Posts Tagged ‘Carl Reiner’

He’s Catching Up to The 2000 Year Old Man: Carl Reiner Turns 90!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

He’s a boy from the Bronx who’s had a hand in some of film and television’s most memorable moments. Carl Reiner turns 90 years young today, and he’s spent over 80 of those years entertaining people in one medium or another, from stage plays, to radio, to the small screen and the large.

Born Carl Reiner on March 20, 1922, Reiner caught the acting bug early in life. After performing in school plays throughout his elementary and high school years, Reiner’s older brother encouraged him to take an acting class sponsored by the Public Works Administration during the Depression years. He enjoyed honing the craft and began acting in off-Broadway plays straight out of high school; performed in summer theater in Rochester, NY; toured with a Shakespeare company; and wrote and performed plays as part of the Special Services Unit during World War II.

After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Reiner performed in the famed Borscht Belt circuit, and began his career in television in 1948 with a spot on Maggi McNellis Crystal Room, and appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Revue. Reiner continued to do stage work, when producer Max Liebman caught one of his performances and approached Reiner about joining the cast of a new sketch variety show he was putting together with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Your Show of Shows. Reiner became a cast member in the 1950-51 season, memorably starring in the recurring “Professor” sketch with Caesar, and often displaying his double talk skills, mimicking foreign languages or delivering Shakespeare-esque dialogue. In his 1998 Archive Interview, Reiner discusses working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:

Reiner soon began writing for Your Show of Shows, alongside writers Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, and Mel Brooks, and stayed on to become a part of Sid Caesar’s next show, Caesar’s Hour, where he won his first Emmy:

Reiner and Brooks struck up an immediate friendship, which in turn led to the creation of some fantastic comedy. The pair dreamed up the now infamous “2000 Year Old Man” (which became both a record/radio and TV hit) in Max Liebman’s office in the early 1950s:

After Caesar’s Hour Reiner hosted the game show Celebrity Game, and secured dramatic parts in several Golden Age dramas including Playhouse 90, and Kraft Television Theatre. He tried his hand at writing novels and penned Enter Laughing, and even took a stab at writing a television series. He wrote what he knew, and in 1958 created thirteen episodes of Head of the Family, a show about a family man who commutes into the big city to write for a television show. Reiner starred in the pilot, which failed to get picked up, until Sheldon Leonard saw it, convinced Reiner to step out of the spotlight, re-cast Dick Van Dyke in the lead and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, and renamed the program The Dick Van Dyke Show:

The Dick Van Dyke Show enjoyed five seasons on air (1961-66), with Reiner as creator, producer, writer, and actor on the show — on-screen he stepped out of the lead role and into that of the star’s boss, “Alan Brady”. Reiner’s movie career revved up in the 1960’s, as he starred in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. He soon began directing, too – he directed the film version of Enter Laughing in 1967, and wrote the pilot for and directed several episodes of 1971’s The New Dick Van Dyke Show. He directed Steve Martin in four films, including 1979’s The Jerk and 1984’s All of Me, and also directed 1987’s Summer School.

Reiner won several Emmys for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and added another to his mantle when he revisited his Dick Van Dyke Show character, “Alan Brady”, for a memorable guest appearance on a 1995 episode of Mad About You. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s Reiner continued to stay active in both film and television, with roles on the 1999 series Family Law, 2002’s Life With Bonnie, and as the voice of “Sarmoti” in 2004’s Father of the Pride. He also starred alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon in the 2001 hit film, Ocean’s Eleven, and reprised his role of “Saul Bloom” for 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve and 2007’s Ocean’s Thirteen. He currently has recurring roles on two popular television shows: TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland and FOX’s The Cleveland Show.

A few additional Carl Reiner trivia tidbits: he has appeared on all major versions of The Tonight Show – with hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and even Conan O’Brien; he’s the father of another quite famous actor/writer/producer/director – Rob Reiner; and much like Carol Burnett, when he was starring on a variety show, he used a secret signal to communicate with family members. Son Rob shared what that signal was in his 2004 Archive Interview:

Happy 90th birthday, Carl! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks do their “2000 Year Old Man” sketch:

Reiner was honored by the Television Academy in October of 2011, and several of his colleagues and friends were in attendance to pay tribute to the TV legend. You can watch the webcast of “An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner” here, and check out our full Archive interview with Reiner here.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Toasting a Legend: The Television Academy Presents “An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner”

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Congratulations to Carl Reiner, who will be honored by The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood this evening! Panelists paying tribute to the television legend include Mel Brooks, Jon Cryer, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Bonnie Hunt, Rose Marie, Larry Matthews, Bill Persky, Rob Reiner, Paul Reiser, Eva Marie Saint, Garry Shandling, and Dick Van Dyke. The event is sold out, but you can watch the live webcast at 7:30pm PST at emmys.com.

Reiner’s career in television began in the 1940s with appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Review, and continues today with a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland. He’s won multiple Emmys, and in his Archive Interview, Reiner shares a fun fact about how his then-rules for wearing his toupee complicated his first Emmy win for The Dick Van Dyke Show:

“I didn’t wear my hair because if I had worn my hair and sat in the audience, it would be suggesting that I think I’m gonna win. I remember saying, ’should I put my hair on?’ Because my rule of thumb is if it’s national … local shows I never wore it. If I went on an interview show I never wore my hair during the day … If it’s a national show, I’ll wear it. But I decided that night, I said, ‘honey, if I put my rug on, people are gonna think I think I’m gonna win.’ So I said, ‘I’m gonna not wear it. If I win, I’ll go up there.’

In his acceptance speech, Reiner earned a huge laugh with the line, “If I’d known I was going to win, I would have worn my hair.”

He’s a winner with or without the toupee in our book.

Watch below for more memorable moments from Reiner’s career:

On creating The 2000 Year Old Man with Mel Brooks:

On working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:

On winning his first Emmy:

On working with the writers of The Dick Van Dyke Show:

Watch Carl Reiner’s Full interview online:
http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/carl-reiner

If at First You Don’t Succeed … Recast: “The Dick Van Dyke Show” Celebrates 50 Years

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Back in the summer of 1958, Carl Reiner, already an established writer and supporting actor on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, sought to create a sitcom in which he would star. He followed the adage of “write what you know” and created thirteen scripts of Head of the Family, a largely autobiographical series centered around Rob Petrie, head writer of “The Alan Sturdy Show.” Rob was married to Laura, they had a six-year-old son, Ritchie, and Buddy and Sally were Rob’s cohorts in the writers’ room. Sound familiar?

Reiner’s agent, Harry Kalcheim, shopped the Head of the Family pilot script around, and actor Peter Lawford wanted to front the money to shoot the pilot. Once Reiner sent a script to Lawford’s father-in-law and supplier of the cash, Joseph P. Kennedy, Reiner was given the green light. The pilot was shot in December of 1958 in New York, with Reiner starring as Rob, Barbara Britton as Laura, Gary Morgan as Ritchie, Sylvia Miles as Sally, and Morty Gunty as Buddy. And then … nothing. The pilot failed to sell for the Fall 1959 season, and for the next year, Reiner thought the project was dead. But Kalcheim refused to abandon the show. He presented the pilot episode to another client of his, producer Sheldon Leonard.

Already a successful creator/producer of The Andy Griffith Show, and producer of The Danny Thomas Show, Leonard recognized genius in Head of the Family, but identified one major flaw: Reiner completely miscast himself as Rob Petrie. It’s difficult to see how Reiner could be wrong for a role that he based on himself, but Reiner was a natural sketch performer, not a sitcom actor. Reiner didn’t take the news well, but as he describes in his Archive Interview, Leonard brightened his spirits by telling him that he was a natural producer:

Sheldon Leonard, himself a seasoned writer/performer (he played the robber who famously asked Jack Benny, “Your money or your life?”), convinced Reiner that one makes a much better living as a creator/writer/producer than as an actor. Reiner agreed and so began the hunt for a new Rob Petrie.

Re-enter Harry Kalcheim, candidate for best-agent-ever. A year earlier, at the urging of Kalcheim, Sheldon Leonard attended a musical revue called “The Girls Against the Boys” to check out a performer named Dick Van Dyke. In his Archive Interview, Leonard recalls liking Van Dyke, but not having any material at the time that could showcase his talents. Now, the right project had come along. Leonard convinced Reiner to hop a plane to New York to watch Van Dyke in Broadway’s “Bye Bye Birdie” and Reiner saw what Leonard now saw: Rob Petrie.

With a new lead, Reiner and Leonard distanced themselves from many elements of the failed Head of the Family pilot. The program assembled in the spring of 1960 was shot in California, in multi-camera format rather than single-camera, filmed in front of a live audience, and had an entirely new cast. The original scripts remained, but Reiner re-tooled them for multi-cam shooting and to play to the actors’ individual strengths, like Van Dyke’s talent for physical comedy:

Assembling the new cast was effortless in some ways, torturous in others. Sheldon Leonard knew he wanted Rose Marie as sassy Sally Rogers, who in turn suggested pal Morey Amsterdam for the role of Buddy Sorrell. Reiner took on the part of Rob’s boss, re-named Alan Brady; Richard Deacon portrayed producer Mel Cooley; and little Larry Matthews, who had never professionally acted before, played six-year-old Ritchie. Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guilbert rounded out the cast as neighbors Jerry and Millie Helper. Everyone was set … except Laura Petrie.

After auditioning many actresses for the part and coming up frustratingly empty-handed, Leonard and Reiner paid a visit to Danny Thomas, the largest funder of the newly formed Calvada Productions, which owned the show (Calvada: Ca – Carl Reiner, l – Sheldon Leonard, va – Dick Van Dyke, da – Danny Thomas). Thomas recommended they audition a woman who had tried out for the role of his daughter on Make Room for Daddy. The actress was wonderful, but with her cute nose, Thomas felt that no one would believe she was his daughter! Thomas remembered her as “the girl with three names.” With the help of a casting agent who tracked her down, Mary Tyler Moore auditioned for and won the role of Laura Petrie, as she explains in her Archive Interview:

Throw in advertising agency executives Lee Rich and Grant Tinker of Benton & Bowles, who secured sponsor Procter & Gamble and optioned the series to CBS, and that brings us to Tuesday, October 3, 1961, the premiere of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Reiner suggested the new title, following Sheldon Leonard’s tradition of naming a show after its star. Though no longer the lead in front of the camera, Reiner’s leadership behind the camera resulted in the classic sitcom of the 1960s.

Critics adored The Dick Van Dyke Show, but the program did not enjoy high ratings and was nearly canceled after the first year. Due to Sheldon Leonard’s persistence, four more seasons aired, and the show ended its run on June 1, 1966 with episode “The Last Chapter,” in which Alan Brady is set to star in and produce a television show based on Rob Petrie’s autobiographical novel. Talk about art imitating life!

But art imitating life is what made The Dick Van Dyke Show such a gem. You believed Rob and Laura as a couple. They showed affection, they fought, and she sighed, “Oh, Rob!” sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of happiness. Sally and Buddy teased each other like co-workers really do; all of the characters represented people you felt like you knew or wished you could befriend. Fifty years later, the episodes and characters still remain approachable and real.

So here’s wishing a very Happy 50th Anniversary to The Dick Van Dyke Show. We expect we’ll be watching Rob trip over that ottoman for many years to come.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner for Tax Day

Thursday, April 15th, 2010


Today is tax day, luckily there’s classic TV to cheer us up. On a February 1965 episode of The Hollywood Palace, Carl Reiner interviews “tax expert” Mel Brooks’ “Philip J. Heinker,” who discusses his methods for filing, which includes claiming Romania (“I send them cottage cheese and Life magazine”). Look for newly Mrs. Mel Brooks- Anne Bancroft- cracking up in the studio audience.

“I don’t sing, I don’t dance, but if you’ve been watching my show, you know I’m one heck of a runner.” – Hollywood Palace guest host, The Fugitive’s David Janssen

This episode, too, features an admittedly out-of-his-element guest host, David Janssen (then lead of The Fugitive), who nonetheless manages his duties as emcee. The only moment where he trips up, is in playing straight man to Tim Conway- probably not the first person to fail in this task. Conway, who was appearing as Ensign Charles Parker on McHale’s Navy at the time, performs his sketch “The Warden.” Also among the show’s guest stars are Edie Adams and Vic Damone. And don’t miss the show’s finale with the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Palace Dribblers (Janssen, Brooks [above, right, getting a little help with his dunk], Reiner, Conway, and Damone).

Click here for the Archive’s Hollywood Palace page to watch this February 6, 1965 episode of The Hollywood Palace (embedded from the Internet Archive) and hear Archive interviewees including Tim Conway talk about guesting on the series.

“Your Show of Shows” 60th Anniversary

Thursday, February 25th, 2010


Sixty years ago today Your Show of Shows debuted, creating a blueprint for American TV sketch comedy to come. The forerunner of such shows as The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live, Your Show of Shows is a touchstone of the kind of programming for which the Golden Age of Television is known.

Following the demise of the short-lived 1949 series Admiral Broadway Revue, many of the talents from that show were assembled to make up Your Show of Shows, including producer Max Liebman, writers Mel Tolkin and Lucille Kallen; and stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Additionally, such stars as Carl Reiner and Howard Morris and such writers as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon contributed to the show’s legendary behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the camera chemistry. Memorable sketches include the Bavarian “Clock” that goes awry with the performers as mechanical figures; “This Is Your Story” a take-off of “This Is Your Life” with an unforgettable Howard Morris as “Uncle Goopy”; the recurring Professor sketch with Carl Reiner interviewing Sid Caesar’s eminent expert; and the movie parodies, such as “From Here to Obscurity” a send-up of “For Here to Eternity” in which Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca are splashed by the waves as they lay on the beach.

Not to be forgotten is that in addition to the famed comedy sketches, Your Show of Shows, as a variety series, also employed the considerable talents of such regulars as singer Bill Hayes and choreographer James Starbuck (working with such talents as Bambi Linn & Rod Alexander and Marge & Gower Champion).

“My view of comedy is you have to believe what the [performers] are doing. You have to believe it, so you can laugh. Because if it’s off the wall, you’ll laugh one time. If they can’t follow the story, and they don’t believe it, they lose interest. Even though it’s a comedy. So they have to believe you, [as if] you’re doing a drama. It’s a funny drama. You don’t know it’s funny. The fun is that you don’t know it’s funny. Let the audience find out.” — Sid Caesar

The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the contributors to Your Show of Shows including Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Marge Champion; and late greats Lucille Kallen, Mel Tolkin, and Howard Morris. Check out the Archive’s curated Your Show of Shows page (with links to Caesar’s other “live” series: Admiral Broadway Revue and Caesar’s Hour) to watch reminiscences of these interviewees on this classic series.