Wednesday, September 19, 2018

RIP Thad Mumford

It is with great sadness I must report the passing of Thad Mumford. He was 67. Thad was a wonderful writer, probably best known for his work on MASH. He was part of the regime that followed me yet we became friends. He and his partner Dan Wilcox wrote a number of terrific episodes the final three years of that show.

Thad was one of the first African-American comedy writers to break into primetime. He was smart, very funny, and great to have in a writers room. It’s true that most comedy writers don’t laugh at pitched jokes. You could come up with the funniest line of the century and most comedy writers would nod and say: “Yeah, that could work. Let’s go with that.”

Not Thad.

He laughed, loudly and from the heart. In a highly competitive business he was encouraging and supportive.

He was also a diehard Yankee fan.

When Thad was a teenager he was the Yankees batboy. That began a lifelong love affair with the pinstripes. In 1992 when I was broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners we went into New York midseason and happened to be there for Old Timers Day. Now Old Timers Day in the original Yankee Stadium 25 years ago meant Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford with Mel Allen emceeing. Among the Yankee greats who put on the uniform one more time that day was Thad Mumford.

I invited him up to the booth during the game and put him on the air with me for a couple of innings telling hilarious Yankee stories. Thad was a great guest because he was so funny and so quick.

Thad Mumford was a real character. Dressed preppy. Ate more deli than most Jewish people. Studied black history. Hung out with Loretta Swit and Bobby Richardson. Wrote jokes for Joan Rivers and thoughtful pieces for the New York Times.

I will miss his wit, his friendship, his Yogi Berra stories, but most of all his laugh. And I give thanks for all the many many laughs he provided. Thanks to reruns he’ll still be providing them. Meanwhile, he’s probably up somewhere giving Mickey Mantle shit for bunting once in 1964. 

22 comments :

Anthony Strand said...

I always think of Thad for his contributions to Sesame Street, particularly this amazing song that he wrote and sang lead on - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUhJLBk-Q9k&disable_polymer=true

Roger Owen Green said...

Coincidentally, I saw only my 2nd game at the new Yankee Stadium this past weekend.
I'm sorry for Thad's passing, though he was merely a name on the credits for me.

Calvin Brown said...

I worked on "A Different World" as the intern on the writing staff during Season 3 of the show. Thad Mumford was the showrunner. You knew when you really pitched a great joke, because Thad would lose it laughing! Thanks for the memories. Rest In Paradise, Thad...

Calvin Brown said...

I was the intern on the writing staff during season three of "A Different World." Thad Mumford was the showrunner. You know that you really pitched a great joke because Thad would lose it laughing! Thanks for the memories. Rest In Paradise, Thad...

Janet Ybarra said...

Very sad, as 67 is such a young age to go.

dandy_lio said...

Thad was very talented and it sounds like he was an amazing friend as well. Thanks for the write up of him, I'm sorry you've lost your friend. x

sueK2001 said...

I thought of you Ken when I first heard the news. As someone who has watched a lot of TV, the writing and directing credits become like old friends after awhile. Thad Mumford and his partner Dan Wilcox wrote one of my favorite later era MASH episodes. Identify Crisis. Good writing stays with you long after the frame..and that episode had laughter and tears..guilt and a great plot for Father Mulcahy.The funniest joke is the name they give the muscle "latricium subversis" (pardon spelling). Brilliant episode and thanks to reruns, DVD and streaming, we will enjoy for years to come.
My deepest sympathies Ken.

Dan Wilcox said...

Lovey piece, Ken. I'm sending a link to it to Thad's brother, Jeffrey.

It's hard to imagine a world with no Thad in it. I guess we'll all find out what that's like.



estiv said...

Anthony Strand, that song is based on this one: https://youtu.be/l6Eu43RoaGQ. I'm not trying to take anything away from Thad Mumford's version--I admire his taste in classic doo-wop, and based on everything I've read here, it makes me wish even more I'd had a chance to meet him.

Janet Ybarra said...

Nice remembrance, Ken. Perhaps you could ask Dan Wilcox for a guest post to discuss his unique partnership with Thad and talk about writing some memorable MASH episodes.

Carson said...

He and his writing partner wrote one of my favorite episodes of MASH, "A War for All Seasons." The episode takes place over an entire year. While it takes some liberties with the MASH time line, I've always loved the structure.

Donna Coleman said...

Thad was my brother-in-law, and it's so very nice to read this. Thank you for posting. He did have a fantastic laugh, didn't he?!

Len said...

Thad was a longtime friend of mine and I was lucky to be included in both his two preferred passions of discussion: show business and baseball. We even used to talk to each other using both our first and last names as if we were doing a Yankee broadcast on WPIX Channel 11. Lots of times, I would say, "right you are, Thad Mumford." Usually, he'd be grousing over the state of TV comedy or why baseball players refuse to wear stirrups any more. He loved to honor old time show biz. Both our birthdays are in February and we did a dinner together earlier this year. He noticed that actress Ruta Lee was at the next table. Even though he didn't know her, he sent a drink over. He lived comfortably in that old school pre-computer universe and I wound up being his unofficial "geek squad." Ironically, I had a funny voicemail from him the night before he passed. He started it by saying "I assume you're at the Mets-Dodger game tonight...." He knew. I'm sorry I didn't think to save the message. If there is a Heaven, I hope Thad finds lot of doubleheaders scheduled...and Dick Van Dyke show reruns played on a continuous loop.

VincentS said...

No sorry to hear that. Like most writers (unlike everybody else) I habitually read the writing credits to movies and TV shows and I remember reading his name many times at the end of MASH. And he was only 67! Unbelievable.

James said...

Sorry for the occasion but I'm glad you do these things. As someone who spent his life reading credits on TV shows, it's nice to get a little background on who these people are.

As good a time as any to ask: I enjoy the interviews you do on your podcast (though I also like the fact that you mix things up so that it's not the same thing every week). I'm hoping you'll interview Charlotte Brown some day (I thought you said she was a neighbor). I've seen her name on MTM, Bob Newhart and Rhoda shows, but never anything else about her. (Treva Silverman's in your archives, and Susan Silver wrote a book. But Charlotte Brown is an enigma).

Laurie said...

So odd. I was just thinking about Thad this week and had no idea he had passed away until I read this piece. What I was thinking about was all the fun times we had writing ALF. He and I wrote an episode where Alf buys a Ferrari for the Tanner’s daughter and ends up taking it for a spin on the 405. What fun we had writing together, bitching together, dining together and navigating this crazy business together. Thad most definitely left his mark and will be greatly missed.

Phil Jon said...

Also like Comedy writing and hope to publish my picture joke book. Am inspired. Rest in Paradise Thad.

Phil Jon said...

Rest in Paradise Thad.

Janet Ybarra said...

I think it's so nice that so many of Thad Mumford's friends and family found their way here to your remembrance, Ken, to share their own thoughts and memories.

Thanks for your blog, Ken.

Pete Grossman said...

"Thad Mumford," it just sounds like a baseball players name. Sorry to hear your bud has passed on, but perhaps there's some comfort in the possibility that he's hanging out with Harry Morgan and David Ogden Stiers - and playing catch with Moose.

Janet Ybarra said...

I thought it might be fitting to include this link to a wide-ranging interview conducted with Thad Mumford just a couple years ago:

https://youtu.be/CQc5SZJWXLc

Roger Owen Green said...

Here's the Boston Globe story: The Emmy Award-winning writer and producer for “M.A.S.H.” and other hit television shows worked at a time when African-Americans were practically unheard-of in network writing rooms.