Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Meet Fritzell & Greenbaum

I bet some of your favorite episodes of MASH and the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW were written by writers you don’t know. Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum. You’ve seen the names I’m sure. But just who were these guys??

First off, they were two of the funniest comedy writers in television. And expert craftsmen. Their scripts always had a flow, the sentences were short, sharp, with never a wasted word. The jokes were on target, fresh, and at least five were from the “where the hell did they come up with that?” category. They had a great ear for dialogue, a love of Americana, and there was always the signature Jim & Ev scatological joke in every script. Klinger would pull out a rectal thermometer and say “It’s 103 in Pittsburgh.” A visiting general would be delighted the latrines were in pairs – “Good. The men can encourage each other.” That same general made the pronouncement: “Prunes – greatest invention since the gatling gun.” Hawkeye once observed that the medical profession has come a long way. "It used to be that proctologists used candles."

They started way back in live television. For two years they produced and wrote every MR. PEEPERS episode. 39 a year, aired LIVE. That fried them and they fled to California.

Over the next thirty years they wrote for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, GOMER PYLE, REAL MCCOYS, THE ODD COUPLE, and 24 episodes of MASH. They also penned the Jack Lemmon movie, GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM and many of the Don Knotts flicks.

Everett flew planes, wrote jazz, built bizarre sculptures out of pipes and everyday items. (they’re featured in GOOD NEIGHBOR SAM and also an episode of MASH), and after Jim passed away Everett launched a very successful second career as an actor and voice over talent. He appeared on SEINFELD, THIRD ROCK, MATLOCK and numerous other shows and commercials. One of his best friends was Marlon Brando, who he roomed with briefly in New York.

Jim preferred to spend his time at the Tail O’ the Cock restaurant in the Valley.

Ev also went to MIT, and was a Navy fighter pilot. You know – just your typical comedy writer resume. He wrote an autobiography called “The Goldenberg Who Couldn’t Dance”.

Of their many MASH episodes the one that’s best remembered is “Abyssinia Henry”, the one where Henry Blake gets killed.

I’ll leave you with a typical Jim & Ev line. From Klinger in the episode “Bug Out”: “A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores. “

They don’t write ‘em like that anymore. I sure wish they did.


BrianScully said...

One of my favorite all-time lines was written by them in "The Ghost And Mr. Chicken". It was a lone, off-screen voice calling out to Don Knotts character several times in the film... "Attaboy, Luther".

Ken, I've always wondered if that o.s. voice belonged to one of the writers. Any idea if was one of them?

Anonymous said...

I have seen their names many times, and often wondered about them. Thanks for sharing your insight and affection.

Anonymous said...

Brian, it was Everett Greenbaum. I've heard that before, but now it's also on IMDB, too.

Anonymous said...

Err... Maybe it's my mistake, I assume there's a good chance you actually saw the script, but shouldn't that be "Gatling gun" rather than "gantline"?

Anonymous said...

That episode of MASH where Henry died really shocked me, as I knew I should have expected it, being that it was set during a war and everything, but it still killed me when he was, ah, killed. Not as much as the finale (the movie), but I still have a fond memory of it. Sorkin also pulled something off similar in the second episode of The West Wing, but MASH has the advantage of surprise.

It's great to hear about the histories of writers. I'm still at awe of the quality of work some of the greats (Ken included) are able to produce. There are times when I get the temptation to start writing a script, but then I read what the greats do, and it just makes me fill inadequate.

Anonymous said...


I think its great to hear about the back stories and histories of these writers. For me, as a writer, that is all I look out for in the end credits of my favorite comedy shows. I did wonder who jim and ev were and thanks for filling in for us, ken.

More background of the writers, please!

what about glenn carron? didi get that right? didnt he write mash? and later created moonlighting?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ken! Love to hear the stories of these wonderfully creative people! LOOOOVE Good Neighbor Sam! A really great, funny, smart, zany movie... which, of course, we will never see on cable... sigh...

And, love the variety you bring to your blog! I don't miss a day!

BrianScully said...

Benson, hey, thanks for solving that mystery for me. I always had a feeling it was one of the writers.

Anonymous said...

I love the classic MASH where Hawkeye and Trapper invent "Captain Tuttle" and convince the whole camp that he exists. I was so impressed by the writing that I made a point to find out who wrote the episode. After that, anytime I saw that a show was written by those two, I always watched it.

Colonel Blake, on hearing of Tuttle's "death": "He was the best damn O.D. we ever had!"

Anonymous said...

Two of the most gifted men who ever wrote in any medium whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd blog next to Mr. Gelbart...

Ken. Last June, I asked a question about the killing off of Blake.(Course, lest we forget that 99.9 percent of that show is hysterical - brilliant writing.)

I had heard that Radar's speech was "unplanned". That this surprise was withheld from the cast...True? Or is that lore?

Love your blog.

Mark Bennett

By Ken Levine said...


Thanks for the nice words. Yes, that last scene was withheld until just before they had to do it. The emotion you see on the screen is real.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ken.

There are many great shows. But I find that even great shows seem to have a shelf life.

MASH seems to be one of the few shows that just may stand the test of time...I watch it today and the funny is still funny...and the sucker punches still put a lump in the throat.

That's amazing to me that that can come from a show that is thirty freaking years old.

It's kind of like MASH is The Beatles of television.

Two Cents and a kudo,

Mark Bennett

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ken. Now I know who I stole some of the best lines I've ever used from!

Richard Marcej said...

"Colonel Blake, on hearing of Tuttle's "death": "He was the best damn O.D. we ever had!"

I just laughed out loud reading that line and remembering the exact scene. As much as I applaud the writing though, let's not forget the performances.

McCleans' reading of that line really made it work!

Anonymous said...

Seeing Mr. Gelbart's comments, and the topic being a tribute to great writers, prompts me to recommend to all those who haven't had the pleasure of seeing "Caesar's Writers". The "murderer's row" of writers for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour all on one stage sharing stories. I don't know if it's available on video, but it has run on PBS several times.

Anonymous said...

As nice as it is to hear stories about these great writers, it makes me wonder when, if ever, the next inspired comedy team will emerge. Will the networks ever take a chance on a quality script instead of those ridiculous sweetheart holding deals such as the ones NBC gave to any writer who was on staff during the 7th year of "Seinfeld" or "Friends".

Instead of putting out more reality, I challenge the comedy development departments to put their faith in one or two of their best written scripts and allow them to flourish. If "Seinfeld" came along today, I'm not sure if it would have made it past the third episode. (it almost didn't in 1990).

Anonymous said...

I'd like to nominate this blog, and this post in particular, as the best thing on eth www.

Hey, if the f*cking teenagers can spell it teh on purpose, I can spell it eth!

Miles said...

More of these please! there have been so many great comedy writing teams that could use spotlighting! how about a post seeking nominations?

How about Stan Burns and Mike Marmer?