He was one of the best liked people in showbiz. Tall, bald Carl Reiner was a creative force and a welcome presence on television and in films. A skilled, world-class comedian, actor, director, screenwriter, and publisher, his career spanned seven decades. I loved him best as as the snarling, toupee-wearing Alan Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1962-1966) and in such films as The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
He was part of the roguish gang in the Oceans Eleven (2001-2007) movies starring George Clooney.
He co-wrote and directed some of Steve Martin‘s best films, including The Jerk (1979), and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), plus he also directed such great comedies such as Where’s Poppa? (1970), Oh, God! (1977), and All Of Me (1984).
Over his long career, Reiner won many awards and honors including nine Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, and The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. His talented children are actor-director Rob Reiner, writer Annie Reiner, and artist Lucas Reiner.
Reiner was a terrific, funny writer. Enter Laughing (1958) an autobiographical novel later adapted into a film and Broadway show; and My Anecdotal Life (2003) a memoir. A second memeoir, I Remember Me (2013) recounts his childhood and creative journey.
But, like me, you might enjoy remembering Reiner for The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the most popular television series of all time and a model of ensemble playing, physical comedy and timeless, good-natured wit. It starred Van Dyke as a television comedy writer working for a demanding, eccentric boss (Reiner) and living with his wife (Mary Tyler Moore in her first major role) and young son in suburban New Rochelle, New York.
He created, wrote, produced, directed and acted in the hit show, which won him 5 Emmys over the course of its run. Reiner:
“The Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments because that was very, very personal. It was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar show.“
In 1950, comic genius Sid Caesar created the revolutionary variety comedy series Your Show Of Shows and hired Brooks as a writer along with Carl Reiner and Neil Simon. The show was a huge hit and an influence on all future sketch-comedy television shows. Reiner, as creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, based Morey Amsterdam‘s character Buddy Sorell on Brooks. The delightful film My Favorite Year (1982) is loosely based on Brooks’ experiences as a writer on the show and his encounter with Golden Age movie star Errol Flynn. Simon’s play Laughter On The 23rd Floor (1993) is also loosely based on the inner-workings of Your Show Of Shows.
Brooks and Reiner became best friends and they casually improvised comedy routines when they were not working for Caesar. Reiner would play the straight man to Brooks’ many characters. Reiner:
“In the evening, we’d go to a party and I’d pick a character for him to play. I never told him what it was going to be.“
On one occasion, Reiner suggested a 2000-year-old man who had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, had been married several hundred times, and had “over 42,000 children, and not one comes to visit me”. At first Brooks and Reiner would only perform the routine for friends, but by the late 1950s, it had gained a cult status in showbiz circles.
In 1960, Brooks and Reiner began performing The 2000 Year Old Man act on the Steve Allen Show, which led to the release of the comedy album 2000 Years With Carl Reiner And Mel Brooks that sold over a million copies in 1961. Everyone’s parents had a copy, including mine and I listened to it until I had it memorized. Two more hit albums followed in 1961 and 1962, then another in 1973, plus a 1975 television special, and a reunion album in 1998. At one point, sales from The 2000 Year Old Man records were Reiner’s and Brooks’ number one source of income.
Reiner lost his wife, singer Estelle Lebost in 2008. They had been married for 64 years. Brooks and Reiner lived near each other in Beverly Hills and saw each other almost every day. Brooks says that they had dinner together and watch a lot of movies, but only movies that contain the phrase “secure the perimeter”.
Reiner was a lifelong Democrat. He endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination during the 2016 United States presidential election. At the age of 98, he was one of the oldest celebrities active on Twitter. He really could give it to the current president.