This month’s West Village Original is writer and artist Sybil Sage. One of the first women to write for TV comedies, she lists “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda” and “Maude” among her many credits. She has lived for many years at 45 Christopher Street with her husband, Martin, and these days she runs a successful business creating and selling her beautiful pique assiette pieces. You can buy them at www.sybilsage.com.
“It’s one of the coldest places ever,” Sybil Sage says of her hometown, Winnipeg, Manitoba. “It was 50 below and it’s prairie. My parents were born in Russia and they probably went to Canada because they had family there. At some point, they realized there was a life beyond Winnipeg so we moved to New Jersey and then New York. I grew up in Teaneck. It’s okay to be from those places if you can end up in Greenwich Village!” she says, laughing.
Sage majored in Psychology at NYU but fell into the entertainment business one summer while visiting her brother in Los Angeles. She started working as a secretary for Carl Reiner, who had begun producing a TV series called The New Dick Van Dyke Show. “I had always liked writing but it seemed very lofty to me,” Sage says. “However, working with Carl, I met the writers and it became less intimidating. They weren’t exactly Chaucer or Shakespeare. Actually, they were the kind of guys you wouldn’t go out with in high school. But they all looked very rich and I thought, ‘Hmmm, maybe this is something!’”
One night, Sage was watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show when she decided to write a spec script for the series. “It was a time when there was more shows starring interesting women characters,” she recalls. “But there were very few women writers. I teamed up with a friend, Barbara Gallagher, and we started getting a lot of work. It’s possible we were the first female writing team in TV. It turns out that the shows that appreciated having women writers did benefit from them.”
Sage moved back to New York in the 1970s, got married and in 1980, moved to the Village. “We knew that there wouldn’t be much TV work in New York for us but we wanted to raise our son here,” she says. “I wanted a New York kid. I wasn’t sure about raising a kid in the Village but it turns out he loved it. There’s life here and it’s exciting and there’s diversity. You’ve got to walk the walk if you want a kid to feel a part of the world and that was hard to do in LA.”Several years ago, Sage was ready to try something new when she took a class in pique assiette, a form of art similar to mosaic but which specifically uses broken plates and the like arranged in patterns or designs. “I just got passionate about it,” she says. “Nuts about it, really. There was no stopping me. I was doing it to anything that was standing still: vases, picture frames, pencil holders, you name it. I even got into cremation urns, for both pets and people!”
What is it about the process that Sage enjoys? “It’s very creative,” she replies. “It’s a little bit like comedy writing because you’re creating a character and you can personalize it. I turn the mosaic into a story about somebody. And it’s fun for people who order them as gifts because they get to participate. It’s very collaborative.”
As a long-time West Villager, Sage has had a front row seat to the changes here. “There are some places that I still miss, like Rumbles Bakery,” she says, laughing. “And as you know, the designers discovered Bleecker Street so now there are $1,200 boots in shop windows. An Italian clothing shop just opened at the corner of Bleecker and Bank. The first time I looked at the prices, they were so high I asked the staff if they were in lira! There didn’t used to be anything unaffordable in the Village and now there is. That was surprising.”
“I’m a little worried about NYU building those high rises as well,” she continues. “But on a happier note, the High Line is gorgeous! I walk along the Hudson and they now have sailing and golf in addition to everything else. I feel like it’s the best of the country and the city. I don’t know why anyone goes away for the weekend because it’s all here. There’s nothing you can’t do here. It really is like heaven on earth. I’m not worried about whether there’s an afterlife because I can’t imagine it being any better than this.”