Producer, Writer, and Comedian
Live Web cast October 25, 2000, 1:00 p.m. ET
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On stage or screen -- and often behind the scenes -- Carl Reiner has shaped
American comedy for half a century. He's being recognized this month with
the third edition of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, awarded by the
Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Reiner's work as a writer and performer on Your Show of Shows -- where he
teamed with such kindred geniuses as Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks -- kept early
television audiences glued to their sets. One of the highlights was a
timeless act called "The 2,000 Year Old Man," which featured guileless news
reporter Reiner interviewing the title character, played by Brooks, about
the events of two millenia.
Some of today's best writers marvel at the productivity of the Show of
Shows creative team, which also included Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart (later
of M*A*S*H) and many others.
"We didn't know it was hard," Reiner said in a 1998 interview. "It's like a
bird. If he knew what he was doing, he would fall."
Reiner hooked another TV generation with The Dick Van Dyke Show, which
created a virtual blueprint for situation comedy and introduced the world to
Mary Tyler Moore. It wasn't enough for Reiner to write and direct -- he also
played Alan Brady, the tyrannical boss with the bad toupee.
The television years produced a raft of Emmy awards, nearly all of which
were broken or damaged when Reiner's California home was hit by the 1994
He turned to film direction in the 1970's, working with a rising comic star
named Steve Martin in The Jerk, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and other
Fans of funny also have Carl Reiner the novelist to contemplate. He wrote
the semi-autobiographical Enter Laughing four decades ago and returned to the
main character just a couple of years back in Continue Laughing. He's
written several other novels and short stories.
All this from a boy who has said he wasn't quite good enough as a scholar to
fulfill his father's ambition and become a doctor. Reiner grew up in the
Bronx in a tight-knit German Jewish family. His father was a watchmaker.
After dreams of a City College education fell short, Reiner took an early
job on an assembly line. But he fled that life for the stage, joining a
Shakespeare company. He was discovered shortly thereafter.
Married for nearly 57 years to wife Estelle, Reiner passed on his comic
genes to son Rob, who has followed his father into television and film with
remarkable results. He's equally proud of son Lucas, a director and painter,
and daughter Annie, a psychoanalyst, poet, playwright and actor.
Over the years Reiner has spent a great deal of time in charitable work,
most notably for Big Brothers of America and as an advocate for
The combination of comic talent and humanitarian heart has won Reiner
countless fans in Hollywood and beyond. His old buddy Brooks said it well a
couple of years back:
"He's a loving, giving guy, to the point of insanity. If he had hair, I'd