Reiner is one of the few true Renaissance persons of 20th-century
mass media. Known primarily for his work as creator, writer and
producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show--one of a handful of classic
sitcoms by which others are measured--Reiner has also made his mark
as a comedian, actor, novelist, and film director. From Reiner's
"Golden Age" TV connection with Sid Caesar to his later film work
with Steve Martin, the Emmy award-winning Reiner has touched three
generations of American comedy.
to Vince Waldron's Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, Reiner
began his career as a sketch comedian in the Catskill Mountains.
After serving in World War II, he landed the lead role in a national
touring company production of Call Me Mister, which he later
reprised on Broadway. Reiner's big break came in 1950 when producer
Max Leibman, whom he had met while working in the Catskills, cast
Reiner as a comic actor in Sid Ceasar's Your Show of Shows.
Drawn to the creative genius of the show's writers, which included
Mel Brooks and Neil Simon, Reiner ended up contributing ideas for
many of the series' sketches. The experience undoubtably provided
Reiner with a good deal of fodder for his later Dick Van Dyke
Show. While he never received credit for his writing efforts
on Your Show of Shows, in 1955 and 1956 he received his first two
of many Emmy awards, these for his role as supporting actor. In
1957, Reiner conquered another medium when he adapted one of his
short stories into Enter Laughing, a semi-autobiographical
novel focusing on a struggling actor's desire to break into show
business. In 1963 the book became a hit play.
the summer of 1958, after Caesar's third and final series was canceled,
Reiner spent the summer preparing for what many consider his greatest
accomplishment--writing the first thirteen episodes of Head of
the Family, a sitcom featuring the exploits of fictional New
York comedy writer Rob Petrie. Originally intended as an acting
vehicle for himself, Reiner's pilot failed to sell. However, Danny
Thomas Productions' producer Sheldon Leonard liked the idea and
said it had potential if it were re-cast--which was Leonard's nice
way of saying, "Keep Reiner off camera." When Reiner's Rob Petrie
was replaced with TV newcomer Dick Van Dyke--who had just enjoyed
a successful Broadway run in Bye, Bye Birdie--The Dick Van Dyke
Show was born.
with Enter Laughing, Reiner's sitcom was autobiographical.
Like Petrie, Reiner was a New York writer who lived in New Rochelle.
Like Petrie, Reiner spent part of his World War II days at Camp
Crowder in Joplin, Missouri, a fact that was brought out in several
flashback episodes. Even Petrie's 148 Bonny Meadow Road address
was an allusion to Reiner's own 48 Bonny Meadow Road home.
it was this realism that contributed to the series' timelessness,
making it a precursor for such sophisticated and intelligent sitcoms
as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show.
Just as with these later works, Reiner's series placed character
integrity over raw laughs. By being the first to combine both the
home and work-life of the series' main character, Reiner also provided
interesting insights regarding both sedate suburbia and urbane New
York. The Dick Van Dyke Show also serves as an early example
of the "co-workers as family" format, which has become a staple
relationship in modern sitcoms.
Reiner was one of the first "auteur producers," with his first thirteen
episodes becoming the bible upon which consequent episodes were
based. He continued to write many of the series' best episodes,
as well as portray recurring character Alan Brady, the egomaniacal
star of the variety program for which Petrie and crew wrote. After
a tough first season in 1961, Leonard was able to convince CBS executives,
who had canceled the series, to give it a second chance. The series
became a top hit in subsequent years, enjoying five seasons before
voluntarily retiring. Of course, the reruns have never left the
air, and it, along with I Love Lucy, comprise some of the
most-watched programs in syndication history. Those series, along
with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, have also become the flagship
programs of classic TV powerhouse Nick at Nite.
many view The Dick Van Dyke Show as the culmination of Reiner's
career, his films cannot be ignored. After directing Enter Laughing
in 1967, Reiner went on to do several critically acclaimed films
such as The Comic (1969), a black comedy which starred Dick
Van Dyke as an aging silent-film comedian, and Where's Poppa
(1970). Reiner also directed the wildly successful George Burns
vehicle Oh, God! (1977). Reiner is also significant for his
role as straight man in "The 2,000 Year Old Man" recordings, which
he began with Mel Brooks in 1960.
the 1970s, Reiner and Van Dyke re-entered television with The
New Dick Van Dyke Show. While Reiner had hoped to break new
ground, he became frustrated with the network's family standard
provisions that hampered its sophistication. It wasn't until 1976
that Reiner returned to series television as actor and executive
producer of the short-lived ABC sitcom Good Heavens.
as The Dick Van Dyke Show represented a departure from standard
sitcom fare of the 1960s, Saturday Night Live and its most famous
guest host Steve Martin were forging their own late-1970s humor.
Once again on the cutting edge, Reiner joined forces with Martin
as the "wild and crazy" comedian made the transition to film, with
Reiner directing The Jerk (1979), The Man With Two Brains
(1983), and All of Me (1984).
In a 1995 episode of the NBC comedy series, Mad About You, Reiner
reprised his role as Alan Brady. In the fictional world of the newer
sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show is "real," as is the Brady
character. Reiner's performance drew on the entire body of his work,
from his days with Sid Caeser through his work as writer, director,
and producer, and the portrait he presented in this new context
echoed with references to the television history he has lived and
to which he has so fully contributed.
REINER. Born in the Bronx, New York City, U.S.A., 20 March 1922.
Educated at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University,
1943. Married: Estelle Lebost, 1943, children: Robert, Sylvia, and
Lucas. Served in the U.S. Army, attached to Major Maurice Evans'
special services unit, 1942-46. Worked in Broadway shows, 1946-50;
character actor and emcee,television show Your Show of Shows,
1950-54; appeared in Caesar's Hour, 1954-57; appeared
in short-lived Sid Caesar Invites You, 1958; emcee, Keep
Talking, 1958-59; writer, actor, producer, various TV series,
from 1960; director and star, numerous motion pictures since 1959.
Recipient: numerous Emmy Awards since 1956. Address: c/o George
Shapiro, Shapiro West, 141 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, California,
Your Show of Shows
1954-58 Caesar's Hour
1956-63 The Dinah Shore Chevy Show
1958-59 Keep Talking
1961-66 Dick Van Dyke Show (producer and writer)
1971-74 New Dick Van Dyke Show (producer and writer) 1976
Good Heavens (actor and producer)
The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard
1968 The Fabulous Funnies (host)
1969 The Wonderful World of Pizzazz (co-host)
1970 Happy Birthday Charlie Brown (host)
1984 Those Wonderful TV Game Shows (host)
1984 The Great Stand-ups: 60 Years of Laughter (narrator)
1987 Carol, Carl, Whoopi, and Robin
Happy Anniversary, 1959; The Gazebo, 1960; Gidget
Goes Hawaiian, 1961; It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,
1963; The Russians Are Coming, 1966; Heaven Help Us (co-producer),
1976; Oh God! (director), 1977; The End, 1978; The
One and Only (director), 1978; The Jerk (director), 1979;
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, 1982; The Man With Two Brains
(co-director), 1983; All of Me (director), 1984; Summer
Rental (director), 1985; Summer School (director), 1987
Call Me Mister, 1947-48; Inside U.S.A., 1948-49; Alive
and Kicking, 1950.
Van Dyke Show