A Tribute to Carl Reiner

By Sid Goldstein

Carl Reiner

One of the great paragons of American humor died on June 30. Carl Reiner was a prolific writer, director, producer, and actor. His career spanned almost 75 years in show business. Reiner once said of his career, “I taught gentiles a lot about Jewish humor.” He first came into prominence as a writer, and  later as a cast member of Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. Reiner began as a straight man for Caesar and his costar Imogene Coca. He was a part of what is now considered the greatest collection of comedy writers ever assembled. Sid Caesar hired Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Larry Gelbart as well as Reiner, Danny Simon, and Mel Brooks. Neil Simon’s play Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a tribute to this renowned staff of comedy geniuses.

After the Caesar show, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks produced the smash comedy record album, The 2,000-Year-Old Man. The album was heavily reliant on Jewish humor, using a lot of Yiddish expressions and some very old Jewish jokes. (“I have 1500 children. They never write and they never call. You’d think at least one could afford long distance.”) Reiner struck comic gold on television when he created The Dick Van Dyke Show. He took his Sid Caesar experience and made Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) the head writer of a TV comedy show. He later played the egotistical star of the Show, Alan Brady. Reiner is also credited with hiring a very young, and largely unknown Mary Tyler Moore for the role of Laura Petrie, Rob’s wife. The Van Dyke Show was a top-10 rated show for most of its six-year run. It is still considered one of the best and most beloved comedy TV shows ever produced.

Reiner kept working after the Van Dyke show. He wrote and directed Steve Martin’s debut film The Jerk. He teamed up with Martin again for a detective satire Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Both films were box office successes and helped launch Steve Martin as a major star. Reiner directed several hit comedy films in the 1970s and 80s. These included: Where’s Poppa with George Segal, Oh God!, with George Burns, Summer Rental with John Candy and That Old Feeling with Bette Midler. In the 90’s Reiner did some TV guest shots. He had a recurring role on Mad About You and wrote and directed an episode of Frazier at the request of Kelsey Grammer. He even showed up on an Episode of Two and Half Men in the early 2000s. Reiner’s last great set of films were the George Clooney Oceans trio. Reiner appeared as con man Saul Bloom in all three of the films. His bits, particularly his “German Count’s” insistence on seeing the vault in Ocean’s Eleven, were considered some of the high points of the three films.

Carl Reiner lived to be 98 years old. He spent 65 years married to the same woman and raised a large family – including his well-known son Rob Reiner, who blazed his own show business trail. Carl Reiner brought joy to many and will be remembered as an all-time great in the long litany of Jewish-American comics.

Rob and Carl Reiner

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