Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RIP Carl Reiner

Few people in my life have had a greater impact than Carl Reiner.   Not only am I a writer because of him; the style in which I write is because of him.   And he’s been on my mind a lot lately because the project I’ve been writing this entire pandemic is essentially an ode to Carl Reiner. 


He’s been an inspiration, a mentor, and the few times I would reach out to him for help he was always there. 


Most articles about him will list his many credits and praise his enormous talent.  The plaudits are all well deserved.  But talent like that is a gift.  Being a mensch is a choice.  Carl Reiner was a mensch.   


He was my role model for that as much as much as his accomplishments.


I’ve tried to emulate him in many ways. 


Carl was incredibly unselfish.   In YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS he was happy to let Sid Caesar take center stage.   With Mel Brooks on the classic 2000 YEAR OLD MAN albums, he was the straight man. 


And then there’s his ultimate gesture of setting ego aside – THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.   Originally Carl wrote it to star in himself.  He wrote the first 13 episodes on spec.  A pilot was even filmed.   It didn’t get on the air.  Producer Sheldon Leonard told him the project had tremendous potential except for one thing – Carl was wrong for the part.   How many actor/writers would be insulted and just junk the project? 


Not Carl Reiner. 


Not only did he agree to recast his part, but he even named the show after the actor who replaced him.   That’s humility.


THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was a revelation to me.  It’s why I wanted to become a comedy writer.   And yes, it would be great fun to BE a star of a hit TV series and get all that recognition and adulation, but I knew that just wasn’t my gift.   I was more than happy wanting to become Carl Reiner not Dick Van Dyke. 


THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was also groundbreaking.   TV sitcoms at the time it premiered in the early ‘60s were mainly broad and silly.  Reiner chose a different path.  His humor tapped into universal behavior and truths.  His comedy focused on characters and real life situations.   The jokes were smart, the stories clever and original.   And the show was genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.   That’s what I wanted to write.   I loved Mel Brooks and his films are hysterical, but I never saw myself writing that.   It was Carl that I studied. 


I also adopted his work ethic.  Carl Reiner was always working on some creative project.  Books, plays, directing, producing, acting.   Readers of this blog know I’m always pushing something (please check out my podcast or buy one of the books featured on the right).   Always having something to challenge me creatively has been my salvation through several rough periods of my life, and I can thank Carl for that.


He lived 98 years.  He produced an astonishing body of work, much of which will stand the test of time.  He was sharp right up to the end.  He made the world laugh for probably 96 of those years.   He was gracious, supportive, accessible, and brilliant.   He went through life celebrating the best of the human spirit and fighting injustice.  He was pictured on Twitter just a few days ago wearing a “Black Lives Matters” T-shirt. 


Time to get back to work on my homage project, although now that I think about it, everything I’ve ever written is an homage.


Bless you, Carl Reiner.  And thank you. 


55@55 said...

I didn't know who I was or what I wanted to be when I was looking at Colleges. I chose one in New Rochelle because that's where Rob & Laura lived. Carl Reiner has much to do with who I am today.

Sandy said...

A great tribute for a wonderfully creative spirit.

Well said, Ken.

mark chaet said...

Love this homage. Loved Carl Reiner.

J Lee said...

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" never insulted your intelligence, the way a ton of 60s sitcoms did with their plots, where what was supposed to be funny only worked if one or more people in the cast acted like idiots. Reiner got comedy out of both quick one liners (something Sheldon Leonard's work with Danny Thomas was already known for) and via the different personalities on the show creating the situations that became funny.

You really don't see many other shows of the decade trying that, at a time when a wacky premise was the preferred starting point. And sadly for comedy, you really don't see much of it today (do younger comedy writers and/or network execs in 2020 look at the DVD show and Reiner's work and simply see it as either too slowly paced on not convoluted enough with the characters? If so, it doesn't seem like they've managed to develop a better replacement).

VincentS said...

Fine tribute, Ken. I'm missing him already. I went to a book signing with he and Mel Brooks. I said to them, "You guys have been making me laugh since I learned how to laugh!"

RyderDA said...

There was nothing at all that Carl created or did that I didn't like. I watched EVERY Dick Van Dyke when I was young and that got me hooked. Yes, I had my faves, and yes, there were things I liked less, but he made me laugh and laugh and laugh -- and be sad, and do everything else, too (check out DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID). He didn't JUST write comedy. I loved him as an actor (was he acting in Ocean's 11? I can't actually tell). I loved his sense of whimsy (Carl Rhinocerous?). And I LOVED reading his tweets over the last few years.

He will be missed. He will not be forgotten. I am sad.

maxdebryn said...

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful human being.

Charlie said...

Beautiful tribute. I heard on the news this morning that his first Tweet was "Lately I've been having some short term memory problems. His second tweet was "Lately I've been having some short term memory problems."

Bob Waldman said...

One of my heroes and role models too as a writer and mensch. I wish he had least lived a few more months. As anyone who followed him on Twitter knows, he so wanted to vote Trump out of office. For Carl, if not the country, let's all do that.

Howard Hoffman said...

Simply. Beautiful. You couldn't have picked a better role model.

Troy McClure said...

Carl Reiner wrote the following tweets only yesterday:

"As I arose at 7:30 this morning, I was saddened to relive the day that led up to the election of a bankrupted and corrupt businessman who had no qualifications to be the leader of any country in the civilized world...

... At the same time, Hillary Clinton, who had all the needed
qualifications to lead our beloved nation, had received 3 million more popular votes than our Russian-installed puppet president."


Kim T. Bené said...

Bravo to you both!

Jack West said...

Exit Laughing.

Arlen Peters said...

A sad sad day ... Carl Reiner gone … one of the great joys for me was working with him on SIBLING RIVALRY, doing a LONG interview on location, then seeing them use that interview in tribute when he won an American Comedy Award. Also, the only person I ever worked with who, at the press junket for SIBLING RIVALRY which we produced, came over, shook my hand, and told me how much he loved me working with him on the behind-the-scenes doc I did on the film and bringing up such great memories for him when I interviewed him ... if I recall, the interview was about an hour and a half long. Can’t imagine how distraught Mel Brooks is right now … I was so touched knowing that they had dinner every night at Carl’s house, then watched movies together.

If they had a Mt. Rushmore of comedy, Carl would be there prominently. 98 years … what an incredible life. What an incredible list of accomplishments. There really aren’t words to describe this man’s impact on comedy. There really aren’t words to describe him.

Don Kemp said...

He has a website, Random Content, where you could buy one of his books and he'd write just about whatever you asked for the inscription. Inspired by the picture accompanying this post, he wrote for me "Thank You For Helping The Needy Bald People" inside his book on how the Van Dyke show got started.

It's one of my best pieces of memorabilia, right next to his "I'll keep writing if you keep buying!" inside I Just remembered.

EVERYONE should try and find "If I'm Not In The Obits I Eat Breakfast". Carl didn't have breakfast this morning.

John Parrish said...

Back in 1983, I worked in the advertising department of a department store. Our whole ad team was treated to a dinner out to celebrate something. I forget what. We went to a restaurant in Tierra Verda – a beach community a little south of St. Pete, Florida. We had a pretty lively thing going, sitting around drinking beers, when we noticed across the restaurant at one of the tables was sitting John Candy. We're like, holy crap, it's John Candy. What's he doing here. He was with a few other gentlemen having dinner. There was a bald guy sitting next to him. When it hit me. That's Carl Reiner! What are they doing here? We sent over a pitcher of beer, because when you're famous you don't have to buy anything. They smiled, gave us a head nod, and enjoyed the beer. Turns out, they were in town filming Summer Rental. And we just had the good fortune to run into them this night.

Don Kemp said...

Mark Evanier has done something clever, by the way. He posted an obit for Alan Brady and them one for Carl Reiner.

Brian said...

Thank you for the tribute!

JUST LAST NIGHT, I was watching the Dick Van Dyke Show on Amazon. I own the whole show on DVD. I enjoyed "Ten From Your Show of Shows". I am a huge fan of Carl Reiner's work.

Much will be said by people that knew him or became writers because of or were influenced by him (besides our host, of course), but one thing struck me about the Dick Van Dyke Show that may not get mentioned. The show does date is some spots (Vito Scotti's painter, Joby Baker as a Latino, Buck Brown the effeminate wardrobe man), however, like Nat Hiken before him, it was SO wonderful to see Black people cast in the show as:

- a new Dad
- a government agent
- an old army buddy.

In the "That's My Boy" episode, when the Peters (Greg Morris and Judy Pace) walk through the door and show Rob that there is no doubt that the hospital didn't switch babies, that is not only a huge laugh, it was a CLEANSING laugh. It showed how to set up a racial joke that was not only funny, but it was groundbreaking. This was a couple that lived in the neighborhood, but were welcomed into the home. This was controversial enough that the local NAACP chapter almost got it banned. According to Vince Waldron, one of the members said, "You're making fun of the fact that they're Black!" and Reiner correctly replied, "No, we're making fun of the fact that Rob's a goof!" (let's not get into the PC debate here)

This sounds like nothing to-day, as well it should, but, in context, it was HUGE.

I'm not Jewish, but I also thought that "Buddy Sorrell: Man and Boy" did an amazing thing, it treated the faith with respect and STILL kept Buddy in character.

And skipping all of that the show was just amazingly funny.

On a slightly irreverent sidenote, Sheldon Leonard was quite right about the original pilot. To see that and to see a completely different cast, including himself is truly astounding.

I am glad I lived at a time that Carl Reiner walked the earth and allowed such views to be expressed.

ANECDOTE: There was an award or tribute being given to Reiner and Mel Brooks "interrupted" the ceremony. He blamed Reiner for having to wear a fake nose all these years, a crowd of protesters was gathered outside with signs that said things like, "Carl Reiner was NEVER funny!", and Brooks also revealed his "actual" voice: a Southern drawl. It brought the house down and afterwards Brooks went up on stage and hugged Reiner. What I remember about the hug is that Reiner can be heard to say to Brooks, "You were never funnier!" I thought that was such a nice thing to say and, from what I read, very much a measure of the man.

Kosmo13 said...

The Dick Van Dyke Show reunion TV movie was built around Alan Brady asking Rob Petrie to deliver the eulogy at Brady's eventual memorial service. I presume Rob will now honor Alan Brady's request.

Tudor Queen said...

I wasn't exactly sad when I read that Carl Reiner had died - he had a very long, full life - but I did know that it left a hole. Having always assumed that he was a mensch, I'm glad to see it confirmed in your column. He was also modest to a fault - never really gave himself the credit he deserved for his razor-sharp timing, his keen eye for new talent, or the simple fact that he was funnier than most people.

"Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth" may be my favorite Alan Brady episode of "Dick Van Dyke" and stands as further proof that he was an amazing comic actor. He was good at drama, too - witness his bewildered, ill con artist turned con victim in the third "Oceans" movie. His son Rob has turned into one hell of a director - why do I think Reiner Sr loved "Princess Bride"?

Mel Brooks must be lonely - he lost Anne Bancroft some years ago and now Carl Reiner.

Joyce Melton said...

I met the man once. He and Steve Martin were scouting the Imperial County Fair before the shooting of The Jerk that used some of the locations there. I heard his voice and turned around and he and Steve Martin were talking to the local Bozo the Clown and laughing it up. I didn't talk to them but after they left, I did talk to Bozo who was impressed at how nice they were to him. They had been laughing at the license plate on Bozo's car: BOZ 039.

I'm Outraged! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liggie said...

IIRC, Reiner had a great tweet after a recent Oscar telecast: "My favorite part was that I wasn't in the 'In Memorium' segment."

Unknown said...

Jay Moriarty said...

My favorite Carl Reiner quote is: "Comedy is like walking--if you analyze it, you'll trip."

Barry Traylor said...

I do not have your eloquence so I will just say that I am going to miss him and we are poorer for his absence.

Ben K. said...

I was 12 years old when Reiner and Brooks put out their "2000-Year-Old Man" follow-up, "2,013." I had no idea what to expect from it... and it turned out to be the funniest thing I had ever heard. It was obviously just a couple of guys riffing with each other, but somehow came out as brilliant comedy. I even purchased the transcript, which had been published in book form, so I could laugh at it all over again. I've certainly enjoyed Reiner's other work over the years, but I'll never forget the belly laughs I got from that single project.

Buttermilk Sky said...

In 2017 Carl Reiner tweeted a picture of himself kneeling on his lawn with the words, "Inspired by all who took knees before me, I'll attempt to & hopefully succeed in taking a knee for equality & justice for all our citizens." A mensch.

Unknown said...

I never met Carl Reiner. I only watched his marvellous creations. I first saw the Dick Van Dyke show when I was only 11 or 12. Even then I knew it was good. Now I know it was great. To this day it is still probably my favourite TV program ever. I had the good fortune in high school to act in the play Enter Laughing which he wrote. I played Mr. Foreman who was originally played by the late great Jack Gilford. No one said I was better than him. RIP Carl and thanks for the millions of laughs over the years.

Mike Barer said...

The legacy that Carl leaves is beyond words.

Max Clarke said...

I thought he would never die!

When I just THINK about the name, Carl Reiner, I feel good.

Bought his audiobook, I Remember Me, back in 2015. Even that old, he could still tell a story.

Oh-my his output, too. If you eliminated The Dick Van Dyke Show and everything before that, his career still would have been wildly successful. I was just watching ALL OF ME. Splendid little comedy with metaphysical concepts. Steve Martin deserved a Best Actor nomination for that...but it was a comedy film.

Finally, because of Carl Reiner...we have The Princess Bride...

Hogne B. Pettersen said...

It broke mye heart when someone wrote: "Oh, that's the old guy in the wheelchair from Two and a Half Men"

Johnny Walker said...

98 years and he still left us wanting more. A legend.

McAlvie said...

"His humor tapped into universal behavior and truths"

This is what makes for the best comedy, why Reiner is legendary. The best of comedy doesn't make fun of other people; it's okay to poke fun at yourself, but laughter at somebody else's expense is just meanness and while you might get a nervous laugh, it also makes people uncomfortable. When you look at TDVDS, you see that Reiner understood that. He played the clown and let the jokes be on him. And his character was used judiciously. It made a better impact that way.

RIP Mr. Reiner, and thank you.

Mike Doran said...

Once, on the medical third of The Bold Ones, Carl Reiner played a totally serious dramatic role.
This was when acupuncture was starting to get known in this country; Carl Reiner played an American doctor who'd spent time in Red China (as it was then known), where he'd learned the practice; he was at E.G. Marshall's hospital to demonstrate.
Lloyd Nolan was an old medical bureaucrat who wasn't buying; at one point he confronted Reiner thusly:

Nolan: (Hotly)Are you a Communist?
Reiner: (Hotlier)Yes, I'm a Communist! And what does that have to do with anything?

It went on from there …

As I'm writing this, I'm recalling other times when Carl Reiner the serious actor stepped forward: The TV movie Skokie comes to mind, and I'm sure others will after I hit Submit.

I trust, however, that the point is made:
Carl Reiner could do anything - and did do everything.
- Which makes his loss all the greater.

Madmedia99 said...

Thank you for writing this. Carl Reiner was so truly amazing in all the ways you said. I am very grateful that I lived witnessing and enjoy his body of work.

J Lee said...

This is pretty cool, from the Tralfaz blog today -- a 1940 newspaper clipping from Rochester, N.Y. about a summer theater performance there being delayed while they awaited the arrival of two actors from New York, including then 18-year-old Carl Reiner. Most teen stars don't have 80-year staying power.

gottacook said...

My first two exposures to Carl Reiner (both on TV in the early '70s) were way out of the mainstream, even for him: his 1969 movie The Comic, starring Dick van Dyke, and the rather silly (but clearly perfect for Reiner, the first time I saw him as a performer) "Professor Peabody's Last Lecture" segment of Night Gallery. The latter can be viewed at https://www.nbc.com/night-gallery/video/big-surprise-quoth-the-raven-professor-peabodys-last-lecture/3969152 (starts around 13:00).

Michael said...

A couple of things:

Tudor Queen, that's the episode I'd take to a deserted island, and the sequence where Laura comes to the office is pitch-perfect, including the look that Mel gives her when she comes in. And the part of it I love is that Mary Tyler Moore said she had an enormous crush on Reiner.

Brian, as I recall, "That's My Boy?" was written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, and what I like, too, is that while they wrote it, Reiner backed them to the hilt. And at the time, Dick Van Dyke was filming "Mary Poppins," and they took him the script to get him on-board. Van Dyke was a civil rights activist, so he was happy with it.

And I thought of a line: Reiner won an Emmy and said if he knew he was going to win, he would have brought his hair.

What a man. What a mensch. What a talent. And what a father. As they say in horse racing, he outbred himself.

Mike said...

Thank you, Ken, for this and for everything you do. I have been surprised at the grief I've been feeling. He was a big part of my life, I guess. In recent years I have enjoyed his Tweets along with everything else he did.

If you haven't read the "Beef Stroganoff is funnier" thread on Twitter, seek it out. It is a very heartwarming story about Carl.

This still holds up after all these years. He was a gifted straight man. https://youtu.be/gNbT9Lf9xZo

Here's my Carl story. I went to one of the last concerts by Ella Fitzgerald. It was at what at the time was called the Westwood Playhouse. (Is that the Geffen Playhouse now?) I was enjoying Ella down to the bone. She was wonderful in spite of her age and her health. Between sets, I heard a familiar voice strike up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. I studied him for a moment, and Oh My God, that's Quincy Jones! Peggy wasn't with him, unfortunately, he did have a couple kids with him to appreciate Ella while they could. I don't know if Rashida was one of them. The familiar voice was Carl. He and Estelle congratulated Quincy on a speech he had recently given. Estelle was going to become iconic herself in a few months for her Katz's Deli scene. To overhear these two legends have a conversation was a thrill beyond the beyond. I was so grateful to be near them for a moment. I would've told them the usual thank you stuff but they were there for Ella and I didn't want to bother tham being a fan. I kept it to myself and basked in the moment.

Brandon said...

Dick Van Dyke Show is one of my all-time favorite classic sitcoms...it was a show I watched on Nick-at-Nite as a kid, at an age when B&W sitcoms bored me. A lot of the jokes still hold up very well. There's a Pluto streaming channel with old episodes; I may have to watch in Mr. Reiner's honor.

sueK2001 said...

I am so sorry for your loss Ken. It really is a loss for talent and for comedy. With the way the world is now and the slightest bit of offense at comedy, it's an art form that may not last much longer.

Still, Carl gave us so much. I am a bit biased on my favorite projects of his..Oceans' movies...anything to watch George Clooney is fine by me...and as Roger on Frasier(the caller that wanted to name his boat the Intrepid) and as director of "Oh God!".

I adore that movie and it's not just because John Denver was in it. It's a funny comedy with heart, a brain and faith to boot. Ken, if you've never seen the Oh God! DVD, you should as the commentary track is fantastic. Imagine Carl sitting around flirting and talking with Terri Garr and trading writing/directing stories with Larry Gelbart. It really is fun to listen to.

Thank you so much for putting your grief and appreciation into words once again.

Jeff Maxwell said...

One of the finest moments of my life was having the opportunity to interview Carl Reiner on my radio show. Three people inspired me to explore any ability I had to be funny: Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar and Imogen Coca. To me, these were comic geniuses.

After fifteen minutes, I had to end the interview. I’m sorry, Mr. Reiner, we’re out of time. Without a second of hesitation, he said, “You’re out of time, I’m 89!”

To me, Carl Reiner’s comic voice was filled with mirth, irony and joy. He gave us all the gift of 98 years of laughter.

I am so grateful to have lived during his watch.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Max Clarke: I think it's a *little* unfair to say that we have THE PRINCESS BRIDE because of Carl Reiner when William Goldman wrote both the novel and the screenplay. Lacking Rob Reiner, the world *might* have produced a different director.

HOwever...a small story. In 1968 Goldman wrote a non-fiction book called THE SEASON, in which he covered the changes happening on Broadway. As part of the project, he interviewed people involved with many of the current shows, one of whom was Carl Reiner (his show was a flop). After THE PRINCESS BRIDE was published, Goldman wanted to thank Reiner for his help on the book, and sent him a copy for his young son, who he thought might like it.

Apparently said son did.

(It's still a much better book than film, IMO.)

Pat Reeder said...

Probably nobody on Earth has been responsible for more comedy writers choosing that career. I've written this before, but as kids many miles apart, my wife/writing partner Laura and I both grew up watching "Dick Van Dyke Show" reruns on the same Dallas independent TV station. It made me want to be a comedy writer married to a hot chick named Laura, and it made her want to be a comedy writer/musical performer like Sally and Laura, and marry a tall goofy comedy writer like Rob. We both got our wishes (sorry my name isn't Rob, but Pat was close enough.) When I once had to do a job in New York, I chose New Rochelle to live, just because it was where the Petries lived. We now have the entire series in a big boxed DVD set. Recently, I bought one of Reiner's memoirs and had the chance to get it autographed. I had him inscribe it, "To Pat & Laura, a real-life Rob & Laura." It's one of our most prized possessions. RIP.

Sean said...

Sorry to hear about Carl Reiner's passing and especially so since he was a mentor of yours Ken. Some people can be such a long lasting and positive presence that you think they'll always be there. As they said in Ocean's Eleven he was already "in Cooperstown" in the early 00s.

He did a lot of good work. It's a great thing that he could come along side you and help you to do the same. Wish I'd known the man personally.

I'm sorry for your loss Ken.


Wayne said...

Great tribute Friday July 3 CBS is showing their tribute to Carl Reiner's great work on Dick Van Dyke colorized. https://filmyone.com/cbs-to-honor-carl-reiner-with-colorized-dick-van-dyke-show-special/

gottacook said...

wg: "After THE PRINCESS BRIDE was published, Goldman wanted to thank Reiner for his help on the book, and sent him a copy for his young son, who he thought might like it."

With respect, the "young son" was not exactly young at the time (1973); he had already been in the cast of All in the Family for several years, as a married adult.

I agree about the book and have the mass-market paperback that uses red ink (not the cheaper italics used later) for "Goldman's" interpolations.

Mike Doran said...


In '73, Carl Reiner had a younger son, Lucas, who would have been 13 at the time.

Just so you know …

Guffman said...

Ken, I don't believe you've ever mentioned "Lotsa Luck" in any of your posts -- a short-lived show from the early 70's that Carl Reiner created with Persky and Denoff. Maybe a bit too gimmicky, but it had some great character actors. It also had one of the greatest sitcom intros I can recall. It's on You Tube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoyF-wnx9cc