Carl Reiner, comedy’s rare untortured genius, dies at 98

Carl Reiner, comedy’s rare untortured genius, dies at 98

Carl Reiner, comedy’s rare untortured genius, dies at 98

NEW YORK — Carl Reiner was the rare untortured genius of comedy, his career a story of laughter and camaraderie, of innovation and triumph and affection. Reiner’s persona was so warm and approachable — everyone’s friend or favourite uncle — that you could forget that he was an architect of modern comedy, a “North Star,” in the words of Billy Crystal.

As a writer and director, he mastered a genial, but sophisticated brand of humour that Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld and others emulated. As an actor, he was the ideal straight man for such manic performers as Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar and dependably funny on his own. As an all-around talent, he helped perfect two standard television formats — sketch and situation comedy.

Reiner’s death Monday at 98 from natural causes prompted an outpouring from t hose he inspired, a group that included Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, George Clooney and Billy Eichner and millions more.

Tall and agile, equally striking whether bald or toupeed, he entertained in every medium available to him, from movies and vinyl records to Broadway and Twitter. But he will be remembered best for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” the landmark series which aired from 1961-66 and was a master class of wit, ensemble playing, physical comedy and the overriding good nature of Reiner himself.

Based on his time in the 1950s with Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” the forerunner to “Saturday Night Live,” it was among the first sit-coms about TV itself and inspired such future hits as “Mad About You” and “30 Rock.”

As millions of fans know, Van Dyke starred as comedy writer Rob Petrie, who worked for the demanding, eccentric Alan Brady (Reiner) and lived on Bonnie Meadow Road in suburban New Rochelle with his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore, in her first major TV role) and young son. Petrie’s fellow writers were veteran character actors Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell and Rose Marie as Sally Rogers. Reiner originally had a very different title and cast in mind. The pilot was called “Head of the Family,” which starred Reiner and Barbara Britton, and aired as a single episode in July 1960. But CBS executives worried that Reiner would make Petrie seem too Jewish, so Van Dyke was cast instead.

Reiner likely needed the time spared from playing the lead. Besides acting in and producing the “Van Dyke” series, he wrote or co-wrote dozens of episodes — a feat that exhausted Reiner and amazed the cast and others in the business. Some of the more notable shows: Laura inadvertently revealing to the public that Alan Brady was bald; Rob on a radio marathon, delirious from lack of sleep, calling out to a kitten he’s learned is stuck in a tree; Rob as a jury foreman, clumsily smitten by the attractive defendant (Sue Ann Langdon), and unaware that Laura is in the courtroom.

“I can explain … nothing,’’ a sheepish Rob later tells his wife.

“Although it was a collaborative effort,? Van Dyke wrote in “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, a memoir published in 2011, “everything about the show stemmed from his (Reiner’s) endlessly and enviably fascinating, funny, and fertile brain and trickled down to the rest of us.? On Tuesday, Van Dyke called Reiner “kind, gentle, compassionate, empathetic and wise.”

Reiner and Co. had parodied current events and popular culture on the Caesar program, but for the Van Dyke show he deliberately avoided topical references, hoping it would seem timeless. The sitcom remained highly popular in re-runs, with Laura Petrie’s plaintive “Oh, Rob!” a lasting catchphrase. One famous fan, Orson Welles, was known for rushing to his bedroom in the afternoon so he could be near a TV set when the show was on. First lady Michelle Obama once joked that she preferred watching “Dick Van Dyke” to viewing her husband’s debates.

Reiner had broken through in television’s early days, before he even owned a TV: He joined “Your Show of Shows” in 1950 after performing in several Broadway plays, and much of his early work came as a “second banana.” Reiner was part of an extraordinary writing team that included Brooks, Neil Simon and Larry Gelbart, and a performing cast featuring Caesar and Imogene Coca. He was never funnier than as an unhinged mechanical figure from a Bavarian clock, never steadier than in a spoof of “This Is Your Life,” in which he is the host and Caesar a surprise honoree who desperately — violently — doesn’t want the honour. “

As second banana,” Reiner told TV Guide, “I had a chance to do just about everything a performer can ever get to do. If it came off well, I got all the applause. If it didn’t, the show was blamed.”

Off stage, Reiner and Brooks had a rapport which launched a comic franchise. During the “Show of Shows” years, they started improvising skits which became the basis for “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Reiner was the interviewer, Brooks the old witness to history.

Reiner: “Did you know Jesus?”

Brooks: “I knew Christ, Christ was a thin lad, always wore sandals. Hung around with 12 other guys. They came in the store, no one ever bought anything. Once they asked for water.”

Their routine was an instant favourite at parties, and Reiner recalled that Steve Allen insisted they should turn their banter into a record. “2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks” came out in 1960 and was so popular that Reiner would later tell NPR even Britain’s Queen Mother, “the biggest shiksa in the world,” loved it. The duo updated their shtick over time and won a Grammy in 1998 for their “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000,” the same year Reiner received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor. When the sound system failed at the start of the ceremonies, Reiner called from the balcony, “Does anybody have four double-A batteries?”

After the Van Dyke show, Reiner appeared in such hit movies as “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” films that starred George Clooney. He directed George Segal and Ruth Gordon in “Where’s Poppa?”, George Burns in “Oh, God!” and Steve Martin in “The Jerk” and “All of Me.” He took pride in his books, notably “Enter Laughing,” a “bio-novel” which later became a film and Broadway show.

Reiner was the father of actor-director Rob Reiner, who starred as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law on “All in the Family” and directed “When Harry Met Sally…” Rob Reiner said in a tweet Tuesday that his “heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.”

Carl Reiner, a son of Jewish immigrants, was born in 1922 in New York City, and raised in a three-room apartment. He loved to mimic voices and tell jokes, and, after high school, attended drama school. He then joined a small theatre group. “It was a terrific experience, but I wasn’t getting any money for it,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1963. “I got uppity one day — after all, the audience was paying from 22 to 88 cents for admission — and I demanded to be paid. They settled for $1 a performance and I … became their highest-priced actor.”

During World War II, Reiner served in the Army and toured in GI variety shows. After the war, he landed several stage roles, breaking through on Broadway in “Call Me Mister.” He married Estelle Lebost, in 1943. Besides son Rob, the couple had another son, Lucas, a film director; and a daughter, Sylvia, a psychoanalyst and author. Estelle, who died in 2008, had a memorable role in “When Harry Met Sally…” — as the woman who overhears Meg Ryan’s ersatz ecstasy in a restaurant and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Reiner, winner of multiple Emmys and other awards, was in the business for life. In the 1990s, he won an Emmy by reprising Alan Brady for an episode of “Mad About You” and more recently made appearances on “Two and a Half Men” and “Hot in Cleveland.” In the 21st century, he was writing books and commenting daily through his Twitter feed, venting anger at the presidency of Donald Trump. Most nights, Brooks came over and the two ate dinner together. In the mornings, Reiner had a ritual that provided the title for the 2017 documentary he hosted and received an Emmy nomination for, “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”

“Every morning before having breakfast,” Reiner said in the movie, “I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed. If I’m not, I’ll have my breakfast.”

____

Associated Press writer Mike Stewart contributed to this report

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

Entertainment

Just Posted

Photo Courtesy: Echo Lacombe Association logo.
Lacombe City Council supports Echo Lacombe with location for pilot program

Echo Lacombe Association will run a pilot propgram on food rescue until November, 1, 2021

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

File Photo
Blackfalds RCMP seeking suspects in traffic collision

RCMP are asking the public for help identifing two suspects wanted for multiple offences

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Most Read