Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Comedy Writer Irving Brecher Passes On

Irving Brecher, who wrote for Milton Berle in vaudeville and such comedy movies as At the Circus (starting the Marx Brothers) and The Life of Riley passed on November 17 at the age of 94. He had experienced a number of heart attacks last week.

Irving Brecher was born in the Bronx on January 17, 1914. He was raised in Yonkers. He was 19 years old when he took a job as an usher and ticket collector when a critic from Variety told him he could make money by writing gags for comedians. He then took an advertisement in Variety which read, "Positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them," capitalising on Berle's reputation for stealing jokes. Naturally, Milton Berle hired him.

In 1937 Brecher left vaudeville for Hollywood. There he would be one of the uncredited screenwriters to work on The Wizard of Oz. He would go on to write or co-write the Marx Brothers Movies At the Circus and Go West, the Red Skelton vehicle Ship Ahoy, Du Barry was a Lady, Meet Me in St. Louis, Ziegfield Follies, The Life of Riley, and the movie version of Bye, Bye Birdie. For television he wrote episodes of The Life of Riley and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He directed the movies The Life of Riley, Somebody Loves Me, and Sail a Crooked Ship. He also worked in radio, on such shows as The Gillette Original Community Sing and The Life of Riley (which he also created).

Milton Berle once said in tribute to Brecher, As a writer, he really has no equals. Superiors, yes." Berle was only joking, as Brecher probably had few, if any superiors when it came to comedy writing. As a tribute to his talent, it must be pointed out that Irving Brecher was the only writer in the history of film to received sole credit on a Marx Brothers movie (At the Circus). He was one of the funniest men to ever write in Hollywood, and worked with such legends as Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, and Henny Youngman, in addition to the Marx Brothers and Milton Berle. He also wrote some of the best films ever made. Irving Brecher had no equals. It is doubtful whether there were many, if any, writers superior to him.

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