. The first time Jane [Milmore] and I went to L.A. to do TV work, we got homesick. So while everybody else in TV was on hiatus to Europe, we would go home to Jersey and put on a play, usually at Brookdale Community College. We came home every year for more than 30 years. [Milmore, who was from Keansburg, died in February of pancreatic cancer.]

What does the title, Get in the Car, Jane!, mean?

It was a running joke between Jane and me. We wouldn’t put up with a lot of crap if things weren’t going well on a show. If we didn’t like what was happening, if something got out of hand, I would say, “Get in the car, Jane!” And we’d go. 

billy van zandtYou just lost Jane, your longtime writing partner, in February. Grieving must be especially hard with social distancing. 

We haven’t been able to have her memorial. It’s still affecting me. We were together 46 years, and we ended up with the same mind. I talk to her sisters every day. One of her sisters, Janet, still lives in Red Bank. 

You were that close, but you weren’t romantic partners.

We dated off and on for many years, but we finally came to the conclusion that we were better off as friends, and we married different people. [Van Zandt, now divorced, married actress Adrienne Barbeau; they have twin sons, William and Walker, now 23].

When was the last time you lived in New Jersey? 

I sold my house in Navesink about four years ago. I would spend about half the year there or at Jane’s house in Rumson. I’m a Jersey guy. One of the reasons we’d always go back is because people are normal, and you can put on plays there and figure out whether they work for regular people. Out here [in Los Angeles], it’s all show-business people. 

With a name like Van Zandt, it’s probably tough to leave New Jersey behind. 

People usually know I’m Steven’s brother, and they usually ask me about it, and that’s okay, because I’m very proud of him. But I don’t think anybody’s ever asked him about me. And that’s okay, too.

You must also be proud of the historic Van Zandt–New Jersey connection.

Our family has been in New Jersey since the 1600s. My kids were the first ones to be born out of state, and I felt very guilty about it. 

Anything else in the new book that’s pertinent to Jersey readers? 

Well, Olympia Dukakis was a Jersey girl, and we worked with her a bunch. Also Brooke Shields and Sinatra. They’re all in there. And I loved them. When we’re from Jersey, we just sort of speak our minds. It makes for interesting outcomes.

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