Thursday, 9 June 2011

TV Producer Leonard Stern Passes On

Leonard Stern, who created the cult classic TV show He & She, wrote for such classic shows as The Honeymooners and  Get Smart, and co-created Mad Libs, passed on 7 June 2011 at the age of 88.

Leonard Stern was born in Manhattan on 23 December 1922. He attended New York University.  He began his career submitting jokes to Milton Berle while still in college. It was while he was writing for Dinah Shore that he was noticed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. He made some uncredited writing contributions to their film Africa Screams (1949) and wrote Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950). He wrote on such films as Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), The Milkman (1951), Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952), Lost in Alaska (1952),  and Three for the Show (1955).

Mr. Stern's career would be in television, however, as he one of the writers on the legendary show The Jackie Gleason Show.  He would also write for such legendary shows as The Honeymooners and The Phil Silvers Show (AKA Sgt. Bilko).  In 1961 he created the first of many shows, on which he also served as a writer and producer, I'm Dickens, He's Fenster. The series lasted only one season, but it hardly hampered his career. In 1965 Leonard Stern was brought on as a producer on a spy parody created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry called Get Smart. He also wrote many episodes of the show which would become not only a hit, but a classic. Mr. Stern was particularly active in the mid-Sixties, creating, producing, and writing for The Hero; Run, Buddy, Run; and He & She. None of them proved to be hits, although He & She was not only critically acclaimed, but won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy. It has since been regarded as one of the most brilliant comedies ever to be cancelled after only one season.

Leonard Stern would go onto create and produce The Governor and J. J., which lasted only a season, and then McMillan & Wife, one of the rotating segments of The NBC Mystery Movie umbrellas series. McMillan & Wife proved rather successful, running several seasons. He also produced The Snoop Sisters, Homes and Yoyo, and the television series version of Operation Petticoat. He also wrote the screenplays for the movies Just You and Me, Kid (1979) and The Nude Bomb (1980), a film loosely based on the series Get Smart. He produced and created the series Partners in Crime. He would serve as a creative consultant for the shows Sledge Hammer, The Nutt House, and the 1995 revival of Get Smart.

In addition to writing for television, Leonard Stern co-created the game Mad Libs with Roger Price. In 1953 while working on a script for The Jackie Gleason Show, Mr. Stern asked Mr. Price for an adjective to complete a sentence. Mr. Price's rather funny responses resulted in the creation of Mad Libs, the name suggested by someone at a cocktail party. The game, in which participants fill in the blanks in a sentence or even a story,  has since sold over 200 million copies. In fact, in 1963 Messrs. Price and Stern joined with a Hollywood publicist to form Price-Stern-Sloan Publishers Inc., with the primary purpose of publishing Mad Libs. The company was bought by the Penguin Group in 1993.

Leonard Stern would be remembered for his creation of Mad Libs alone, but he also wrote several hours of classic television. Indeed, while Mel Brooks and Buck Henry may have created Get Smart, it was arguably Leonard Stern who shaped the show into the one we know and love. Mr. Stern was possessed of  a keen mind with a gift for both parody and sophisticated humour. It is for this reason that He & She, although it only lasted a season, is remembered to this day. Few writers in television can claim to have worked on as many great shows as Mr. Stern did. That he did so is proof of his sheer talent. 

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