Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Late Great Carl Reiner: The Very Definition of a Mensch

There are those artists whose influence is so great on individuals that it is impossible me to measure. For me one of those artists is Carl Reiner. Until today I had never known life without Mr. Reiner. The Dick Van Dyke Show is not only one of my all-time favourite sitcoms, but it is also one of the earliest television shows I can remember watching. As a child I delighted to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks's comedy sketch "2000 Year Man;" movies such as The Comic and Oh, God!; his short-lived series Good Heavens; and his appearances in such films as The Thrill of It All and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. Carl Reiner was still a force to be reckoned with as I grew older, making such films as Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Summer School, and in television guest appearances in such shows as Hot in Cleveland and Parks and Recreation. As an adult I would discover his wonderful work on Your Show of Shows. More recently I have enjoyed his many idiosyncratic tweets on Twitter. Carl Reiner has always been one of my heroes, ever since childhood. Sadly, Carl Reiner died last night, June 29 2020, at the age of 98.

Carl Reiner was born on March 20 1922 in the Bronx, New York City. His father, Irving, was a watchmaker. His mother, Bessie (née Mathias), was a homemaker. Following his graduation from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, he worked as a machinist's helper. His older brother Charlie referred to Carl Reiner to a newspaper article about a free acting class that was being given by the Works Progress Administration. Carl Reiner proved to have a gift for acting and so he decided to go into acting.

During World War II Mr. Reiner served in the Army Air Forces. He trained as a radio operator, but following a three month bout with pneumonia he was trained as a French interpreter. He served as a teleprint operator before being transferred to Special Services to serve as an entertainer. Carl Reiner performed all around the Pacific Theatre.

After receiving an honourable discharge from the military, Carl Reiner joined the road company for the musical revue Call Me Mister. He made his debut on Broadway in Inside U.S.A. in 1948 and in 1950 he appeared on Broadway in Alive and Kicking. On television he was a regular on The Fifty-Forth Street Revue and the host of Floor Show. He appeared on such shows Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle, Cavalcade of Stars, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Arthur Murray Party. It was in 1950 that producer Max Liebman cast Carl Reiner on the legendary variety show Your Show of Shows. Although part of a cast that included Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Howard Morris, Mr. Reiner also worked as a writer on the show. It would be on Your Show of Shows that Carl Reiner met his comedy partner and best friend Mel Brooks. Your Show of Shows received both critical acclaim and high ratings. It ran for four seasons.

In the Fifties, after Your Show of Shows ended its run, Carl Reiner again appeared with Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour. He once more worked as a writer on the show, alongside Mel Brooks. Later in the decade Carl Reiner served as the host of the game show Keep Talking and was a regular for one season on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. He appeared on such shows as Campbell Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Playhouse 90, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. It was in 1959 that Carl Reiner developed the television pilot Head of the Family. It aired on Comedy Spot, collection of sitcom pilots. For whatever reason, CBS did not like Carl Reiner in the lead and rejected the pilot. It would be recast with Dick Van Dyke as the lead and became The Dick Van Dyke Show. Carl Reiner made his movie debut in Happy Anniversary in 1959. In the late Fifties he also appeared in the film The Gazebo (1959).  In 1958 his autobiographical novel Enter Laughing was published. The book 2000 Years With: Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks, co-written by Mel Brooks, was published in 1960.  In 1960 the comedy album, 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, was released

It was in 1961 that The Dick Van Dyke Show debuted. Carl Reiner was not only the show's creator, but its producer and head writer. He also played the recurring role of the egocentric and overbearing Alan Brady, star of The Alan Brady Show. It was on the series that he began his directorial career. The Dick Van Dyke Show proved to be a hit in the ratings in its second season, and it also received a good deal of critical acclaim. It won 15 Emmy Awards and was nominated for a total of 25. The Dick Van Dyke Show would have a lasting impact on television comedy and can still be seen today on local television stations, cable channels, and streaming services.

In the Sixties Carl Reiner also appeared on the television special The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, which essentially a Your Show of Shows reunion. He also wrote on the special. He was the voice of Billie the Bird on the Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lion Hearted. Carl Reiner was also the host of the game show The Celebrity Game and appeared on the shows The New Steve Allen Show,Burke's Law, The Hollywood Palace, Good Morning World, The Andy Williams Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Joey Bishop Show, That Girl, The Dick Frost Show, and Laugh-In. He also directed his first feature film, Enter Laughing (1967). He followed it with The Comic (1969) and Where's Poppa? (1970). He appeared in the films Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), The Thrill of It All (1963), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Art of Love (1965), The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming (1966), A Guide for the Married Man (1967), The Comic (1969), and Generation. The comedy album 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks was released in 1961 and Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival was released in 2001. He appeared on Broadway in Enter Laughing (based on his own novel) and Something Different.

In the Seventies Carl Reiner created the television shows The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and Lotsa Luck!. Mr. Reiner and Mel Brooks wrote the animated television special The 2000 Year Old Man, based on their comedy sketch of the same name. He also wrote the failed pilot Flannery and Quilt. He directed the movies Oh, God! (1977), The One and Only (1978), and The Jerk (1979). He starred as Mr. Angel on the television series Good Heavens. He guest starred on the TV shows The New Doctors, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and Medical Story.He appeared in the movies Oh, God! (1973), The End (1978), and The Jerk (1979). Archival footage of Mr. Reiner appeared in the movie Ten from Your Show of Shows (1973), a compilation of sketches from Your Show of Shows. He was the voice of the interviewer in the television special The 2000 Year Old Man. He appeared on Broadway in Tough to Get Help; So Long, 174th Street, and The Roast. In 1973 the record 2000 and Thirteen with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks was released.

In the Eighties Carl Reiner directed the movies Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), All of Me (1984), Summer Rental (1985), Summer School (1987), Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989), and Sibling Rivalry (1990). He was the voice of God in Mel Brooks's movie History of the World: Part I (1981) and provided the voice of the narrator of a newsreel (reprising his role as Alan Brady at the same time) in the movie In the Mood (1987). He appeared in the films Dead Men Don't War Plaid (1982), Summer School (1987), and The Spirit of '76 (1990). On television he appeared in various TV movies, and guest starred on Faerie Tale Theatre.

In the Nineties Carl Reiner directed the movies Fatal Instinct (1993) and That Old Feeling (1997). He guest starred on the shows Frasier, Mad About You (reprising his role of Alan Brady), The Larry Sanders Show, Beggars and Choosers, and Family Law. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Hercules, and King of the Hill. He appeared in the movies Fatal Instict (1993), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). During decade his books All Kinds of Love, Continue Laughing, How Paul Robeson Saved My Life (and Other Mostly Happy Stories), and The 2000 Year-Old Man in the Year 2000: The Book. His comedy albums Excerpts from The Complete 2000 Year Old Man and The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 were also released during the decade.

In the Naughts Carl Reiner wrote the television specials The Alan Brady Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. He provided a voice for The Alan Brady Show and appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited as well. Mr. Reiner had recurring roles on Life with Bonnie, The Bernie Mac Show, and Two and a Half Men. He voiced the recurring character Murray on The Cleveland Show and voiced the regular character Sarmoti on King of the Pride. He guest starred on Crossing Jordan, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and House M.D. He appeared in the movies Ocean's Eleven (2001), Ocean's Twelve (2004), and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). He provided the voice of a studio executive in The Majestic (2001). He provided voices for the animated films Good Boy! (2003) and Khan kluay (2006). He wrote the books My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir, NNNNN: A Novel, Tell Me Another Scary Story... But Not Too Scary! (with James Bennett), Just Desserts: A Novellelah, and Tell Me a Silly Story (with James Bennett).

In the Teens Carl Reiner wrote an episode of The Cleveland Show. He had a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland and continued to appear on Two and a Half Men. He guest starred on the shows Parks and Recreation, Young & Hungry and Angie Tribeca. He was a guest voice on such shows as Bob's Burgers, American Dad!, Wordgirl, Shimmer and Shine, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Justice League Action, and Family Guy. He appeared in the movie Dumbbells (2014). He provided voices for the animated films Duck Duck Goose (2018) and Toy Story 4 (2019). He wrote the books I Remember Me, I Just Remembered, What I Forgot, Why & When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, Carl Reiner, Now You're Ninety-Four: A Graphic Diary, and You Say God Bless You for Sneezing and Farting!.

In the past decade Carl Reiner has also been active on social media, particularly Twitter. He was closely associated with Turner Classic Movies. At the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival he attended a hand print ceremony with his son Rob Reiner at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and he was a guest at other TCM Classic Film Festivals. He also worked with MeTV, appearing in promos for the channel and even hosting marathons of his favourite episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Even if creating, writing, and producing The Dick Van Dyke Show had been the only thing Carl Reiner had done, he would be remembered. Nearly sixty years after its debut, The Dick Van Dyke Show remains regarded as one of the greatest shows ever made. Its influence can be felt on everything from Murphy Brown to Parks and Recreation. It made both Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore stars. Carl Reiner's contributions to popular culture would go far beyond The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was both one of the cast and one of the writers on Your Show of Shows, which would have an impact on every sketch comedy show and variety show made ever since. He directed a number of highly regarded films, including Enter Laughing, Where's Poppa?, The Jerk, and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. He and Mel Brooks created one of the greatest comedy sketches of all time, The 2000 Year Old Man. He wrote books, recorded comedy albums, and even appeared on Broadway.

While Carl Reiner is best remembered as a writer and director, he was also an actor of considerable talent. Mr. Reiner had not planned to appear on screen as Alan Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but in doing so he made an already great show that much greater. He made many notable guest appearances on many shows and played many  roles in movies, playing a wide array of characters and making even lesser movies worth watching. And while Carl Reiner was best known for his comic roles, he could handle more serious roles, including guest appearances on such shows as The New Doctors and House M.D.

If Carl Reiner had something of an ego, no one could have blamed him given his achievements. Despite this, he remained humble. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he simply said something to the effect of, "He made a difference. He made people laugh." Carl Reiner was not simply a humble man of considerable talent, but he was also a man who was warm, open, friendly, and kind. While I never met Mr. Reiner myself, I know people who have and I even know one person who corresponded with him. Every one of them had the same thing to say of Carl Reiner, that he was one of the nicest, warmest, funniest men one could ever hope to meet. Carl Reiner was passionate about human rights and equality, often addressing those issues on his Twitter account.

Carl Reiner was utterly unique. He was an incredible talent, equally adept at writing, directing, and performing. He created TV shows and movies that have had a lasting impact to this day. Mr. Reiner was effortlessly funny, extremely nice, and passionate about justice and equality. Carl Reiner was a true gentleman and the very definition of a mensch. There will never be another like him.


Caftan Woman said...

A lovely tribute. Referring to Carl Reiner as unique describes his impact on us, a lasting and joyful one.

Dennis Bedard said...

His career spanned an important bridge in entertainment. He brought Vaudeville to TV. Your Show Of Shows and others such as Red Skelton and Milton Berle were nothing more than the old theater acts brought to the big screen. Then he was instrumental in TV's next step: the sitcom. Then onto comedic movies. He was part of a Jewish cohort, post WWII, that changed Hollywood and we are better because of people like him. As an aside, I doubt very much Reiner, like Mel Brooks, could survive in today's era of forced conformity and political correctness where the slightest deviation from acceptable forms of speech and conduct is met with
banishment and public humiliation.