Carl Reiner
Producer, Writer, and Comedian
Live Web cast October 25, 2000, 1:00 p.m. ET

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Carl Reiner
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 Northridge earthquake.

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 hits.

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 learning-disabled students.

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 marry him."