“Every morning, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section, and see if I’m listed. If I’m not, I’ll have my breakfast.” This is the morning routine of comedy legend Carl Reiner as detailed in the HBO documentary film If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast. Unfortunately, the creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show, director of The Jerk, and co-star of the Ocean’s 11 franchise has passed away at 98.
News of Carl Reiner’s death came from his assistant Judy Nagy (via Variety), who confirmed the star died of natural causes on Monday night at his home in Beverly Hills. The father of famous filmmaker Rob Reiner is one of the comedy greats who was a pioneer of television comedy, beginning his career on screen 70 years ago.
Carl Reiner was born on March 20, 1922 and grew up in The Bronx, New York. Carl’s brother Charlie brought his attention to a free dramatic workshop being put on by the Works Progress Administration, and that put him on a path to being an actor. During his military service, after being drafted into the Army Air Forces during World War II, Reiner would begin his acting career by working in Special Services and performing around the Pacific theater, entertaining troops in Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.
In the late 1940s, Reiner was working steadily on stage in Broadway musicals such as Inside U.S.A. and Alive and Kicking, and even landed the lead role in Call Me Mister. But it was in 1950 that his comedy career would truly take off after being cast in Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, where he began working with Mel Brooks and Neil Simon, and would continue to work with them in the variety show Caesar’s Hour.
Carl Reiner sparked a comedy partnership with Mel Brooks in 1960, and the two found fame as a duo on The Steve Allen Show, where they became well known for their bit 2,000 Year Old Man. The sketch turned into five comedy albums, one of which won a Grammy, as well as an animated special in 1975, and it turned both Brooks and Reiner into big TV stars.
In 1959, Reiner developed a television pilot inspired by his own personal and professional life. It was called Head of the Family, but for whatever reason, CBS didn’t like Reiner in the lead on the series, so it retooled, recast, and retitled to become The Dick Van Dyke Show. Running from 1961 to 1966, it’s one of the most beloved and successful television comedies of all time. On the show, Reiner would guest star as temperamental show host Alan Brady, and would write many of the episodes.
After The Dick Van Dyke Show came to an end, Reiner began his career as a director, helming such films as the adaptation of Joseph Stein’s play Enter Laughing in 1967 (which was actually based on his own semi-autobiographical 1958 novel of the same name). He would also direct Where’s Poppa in 1970, and Oh, God! in 1977. As a filmmaker, Reiner had a hand in turning Steve Martin into a big comedy star on the big screen. The filmmaker was behind the camera for The Jerk in 1979, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid in 1982, The Man with Two Brains in 1983, and All of Me in 1984.
As an actor, Reiner appeared in various TV shows and movies over the years. Along with his role in the Ocean’s 11 franchise as the veteran thief Saul, he also had roles in Slums of Beverly Hills and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, not to mention appearing in the films he directed. On the TV side, Reiner’s unmistakable voice could be hear on King of the Hill, Family Guy, American Dad, and Bob’s Burgers, and he guest starred in shows like Boston Legal, Two and a Half Men, Hot in Cleveland, and House M.D. Reiner’s last big screen role appears to be a cameo along with his comedy duo partner Mel Brooks in Toy Story 4, where he voiced the toy Carl Reineroceros, and that’s a pretty good way to go out.
Reiner’s career is one for the history books, and if you’d like to know more about his earliest years in showbiz, you should check out the documentary Mel Brooks: Unwrapped, which chronicles the days the two spent together as a comedy duo. That documentary and If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast are both available on HBO and HBO Max right now.
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