Carl Reiner: The career of Carl Reiner started in the 1950s at the dawn of television comedy, and lasted for six decades. The actor, director, journalist, and producer died of natural causes in his home in Beverly Hills on Monday night.
Carl Reiner belonged to a generation of Jewish comics who, in the 20th century, helped define American comedy. He was born in 1922 to parents Carleton Reiner in the Bronx who had emigrated from Europe. He started out as a serious actor then as a stand-up comic.
In 1950 comic actor Sid Caesar recruited Reiner for Your Show of Shows, the groundbreaking live television sketch comedy show. Carl Reiner, among others, was an author alongside Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks. He also served as a stakeholder.
“It wasn’t a comedown for me to be a second banana to such a big first banana …,” Reiner said. “I knew I was the easiest to work with.”
Reiner, top center, Sid Caesar, left, and Howard Morris, right, bother railroad commuter Nanette Fabray on an episode of the sketch comedy show Caesar’s Hour in 1955.
Reiner also seemed to partner with the best — Caesar, Brooks, Steve Martin, George Clooney, Lily Tomlin, Amy Poehler.
Reiner, along with Brooks, co-created one of the most iconic characters in American comedy — the 2,000-year-old man. It started as a party joke, and it became a huge hit on albums, in clubs, and on TV. Reiner would interview Brooks in the skit, which played the world’s oldest man.
“My job is public service,” Reiner told Scott Simon of NPR in 2009. “I ‘m asking all of the questions that the audience will die asking a guy who lived 2,000 years ago.”
It was a combination of reality and incongruity that had made it effective.
In 1960, when he wrote a script for a TV sitcom named Head of the Family, Reiner’s most memorable solo production passed down. It was about the writer of a television sitcom and he was the star. But, once someone else was cast in the lead, Reiner could not sell the show — that someone else turned out to be Dick Van Dyke.
A landmark in American TV sitcoms has been the Dick Van Dyke Show. Reiner wrote several episodes and inside the series he played Alan Brady, the show’s narcissistic and egotistical protagonist. The series was running from 1961 till 1966. It made Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore both stars.
Reiner won an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy for The Dick Van Dyke in 1963
“He was not just my mentor and good friend but probably the greatest comedy writer ever to have existed,” Van Dyke said of Reiner in an interview with the NPR in 2015.
Reiner has directed more than a dozen movies with Steve Martin including four. “We have become very, very close ……” said Martin. “To me he was like a father — although I wouldn’t let him bathe me the way he wanted.”
Reiner was a beautiful man. Yet if his career has a theme, it has been that he has made other comics more interesting. He was a kid. He has won nine Emmys, and one Grammy. And then, if it was time to take credit for something, Reiner would almost always delegate the praise to his friends, whether it was to his long-time friend Mel Brooks (“Mel Brooks is the single most funny person I’ve ever met”) or his 65-year-old wife, Estelle (“I never thought I had enough words to be a novelist, but my wife is the one who gave me the key.”)
In 2008 Estelle Reiner died. They had three children, including Rob Reiner, who, influenced by his father, also directed and performed in dozens of films and television shows
Reiner had been active well into his 90’s. He ‘d played a politically powerful senior on Parks and Recreation. He provided voice-over for Bob’s Burgers TV show. And he twitched.
Nearly every night, the two old friends-Brooks and Reiner-had dinner together. They did an episode of the web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, by Jerry Seinfeld in 2012. As Seinfeld walked out Reiner ‘s house front door he just had to say one more joke.
“Hi Jerry,” shouted Reiner. “You know the difference between a Jew and a Frenchman? A Frenchman leaves without saying goodbye.
Farewell, Carl Reiner.
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