producer of M*A*S*H, Larry Gelbart provided numerous contributions
to one of television's most innovative and socially aware sitcoms.
But he has been a dynamic force in broadcasting for more than thirty
years. Gelbart has written for radio and television, as well as
the script for the stage play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way
to the Forum. After leaving television in the early 1980s, Gelbart
went on to produce feature films, including Oh God (1977) and Tootsie
the 1940s, Gelbart began working as a writer for Fanny Brice's radio
show, and as a gag writer for Danny Thomas. After a brief stint
in the army, where he wrote for Armed Forces Radio, Gelbart joined
the writing staff of Duffy's Tavern, a popular radio program.
He also wrote for Bob Hope, whom he followed to television.
In the early 1950s, Gelbart became part of the extraordinarily talented
crew of writers on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. This
group, which included Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks and
Woody Allen, in addition to Gelbart, helped define the medium in
its earlier days. Shortly after becoming head writer for The
Pat Boone Show, Gelbart became disgusted by broadcasting's communist
witch-hunts and moved to England. While in London, he continued
to work in British film and television.
the early 1970s, Gene Reynolds, who was developing a television
version of the film M*A*S*H, enticed Gelbart to write the
pilot script. Gelbart was leery about returning to American television,
but became interested when he learned that CBS was willing to allow
the series to realistically depict the horrors of war. When CBS
picked up the series in 1972, Gelbart became its creative consultant.
One year later, Gelbart joined Reynolds as co-producer.
provided numerous innovations to an idea which had already made
for a best-selling novel and box office hit. Recalling a Lenny Bruce
bit on draft dodges, Gelbart created Corporal Klinger, a character
who dressed in women's clothing in hopes of getting a "Section Eight"
discharge. Written as a one-time character, Gelbart's Klinger, played
by Jamie Farr, became central to the long-running series. When actor
McLean Stevenson decided to leave the series, Gelbart was involved
in the decision to "kill off" Stevenson's character, Colonel Henry
Blake. This was the first time a series regular had met such a fate.
Furthermore, Gelbart is credited with "The Interview" episode, an
innovative script in which journalist Clete Roberts, playing himself,
interviews the doctors of the M*A*S*H unit. Produced with a cold
opening (no teaser, lead-in, or commercial), filmed in black and
white, and shot in documentary style, it paved the way for the numerous
innovations carried out by later M*A*S*H producers. After four seasons
with M*A*S*H, Gelbart became worried he would grow repetitive and
left the series.
1973, Gelbart and Reynolds created Roll Out, a disappointing series
about an army trucking company set in World War II. Gelbart's last
outing with series television, the highly touted United States,
also failed to score with the public. One of television's first
stabs at dramatic sitcoms (dramedy), it fizzled out two months after
its March 1980 debut.
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
GELBART. Born in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., 25 February 1928.
Attended John Marshall High School, Chicago; Fairfax High School,
Los Angeles. Married Pat Marshall, 1956; children: Cathy, Paul,
Becky, Adam, and Gary. Served in U.S. Army, 1945-46. Began career
as radio writer, Danny Thomas (Maxwell House Coffee Time),
1945; moved into television as writer for The Bob Hope Show, 1948-52;
best known for M*A*S*H series, 1972-76; artist-in-residence,
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1984-85. Honorary degree:
LittD, Union College, 1986. Member: Motion Picture Association of
Arts and Sciences; Writers Guild of America; Writers Guild of Great
Britain; ASCAP. Recipient: Sylvania Award, 1958; Emmy Awards, 1958
and 1973; Tony Awards, 1963, 1990 (twice); Peabody Awards, 1964
and 1975; Montreaux Television Festival Golden Rose Award, 1971;
Humanitas Award, 1976; Edgar Allen Poe Awards, 1977 and 1990; Writers
Guild of America Awards, 1977, 1978, and 1982; Christopher Award,
1978; Laurel Award, 1981; Los Angeles Film Critics Award, 1982;
New York Film Critics Award, 1982; Pacific Broadcasting Pioneer
Award, 1987; Lee Strasberg Award, 1990; Outer Critics Circle Awards,
1990 (twice); New York Drama Critics Circle Award, 1990; Beverly
Hills Theater Group Award, 1991. Address: 807 North Alpine Drive,
Beverly Hills, California 90210, U.S.
TELEVISION SERIES (writer or writer-producer)
1952 The Red Buttons Show
1953 "Honestly, Celeste!" (The
Celeste Holm Show)
1954-62 The Patrice Munsel Show
1954 The Pat Boone Show
1955-57 Caesar's Hour (Your Show of Shows)
1958-59 The Art Carney's Specials
1963 The Danny Kaye Show (consultant)
1971 The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine
1972-76 M*A*S*H (also directed several episodes) 1975
1980 United States
1983-84 After M*A*S*H
1985, 1986 Academy Award Show
1993 Barbarians at the Gate
The Notorious Landlady, 1962; The Thrill of It All, with
Carl Reiner, 1963; The Wrong Box, with Burt Shevelove,
1966; Not with My Wife, You Don't, with Norman Panama and Peter
Barnes, 1966; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,
1966; A Fine Pair, 1969; Oh, God!, 1977; Movie,
Movie, 1977; Rough Cut (as Francis Burns), 1978; Neighbors,
1981; Tootsie, 1982; Blame It on Rio, 1984.
Danny Thomas (Maxwell House Coffee Time), 1945; The Jack
Paar Show, 1945; Duffy's Tavern, 1945-57; The Eddie
Cantor Show, 1947; Command Performance (Armed Forces
Radio Service), 1947; The Jack Carson Show, 1948; The
Joan Davis Show, 1948; The Bob Hope Show, 1948.
and the Wolf, 1971; Gulliver, 1989.
My L.A., 1948; The Conquering Hero, 1960; A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1962; Jump, 1971;
Sly Fox, 1976; Mastergate, 1989; City of Angels, 1989;
Power Failure, 1991.
Dennison, Linda T. "In the Beginning.... (Larry Gelbart, interview)."
Writer's Digest (Cincinnati, Ohio), April 1995.
Suzy. The Complete Book of M*A*S*H . Introduction by Larry
Gelbart. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1984.
David S. M*A*S*H: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV's Most Popular
Show. Foreword by Alan Alda. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill: 1983.
Mervyn. "Is There Life after 'M*A*S*H'?" The New York Times Magazine
(New York), 8 October 1989.