Saturday, September 6, 2008

Television Writer Sheldon Keller Passes On

Emmy winning television writer Sheldon Keller, who worked on Sid Caesar's variety series Caesar's Hour in the Fifties, passed on Monday at the age of 85. The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Keller was born in Chicago on August 20, 1923. He attended the University of Illinois. While there, he appeared in college shows with Allan Sherman (the "Weird Al" of the Sixties, most famous for the spoof song "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"). In 1942 he left school to join the United States Army, in which he served in the Signal Corps in the Pacific Theatre. Following World War II he worked in the family business (corset manufacturing). It was in 1952 that he borrowed money $500 from his family to move to New York City to start a career in comedy.

It was in 1955 that Keller was hired to write on Caesar's Hour. There he worked with such legendary writers as Gary Belkin, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, Larry Gelbart, Michael Stewart, Neil Simon, and Mel Tonkin. He would later write for The Art Carney Show and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. He reached another highpoint in his career with The Danny Kaye Show in 1963. Along with the rest of the writing staff (which included Mel Tonkin and Larry Gelbart), he was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy or Variety.

Keller wrote three episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1962 and 1963. He won his only Emmy, for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety, for An Evening with Carol Channing in 1966. The following year he was nominated for an Emmy for Special Classifications of Individual Achievements for Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music Part II. Keller would write on further TV specials for Sinatra, as well as one for Bing Crosby and Carol Burnett.

Keller would also write motion picture screenplays. His first feature film was Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, starring Gina Lolabrigida and Shelley Winters, in 1968. In the Seventies he worked on tv series The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine, Temperatures Rising, and M*A*S*H, and TV specials smf movies such as What Now, Catherine Curtis (starting Lucille Ball), The Beatles Forever, and Paul Lynde at the Movies. He co-wrote the script for Blaxploitation cult film Cleopatra Jones with Max Julien and Movie, Movie with Larry Gelbart. In the Eighties he wrote episodes of House Calls and the TV specials Women Who Rate a 10, Joan Rivers and Friends Salute Heidi Abromowitz, and Side by Side.

Keller was also a composer, writing music for The Bob Hope Show, Make Room for Daddy, The Danny Kaye Show, and Hizzoner. He also produced three years' worth of Bob Hope specials, The Jonathan Winters Show, and the TV series House Calls and Hizzoner. After his career in TV and movies, Keller worked on a newsletter of jokes for pubic speakers and disc jockeys.

Sheldon Keller was certainly one of the greatest television writers of all time. He was one of the legendary group of writers who worked on Caesar's Hour, as well as The Danny Kaye Show. Keller had a natural gift for comedy. He wrote some very funny material, including the episode "It's a Shame She Married Me" of The Dick Van Dyke Show (which guest starred Robert Vaughn) and Movie, Movie. He was one of the last truly great comedy writers who had worked in television. He will certainly be missed.

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