Friday, September 11, 2009

Larry Gelbart R.I.P.

Larry Gelbart, one of the veteran writers from Your Show of Shows and who developed M*A*S*H for television, passed yesterday at the age of 81. He had been suffering from cancer.

Larry Gelbart was born on February 25, 1928 in Chicago. His father was a barber, while his mother was a seamstress. In 1942 his family moved to Los Angeles. There his father's clients included both agents and actors. Among them was Danny Thomas, to whom his father bragged about young Gelbart. Thomas told him to have Gelbart write something to see how good he was. Gelbart wrote a short comedy sequence, which landed him a job on the radio show Maxwell House Coffee Time, which featured Thomas in a regular segment. By the time he was 18 years old he was writing for the show Duffy's Tavern.

It was when he was 18 that Gelbart was draughted into the post-war Army. During his years in the service, he wrote for the Armed Forces Radio Service show Command Performance, while still writing radio shows as he had before he was draughted. It was in 1950 that Larry Gelbart first entered television as one of the writers on the classic series Your Show of Shows. He also wrote for The Red Buttons Show and he wrote an episode of Four Star Revue. During the Fifties he went on to write for Caesar's Hour, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and The Art Carney Show.

In 1961 Larry Gelbart made his debut as a writer on Broadway with the musical The Conquering Hero. He followed it up with the smash hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which ran from 1962 to 1964. It was also in 1962 that The Notorious Landlady was released, the first movie with a screenplay by Gilbert. During the Sixties he also wrote the story for the Doris Day sex comedy The Thrill of It All and screenplays for The Wrong Box and Not with My Wife, You Don't. He was one of the writers on The Danny Kaye Show.

It was in 1972 that Gelbart adapted M*A*S*H for television. Set in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, the television show came about due to the success of Robert Altman's 1969 movie of the same name, which was based on the novel of the same name by Richard Hooker. Gelbart wrote many of the episodes of the series and served as one of its producers as well. Gelbart also created the short lived 1973 series Roll Out and the 1980 series United States. He wrote the screenplays for Movie, Movie and Oh, God. In 1976 he returned to Broadway with the comedy Sly Fox.

In the Eighties Gelbart wrote the screenplays for the movies Rough Cut, Neighbours, Tootsie, and Blame It On Rio. He created and wrote several episodes of the M*A*S*H spinoff AfterM*A*S*H. On Broadway he wrote the plays Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Mastergate, and City of Angels. Gelbart continued writing almost up until his death. He wrote the teleplays Weapons of Mass Distraction and Starring Pancho Villia as Himself, as well as screenplays for C-Scam and the 2000 remake of Bedazzled.

Larry Gelbart was one of the greatest comedy writers of the late 20th Century. Although he is best known for his work on M*A*S*H, his career entailed so much more, from the classic Broadway play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to movies such as The Thrill of It All and The Wrong Box to his work on Your Show of Shows. He was a great satirist, with the gift of a sharp wit Gelbart's career lasted over sixty years with good reason. He was a very funny, bright man whose talent for comedy lent itself well to different media.


Alex said...

What a sad loss. We've created an online tribute page so fans can leave lasting memorials

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thanks for the link, Alex! I'm not sure, but I think that since Mr. Gelbart is gone, Carl Reiner may be the last of the Your Show of Shows writers living!