Carl Reiner, Actor, Director, Writer, Producer And Mensch, Dies At 98 Reiner belonged to a generation of Jewish comics who helped define 20th century American comedy. He created the Dick Van Dyke Show and collaborated often with his longtime friend, Mel Brooks.
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Carl Reiner, Actor, Director, Writer, Producer And Mensch, Dies At 98

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Carl Reiner, Actor, Director, Writer, Producer And Mensch, Dies At 98

Carl Reiner, Actor, Director, Writer, Producer And Mensch, Dies At 98

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/510434234/885772726" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to take the next few minutes to celebrate the life of Carl Reiner. He was an actor, a director, a writer and a producer. Reiner's career took off at the birth of television comedy and lasted for more than six decades. Carl Reiner died yesterday at age 98. NPR's Ted Robbins has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TED ROBBINS: If he did nothing else, Carl Reiner would be known for helping create one of American comedy's most memorable characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARL REINER: Sir, is it true that you are 2,000 years old?

MEL BROOKS: Oh, boy.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBBINS: The 2,000-year-old-man began as a party joke with Reiner's lifelong friend Mel Brooks. It became a huge hit on albums, in clubs and on TV. They wrote the bits together, with Reiner playing the straight man to Brooks's 2,000-year-old man. He described his role to NPR's Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

REINER: My job is the job of the audience. I'm asking all the questions that your audience would die to ask a man who lived for 2,000 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REINER: Could you give us the secret of your longevity?

BROOKS: Well, the major theme is that I never, ever touch fried food.

(LAUGHTER)

REINER: What was the means of transportation then?

BROOKS: Mostly fear.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBBINS: Carl Reiner belonged to that generation of Jewish comics who helped define American comedy in the 20th century. He was born in the Bronx in 1922 to immigrant parents. He began as a serious actor, then a standup comic. In 1950, Sid Caesar hired Reiner for the pioneering live TV sketch comedy program "Your Show Of Shows." He was a writer alongside Woody Allen, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks, among others, and he acted as a supporting player.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

REINER: Being a second banana to such a massive first banana didn't - wasn't a comedown at all for me. I realized I was working with the best.

ROBBINS: Carl Reiner always seemed to work with the best, from Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks to Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin to George Clooney and Amy Poehler. His most memorable solo creation came way back in 1960, when he wrote a script for a TV sitcom called "Head Of The Family." It was about a, well, TV comedy writer - the star, Carl Reiner. It didn't sell until another actor was cast in the lead.

(SOUNDBITE OF EARLE HAGEN'S "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW THEME")

ROBBINS: "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was a milestone in American TV sitcoms. Carl Reiner wrote lots of episodes of the show, and he played Alan Brady, the arrogant and egotistical star of the show within the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW")

REINER: (As Alan Brady) Listen, you guys. You know, these advertising guys are very sensitive, and they have to be romanced. So I'll do all the talking.

MARY TYLER MOORE: (As Laura Petrie) Yeah, and I'll do all the romancing.

REINER: (As Alan Brady) If I need any help, I'll ask for it.

RICHARD DEACON: (As Mel Cooley) Yes. If Alan needs any help...

REINER: (As Alan Brady) Shut up, Mel.

DEACON: (As Mel Cooley) Yes, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

REINER: (As Alan Brady) OK, fellas. We'll grab a quick bite and then get over there.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I couldn't eat a thing.

REINER: (As Alan Brady) I'm treating.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I'm starving.

ROBBINS: The show ran from '61 to '66. It made stars of both Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. Here's Dick Van Dyke on NPR talking about Carl Reiner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DICK VAN DYKE: He's not only been my mentor and good friend but possibly the best comedy writer who ever lived.

ROBBINS: Carl Reiner directed more than a dozen movies, including "The Jerk." Steve Martin played Navin, a white dope raised by a Black family. Here, he learns that he was adopted.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE JERK")

MABEL KING: (As Mother) Navin, you're not our natural-born child.

STEVE MARTIN: (As Navin) I'm not?

KING: (As Mother) You were left on our doorstep, but we raised you like you were one of us.

MARTIN: (As Navin) You mean I'm going to stay this color?

ROBBINS: Carl Reiner and Steve Martin made four movies together. Here's Martin at the American Film Institute.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN: We became very, very close friends. He was like a father to me, although I wouldn't let him bathe me like he wanted to. And I...

ROBBINS: If there's a theme to Carl Reiner's career, it's that along with being funny himself, he made other comics funnier. He was a mensch, a good guy. He won nine Emmys and a Grammy. Yet whenever it was time to take credit for something, Carl Reiner would almost always deflect the credit to his partners, from Mel Brooks...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REINER: Mel Brooks is the single funniest human being I've ever met.

BROOKS: That's...

REINER: And I met him in...

ROBBINS: ...To his wife of 65 years, Estelle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REINER: I never felt I had enough words to be a writer, but my wife is the one who gave me the key.

ROBBINS: Estelle Reiner died in 2008. They had three children, including Rob Reiner, who - inspired by his dad - has also directed and acted in dozens of movies and TV shows. Carl Reiner was active well into his 90s. On "Parks And Recreation," he played a politically powerful senior.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")

REINER: (As Ned Jones) Look; I don't have a lot of time.

ADAM SCOTT: (As Ben Wyatt) Oh, God. I'm so sorry. Is it cancer?

REINER: (As Ned Jones) No. I don't have a lot of time before my swim aerobics.

ROBBINS: He did voiceovers for the series "Bob's Burgers," and he maintained an active Twitter account. In their old age, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks had dinner together many nights. In 2012, they did an episode of Jerry Seinfeld's Web series "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee." As Seinfeld walked out the front door of Carl Reiner's house, he just had to tell him one more joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REINER: Jerry, what's the difference between a Jew and a Frenchman? A Frenchman leaves without saying goodbye.

JERRY SEINFELD: Yeah.

REINER: And a Jew says goodbye and never leaves.

ROBBINS: Goodbye, Carl Reiner.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANCOIS-JOEL THIOLLIER PERFORMANCE OF "SUITE BERGAMASQUE: CLAIR DE LUNE")

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