Carl Reiner

Active - 1959 - 2019  |   Born - Mar 20, 1922 in Bronx, New York, United States  |   Died - Jun 29, 2020   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Carl Reiner knew he wanted to be an actor -- preferably a Shakespearean actor -- from the time he was wearing knee pants. Trained in New York's Works Progress Administration Dramatic Workshop, he spent the war years touring with Maurice Evans' G.I. Hamlet, appearing with another young hopeful, Howard Morris. After the war he accumulated scores of stock company and Broadway credits, then in 1948 made his television debut in the short-lived series Fashion Story. While starring in NBC's 54th Street Revue, he was hired as one of the regulars on Your Show of Shows, appearing on a weekly basis with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and old pal Howie Morris. During the scripting sessions for Show of Shows, Reiner became friends with a bombastic staff writer named Mel Brooks, with whom he improvised a number of wild stream-of-consciousness comedy bits which would eventually crystallize as the classic "2000 Year Old Man" routines. An Emmy winner for his work on the various Sid Caesar programs, he entered films as a character actor in 1959. That same year, he wrote, produced, and starred in the pilot episode for a proposed series about a comedy writer named Rob Petrie, titled Head of the Family. The network executives liked the concept, but vetoed Reiner as the star; swallowing his pride, he retooled the property with another leading man, and that's how the Emmy-winning Dick Van Dyke Show was born. During the series' five-year run, Reiner made innumerable cameo appearances on the program, most memorably as Rob Petrie's mercurial TV-comedian boss Alan Brady. In 1967 he made his film directorial debut with Enter Laughing, an adaptation of his own semi-autobiographical 1958 novel (the book had already been transformed into a Broadway play with Alan Arkin as star). Reiner's later directing assignments included The Comic (1967), a bittersweet farce based on the lives of Stan Laurel, Harry Langdon, and Buster Keaton; the black comedy cult favorite Where's Poppa? (1970); the whimsical fantasy Oh, God (1977); and a popular series of Steve Martin vehicles, among them The Jerk (1978) and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982). His film output decreased in number and quality in the l980s and 1990s, though critics enjoyed his offbeat 1989 working-class comedy Bert Rigby, You're a Fool and his 1997 Bette Midler starrer That Old Feeling. In 1995, he earned yet another Emmy award for his revival of the Alan Brady character on a memorable episode of TV's Mad About You. And though Reiner appeared to retire from directing following That Old Feeling, he still maintained a notable presence in film and television with roles in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven and it's two sequels, House M.D., Hot in Cleveland, and Parks and Rec.

Carl Reiner is the father of directors Rob Reiner and Lucas Reiner; his wife Estelle has enjoyed a latter-day career as a night club singer and as a cameo performer in her son Rob's films (she's the lady who says, "I'll have what she's having!" in When Harry Met Sally).

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  • Served in the U.S. Army 1942-46. On the way to Iwo Jima from Hawaii, he was assigned to Maurice Evans' Special Entertainment Unit and toured the Pacific as a comedian in GI revues.
  • Allen Ludden of Password fame was once his captain.
  • Originally created the role of comedy writer Rob Petrie for himself in Head of the Family. Ultimately he was replaced by Dick Van Dyke and the series was retitled The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • Won an Emmy in 1995 for playing Alan Brady on Mad About You but was never nominated for the role on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • Received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 1999.
  • In 2003, wrote a children's book, Tell Me a Scary Story... But Not Too Scary!
  • Lent his voice to the role of Santa Claus in the 2009 Christmas special Merry Madagascar.
  • Played Betty White's blind date in a 2010 episode of Hot in Cleveland.