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Silent partner finds her voice

Monica who?

That’s what people say when they hear of Monica Johnson, the other half of Albert Brooks’ writing team. She got a chuckle out of it when the New York Film Critics Circle recently announced the writing honors for “Mother.”

“They thought that I didn’t exist. I was really Albert Brooks in drag,” says Johnson, who also partnered with Brooks in penning “The Scout,” “Lost in America,” “Modern Romance,” and “Real Life.”

Playing second fiddle to one of Hollywood’s top comedy writers can be tough. “It’s very hard. He does direct and act, so he does overshadow everything,” Johnson explains. “In the meantime, I would be this mystery woman. All the press would talk about is Albert.”

This mystery woman was born in Colorado to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Her family later moved to Imperial Valley, just east of San Diego, where the writing bug first bit her. “I used to write poems for people to give to their boyfriend for five dollars,” she recalls.

Johnson first broke into the business by typing scripts for TV’s “Odd Couple,” then co-wrote three episodes for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” with Marilyn Suzanne Miller. She rose to story editor on “Paul Sands’ Friends and Lovers” and from there moved on to produce several episodes of “Laverne and Shirley.”

“I always had an ear for it (screenwriting),” she says. “That was just sort of a skill cultivated from my brother (writer/director Jerry Belson, “Jekyll & Hyde: Together Again”).”

Meanwhile, Johnson became a Comedy Store player and recalls how she “fell off the stage and into someone’s arms.” That someone was former comedian Andrew Johnson, husband No. 3 of nine (from whom she took her last name). As for Albert Brooks, she says, “I married him in creativity. That’s the only one that’s lasted.”

“It was just instantly like two peas in a pod,” she recalls of her initial meeting with Brooks shortly before “Real Life,” their first of five writing collaborations. “He felt the same way about humor based in reality as I did.”

These days, Johnson’s creating her own comedy feature. “I did much in TV alone, but in movies I haven’t. So it’s still a struggle,” she says.

But her real dream is to retire to Connecticut and write mysteries. “I like true crime, which I don’t know how to get into unless I commit one,” she says. “But no matter what I write turns into comedy.”

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