I published this blog just over a year ago (May 3, 2019). Today, I read that he passed away (June 30, 2020). Carl Reiner will be missed, he was a unique talent.
Writer/performer on Your Shows of Shows, comedy duo partner of Mel Brooks, creator/producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show, writer/director of many films, father of Rob Reiner. He had many different careers.
Most people know him from the Van Dyke Show or directing films, like those with Steve Martin or George Burns. Reiner grew up in the Golden Age of Television, where comedy was outrageous and came at you like a machine gun. He was a writer and performer with Sid Caesar in the 1950’s, and teamed with Mel Brooks for many television and nightclub appearances, and several albums.
In 1959 he wrote and starred in a pilot for a situation comedy called Head of the Family. While the network didn’t buy it, he was allowed to re-cast and re-write it, this time with Dick Van Dyke in the lead. That show ran five seasons and 158 episodes of classic comedy. Over the course of the run, Reiner wrote numerous shows and served as producer, in addition to playing temperamental Alan Brady. The show won 15 Emmy Awards including a few for Reiner. During the run, Reiner had been writing several feature films, as he was getting ready to transition into films after the Van Dyke Show ended.
Reiner would dabble in series television, creating a new show for Dick Van Dyke that would run for two seasons and generated a lot of controversy over subject matter. He also created a show for Dom DeLuise that lasted only one season.
Mostly though, he focused on writing and directing feature films. He wrote The Thrill of it All for Doris Day and James Garner, and The Art of Love for Garner and Dick Van Dyke, both typical comedies with lots of misunderstanding and relationships askew, with big, funny endings.
Reiner wrote and directed a brilliant, but forgotten film called The Comic, starring Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney about a silent film star who’s life becomes a train-wreck. This film proved Reiner could write drama and mine the pathos. Any doubt about Van Dyke’s ability to act ended with this film. He’s marvelous.
Next, Reiner directed the film version of Where’s Poppa?, a black comedy starring George Segal and Ruth Gordon. While a cult classic, this wasn’t a big hit, but proved that Reiner was a talented director.
After Van Dyke’s show was cancelled, Reiner looked for film projects and settled on Oh, God! A big hit, it re-established George Burn’s career and elevated everyone’s standing.
Reiner teamed with Henry Winkler for The One and Only, and then began a series of films with Steve Martin, starting with The Jerk (1979). On a $4M budget, it crossed the $100M profit line. Next came Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983) and All of Me (1984). The films got better and more cleaver.
Reiner began downshifting his career. Summer Rental (1985) with John Candy and Summer School (1987) with Mark Harmon were okay films but nothing special. He would make a few more films through the 1990’s, light-hearted romps but nothing close to his best work.
In the next stage of his career, Reiner returned to acting, in a variety of films and television shows, including George Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven films.
At 97 years old, Reiner does a lot of reflecting about his life and his success, which is perfect because he’s written several books.
“One of the reasons I’m alive is because my head is still working. If my head is still working, my body has to follow suit!”
Of Mel Brooks he said, the funniest person ever. And Dick Van Dyke, the most talented person ever on television.
If Carl Reiner has only created The Dick Van Dyke Show, that would be reason enough to put him in the Hall of Fame.
But he took his gift and made us laugh in television, films and book, and he’s been doing it for more than 70 years.