I come to praise Carl Reiner, not to bury him, on the occasion of his 93rd birthday this week.
Reiner: father of Rob; husband to Estelle (who uttered the immortal line, “I’ll have what she’s having,” in “When Harry Met Sally”); and comic legend in front of and behind the camera; and who, by the by, created my favorite television show of all time.
He’s still acting, still writing (with two new books, the memoir, “What I Forgot to Remember,” and an interactive children’s book, “The Secret Treasure of “Tahka-Paka.”), and by all accounts and appearances, he remains one of show business’ most decent souls.
You will not find many with more impeccable comedy cred. He was among the dream team of writers behind “Your Show of Shows” that included Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon. It was the writer’s room to which all comedy writers aspired. Reiner was also a member of the ensemble, a crack sketch actor in his own right, but also a brilliant straight man interviewing force of nature Sid Caesar as the Professor.
That particular skill would come in handy when one night at a party, he approached fellow guest Mel Brooks and asked, apropos of nothing, “Sir, it is true you knew Jesus?” The 2,000 Year-old Man was born and comedy history was made. A subsequent recording became of the best-selling, and most influential of all time.
Reiner is an actor, and he made some memorable films as a leading man, including, “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.” But there was one acting role for a proposed television series that he thankfully lost; odd because he wrote the part and was basically portraying himself; a comedy writer juggling his career and personal life in the suburbs with his wife and son.
The sage producer, Sheldon Leonard, liked the 13 initial scripts that Reiner had created for the series and suggested hiring another actor who could be a better Reiner than Reiner. That would be Dick Van Dyke and that would free up Reiner to appear on the show as the mercurial variety show kingpin, Alan Brady. Funny how these things work out.
But Reiner, a 12-time Emmy-winner, is even better known as a director of some classic comedies, including Steve Martin’s first film, “The Jerk” as well as two of Martin’s best, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and the lovely, “All of Me.” His decency is reflected in the hit, “Oh, God!” “Where’s Poppa?” his 1969 debut film, is hipper and more taboo-breaking than anything produced by the so-called New Hollywood of the time.
I’ve got no topper for this, so I will leave the last words to the birthday boy. Interviewed recently on CBS, he remarked that his morning routine is, before his coffee, he reads the obits. “If I’m not in it, “I’ll have breakfast.”
Happy Birthday, Carl. If you had done nothing but cast Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie, you'd have my eternal gratitude.