(1922 - 2020)
Carl Reiner was a Jewish American stand-up comedian, actor, director, producer, writer and voice artist. Over the years he has won nine Emmy Awards and one Grammy Award.
He was born on March 20, 1922, in the Bronx, New York, to Irving Reiner, a watchmaker, and Bessie (Mathias) Reiner. After graduating from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, he went to work as a machinist’s helper and seemed headed for a career repairing sewing machines.
In his early teens, Reiner got his start as a performer in a WPA Dramatic Workshop after his brother, Charlie, told him about a free acting class being offered by the Works Progress Administration.
He was educated at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and served in the United States Army during World War II. During the war he was part of a troupe of touring GI performers.
Reiner later performed in several Broadway musicals, including Inside U.S.A., Alive and Kicking, and Call Me Mister. In 1950, he was cast in Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. He also worked on Caesar’s Hour. He won two of his 11 Emmys (out of 18 nominations) for his on-camera work on “Caesar’s Hour” and as a writer on a 1967 special that reunited the “Show of Shows.”
Reiner then worked as the straight man to Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” routines. They produced five records, one of which won a Grammy.
In 1961, Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran until 1966. The show was inspired by his time working with Sid Caesar and his own domestic life. He played Alan Brady, Van Dyke’s boss on the show. He said the show was successful because of the choice of “somebody with more talent to play me.” The whow won 15 Primetime Emmy Awards, with Reiner picking up five as writer and producer.
Reiner directed his first feature film, in 1967, an adaptation of the play Enter Laughing, which had been based on his 1958 autobiographical novel about a stage-struck delivery boy from the Bronx who decides to become an actor. He wrote two other screenplays that were made into films, The Thrill of It All (1963) and The Art of Love (1965). His later work on Broadway was less successful. He directed Tough to Get Help (1972) and The Roast (1980), both of which bombed.
In 1970, he directed Where’s Poppa and the hugely successful George Burns vehicle Oh God in 1977. Reiner also directed and co-wrote four comedy films in the early career of Steve Martin; The Jerk (1979), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). In addition to those comedies, he directed Summer Rental (1985), Sibling Rivalry (1990), and his final film That Old Feeling (1997).
Reiner also acted or guest-starred on several television shows, including House, Two and a Half Men, Hot in Cleveland and Parks and Recreation. He won his last Emmy for a guest appearance as Alan Brady on an episode “Mad About You” in 1995. He also appeared in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007).
He also appeared in the 2017 documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast about people who remained active into their 90s
Reiner was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1999. The following year, he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. In the 2010s,
In 1943, Reiner married singer Estelle Lebost. The couple was married for 64 years until Estelle's death in 2008. Reiner is the father of actor/director Rob Reiner, poet, playwright and author Sylvia Anne Reiner, and painter/actor/director Lucas Reiner.
Reiner died on June 29, 2020, at the age of 98.
Sources: “Carl Reiner (1922 - ),” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 479;
“Carl Reiner,” Television Academy.
Robert Berkvist and Peter Keepnews, “Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98,” New York Times, (June 30, 2020).
Photo: Public Domain.