Sunday, March 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Carl Reiner!

Carl Reiner, with Mel Brooks, 2009. Courtesy of Shout! Factory.

It has been a lousy week in general, but a excellent one for elder statesmen of comedy. Jerry Lewis turned 90 last Wednesday and Carl Reiner celebrates his 94th birthday today.

A director, producer, comedian, actor and author of several books, Carl Reiner's first claim to showbiz fame was as a cast member, with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Howard Morris on Your Show Of Shows - arguably the greatest cast ever assembled for a weekly television program.

After the last season of Your Show Of Shows, Carl continued as a sketch writer and cast member on the subsequent Caesar's Hour. From both shows, this blogger is particularly enamored of peppy pompadoured 50s popsters The Three Haircuts.

Thankfully, numerous sketches from Your Show Of Shows and Caesar's Hour can now be seen on two YouTube channels.

Also available on YouTube: one of the offshoots of the collaboration of Reiner and Mel Brooks on the aforementioned two programs, The 2000 Year Old Man album in its entirety.

The 2000 Year Old Man would be reprised many times, including as a semi-regular feature on The Hollywood Palace TV show.

As part of the path to winning nine Emmy awards, Carl Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Originally, a pilot for the series was produced starring Carl Reiner in the lead role. and. . . it's not very good. It's not just that Reiner is not right for the lead role but none of the stellar character actors that brought so much fun to the proceedings. Re-cast with Dick Van Dyke as the star and Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, Larry Matthews and Richard Deacon as the supporting cast, it set a bar line for snappy performances and sophisticated writing in sitcoms that has yet to be surpassed.

It would also be the template that spawned series from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Barney Miller to Cheers to such later shows as Friends (A.K.A. let's do a Dick Van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore Show concept cast entirely with young people).

Reiner's guest shots as egocentric TV star Alan Brady are frequently memorable and hilarious.

Carl Reiner directed an excellent dramatic film about making movies in the silent era, The Comic, which starred Dick Van Dyke as a rather nasty and unpleasant silent movie star named Billy Bright. Its sequences of 1920 style filmmaking aptly recapture the feel of vintage silent comedy.

While many writing about The Comic note that the behind the scenes tale is based on Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel and Langdon - and no doubt they were part of the portrait - this writer is inclined to believe that the unsympathetic movie funmaker is loosely based on the tragic story of the popular but self-destructive Larry Semon (1889-1928) who both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy worked with.

There would be a good number of interesting and provocative films directed by Carl Reiner. One would be the dark comedy Where's Poppa.

Carl directed the legendary George Burns in one of his very successful comeback vehicles, Oh, God!, an enormous hit that would be followed by two sequels.

There would be a long-running collaboration between Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, a comedian who could be as broad and slapsticky as Jerry Lewis one moment, more in the Groucho verbal jousting style in another.

While Reiner and Martin made quite a few films together, this blogger's favorite is the film noir spoof Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.

We shall close with an interview with Mr. Reiner. Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog extends thanks with a Cheers and a Happy Birthday!

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