Wednesday, October 11, 2017

RIP Bob Schiller

Sorry to hear of the passing of Bob Schiller. He was only 98. Along with his partner, Bob Weiskopf, he was one of the greatest comedy writers in the history of television.

Among his many credits, co-writing 53 episodes of I LOVE LUCY including the John Wayne episode and the “stomping grapes” episode.

If he never did another thing after that he would still be in the TV Hall of Fame. But he and his partner went on to write and/or produce many sitcoms and variety shows and wound up writing on ALL OF THE FAMILY then being the showrunners of MAUDE. Throw in writing for THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW too.

It’s just a staggering body of work. As comedy writing teams go, my partner and I considered them Babe Ruth.

We got to know the Bobs in the late ‘70s when we had a deal at 20th Century Fox and so did they. Both were extremely nice to a couple of young worshiping scribes. We had lunch with them numerous times. Weiskopf was the more boisterous one. Schiller was sneaky funny.

I only worked with them once. It was back in 1988 when I was consulting a Witt-Thomas NBC show called MAMA’S BOY starring Bruce Weitz and Nancy Walker. They were full-time. I was one night a week. I always thought “What the hell do they need me for when they have the two Bobs?”

And indeed they were amazing. It was a thrill to watch them work. Plus, we were on the small lot where they used to make I LOVE LUCY so they would point out landmarks like which stage was theirs and where their offices were back then. To me this was hallowed ground and I couldn’t believe I was (a) talking to the writers of I LOVE LUCY, and (b) they were treating me like a peer.

Bob Weiskopf died in early 2001 at the age of 86. There was a memorial service for him at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Lots of comedy writers spoke, telling stories. One was better and more hilarious than the next. But the very best was Bob Schiller. Babe Ruth.

I last saw Bob Schiller a few years ago at a wedding. He was well into his 90’s but that sly smile and twinkle in his eye was still there. I just sort of figured if he had lived this long then surely he would live forever. And in a way he will. Yes, he’s gone at the tender age of 98 but a hundred years from now people will still be watching I LOVE LUCY and laughing thanks to Bob Schiller. Everyone talks about the “last laugh.” He found the “laugh that lasts.”

16 comments :

Scott said...

I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Schiller in 2001. He was indeed very nice. The body of work speaks for itself.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Scott, is this interview online to watch or read?

D. Robb said...

Hi Ken,

Do you know Bob's son, Tom, who was an original SNL writer and who went on to be its in-house filmmaker for the early '80s and '90s?

Scott said...

The interview is part of my book, Funny You Should Ask. Meeting someone I had admired since childhood was definitely the highlight of the process.

https://www.amazon.com/Funny-You-Should-Ask-Storytellers/dp/0786471484/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1507736609&sr=8-2&keywords=funny+you+should+ask

VP81955 said...

What an incredible legacy. Thanks for the recollection, Ken.

Mike McCann said...

The Bobs also contributed to two episodes that are personal favorites: "Lucy and Superman" -- remember the climactic line George Reeves spoke to Desi, after learning that he was married to Lucy for 17 years: "And they call *me* Superman!"

The other was "Lucy Meets the Mustache," the very last LUCY DESI COMEDY HOUR, where Ernie Kovacs just steals the show out from Lucy. The only other episode I recall that happening was the one with Harpo Marx

Ken Levine said...

Scott,

If you send me a copy I'd be happy to review the book for the blog. You can get in touch with me at HollywoodLevine@outlook.com.

VincentS said...

So sorry. I wish writers would get the notoriety they deserve during and after their lifetimes - William Goldman has a ONE PARAGRAPH bio on IMDB! Those I LOVE LUCY episodes you mentioned are among my favorites.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Obviously, I've only seen I.L.L. in reruns, but I been watching my entire life. A couple of days ago DECADES ran episodes of My Little Margie. The only reason I bring that up is because when you consider Lucy in the context of the other sitcoms that were on at the same time, it stands even taller. I'm glad to hear that Schiller was a good guy. I can't remember the exact quite, but it had something to do with, 'don't meet your heros...' His legacy will last forever.

Matt said...

::: Friday Question :::

Sometimes there are episodes where an established cast character isn't in the episode/script. For example, "The Late Captain Pierce" from 1975. Radar isn't in the episode even though it would be four more seasons before he left.

Are these absentees scheduled in advance? Or is it a "last minute" thing where a script had to be adjusted/rewritten to accommodate?

D. McEwan said...

If there were a Mount Rushmore for comedy writers, the Bobs would have to be up there.

tavm said...

I remember the first ep that the two Bobs wrote of "All in the Family". It was the season opener of what would be the final one for the entire original cast. It was called "Edith's 50th Birthday" in which that character, before going to the house next door for her party, gets nearly raped by a young man looking for thrills. There were some laughs concerning her initial reactions but when it got serious, it was quite heartbreaking. Good thing she had a roast in the oven in order to put in his face before leaving the house! The second half-hour seemed padded to have Archie and Mike doing some shtick about confronting that guy who never came back so it wasn't completely successful in keeping the laughs while also trying to be dramatic but this was a good first one by Schiller and Weiskoff, otherwise.

cadavra said...

We were all seated at the same table at that wedding, Ken, and I was stunned to be in his presence. I thought about asking for a photo, but I wussed out. The most memorable moment, though, came when he and his lovely wife Sabrina thought that I and the friend sitting next to me were a (gay) couple! To be honest, I don't think either of us were flattered, but we sure were amused, and making Bob Schiller laugh was certainly a scrapbook moment.

VP81955 said...

cadavra, I understand the family has requested memorial donations be made in Bob's name to the ACLU, so don't sweat it. And, as another famed comedy writer noted, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Wag said...

Scott's Funny You Should Ask oral histories of sitcom writers is really good.

Interviews with
Allan Burns
Arnold Margolin
Austin Kalish
Bernie Orenstein
Bill Persky
Bob Carroll Jr.
Bob Schiller
Carl Kleinschmitt
David Lloyd
Ed Scharlach
Elroy Schwartz
Fred Freeman
Irma Kalish
Jack Elinson
Jerry Mayer
Jim Parker
Lilia Garrett
Madeylyn Davis
Paul Wayne
Rick Mittleman
Sam Bobrick
Sam Denoff
Saul Turteltaub

The writers were interviewed separately but put together on the page on common topics. (this is the only way to get a bunch of comedy writers together and not have them constantly interrupting each other)

Topics include their first break. Their biggest successes. And the showss that didn't quite make it. Collaboration. Retiring. And more.

It also includes their flops and the actors they didn't like.

I was especially interested in the legendary David Lloyd, who didn't do many interviews.

Here's two David Lloyd trivia questions answered in the book.

What was the one improvement the Mary Tyler Moore room gave him on his first draft of "Chuckles Bites the Dust"?

What was the one joke of someone else's he wished he wrote?

Breadbaker said...

When I read the NYT obit I knew to come here for, in the words of Paul Harvey, the rest of the story. Neither you, Ken, nor the commenters disappoint.