Carl Reiner

Carl Reiner

Reiner was born in the Bronx, NY, where he was raised along with his older brother, Charles. His watchmaker father, Irving Reiner, supported his wife Bessie and his two boys, but despite a keen sense of invention, was unable to translate these ideas into fortunes. As a teen, Reiner had a job as a shipping clerk and assisted in a machinist's shop. At 16, his brother turned him on to a classically-influenced drama workshop put on by the Works Progress Administration. After joining up, Reiner was strongly bitten by the acting bug and always credited his sibling with steering the course of his later career. By 18, Reiner had his first professional acting jobs in "As You Like It," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Comedy of Errors" and "Hamlet," staged across America with the Avon Shakespearean Touring Company. Reiner joined the Army Signal Corps during World War II, where he was training as a radio operator, but he narrowly missed heading off to the famous invasion at Iwo Jima. Instead, he was recruited by his superior to travel around the Pacific as part of Maurice Evans' Special Entertainment Unit, which entertained the GIs with comedy revues during the 1940s. While on the tour a year later, Reiner acted out his co-written show, "Shape Ahoy," in front of his old unit members when the tour reached Iwo Jima on VJ Day.On Christmas Eve of 1943, Reiner, then 21, married his girlfriend Estelle Lebost, 29. After his Army stint was over in the mid 1940s, he naturally grew into the activities of family life, having become the father of their first son, Robert, in 1947, and soon after, daughter Sylvia. Back in New York, Reiner resumed acting, headlining "Call Me Mister" and appearing in "Inside U.S.A.," among several others on Broadway. Luckily, his stage work ended up bringing him to the attention of comedian Sid Caesar, who hired him for his popular sketch series "Your Show of Shows" (NBC, 1950-54), on which he sharpened his teeth as a performer and sometime writer alongside Caesar and such unknowns as Mel Brooks, Neil and Danny Simon and Larry Gelbart. Reiner received an Emmy Award nomination in 1954 for his supporting acting roles on the series. When Caesar moved onto another sketch series called "Caesar's Hour" (NBC, 1954-57), he brought Reiner along with him. His acting work was, again, a quick favorite with Emmy voters, netting him a nomination in 1956 and two wins; one in 1957 and a year later in 1958. At age 35, Reiner formally began to try his hand at writing on the page. After "Caesar's Show" ended in 1957, his wife encouraged him to develop his own series, positing that the variety show offers coming his way were somewhat lacking in quality. By the summer of 1958, Caesar was back for another series, "Sid Caesar Invites You," on which Reiner appeared, but this one was cancelled by the fall. Also that year, Reiner published his first book, Enter Laughing, an autobiographical look at his entry in show business, before starting work on his own television project. Writing about what he knew, his life as a writer with a wife and two children, he quickly churned out the pilot for "Head of the Family," knocking out another dozen episodes in two months. Reiner and Mel Brooks, meanwhile, had been refining a routine at various parties called "The 2,000 Year Old Man," which gently mocked the absolute wisdom of the ages and was inspired by a TV interview in which a man ludicrously claimed to be privy to covert plans of Joseph Stalin. The two recorded the routine in 1960, with Reiner playing the role of the interviewer and Brooks the subject. The performers were skeptical about how it would be received, but as the project improved, Reiner and Brooks allowed its release, to great success.The couple had a son, Lucas, in 1960, just as Reiner finally birthed the character of TV writer Rob Petrie in his pilot. Network executives did not pick up the pilot, however, thinking Reiner and his East Coast sensibilities were too specific to translate to a mass audience. Disappointed in its failure to find a network home, Reiner began writing movies instead - including his satire on instant celebrity, "The Thrill of it All" (1963) - but was continually coaxed by producer-director Sheldon Leonard to return to his sitcom pilot. Leonard wisely figured a different actor could perhaps get "Head of the Family" off the ground. Recast with actor Dick Van Dyke and renamed a year later, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" hit the airwaves, establishing Reiner's career along with those of Van Dyke and his comely co-star, Mary Tyler Moore. The series focused on Rob Petrie's family life as well as his professional life on the writing staff of the fictional "The Alan Brady Show." Before deciding to inhabit the role himself, Reiner voiced the toupee-clad Brady for the first few years, while holding out for the right name to play him on camera. He was also overseeing the show, producing and story editing, and writing the first 40 episodes. The series netted Reiner five Emmy nods and four wins, including three for writing between 1962-65. While busy on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Reiner continued to act in other projects, including appearing as a tower controller in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963), guesting on the popular ABC action series "Burke's Law" (1963-67), and in several films for Norman Jewison, including his co-written Dick Van Dyke comedy, "The Art of Love" (1965). Jewison also directed Reiner as the intuitive playwright Walt Whittaker in "The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming" (1966). "The Dick Van Dyke Show" came to a close in 1967, just as Reiner and Joseph Stein had adapted Reiner's book, "Enter Laughing" (1967) into a film. The ever busy Reiner also re-teamed with Van Dyke for "The Comic" (1969), co-starring and directing the film, about a fictional silent comedic actor Billy Bright, which Reiner wrote specifically for the silent movie aficionado, Van Dyke. Into the early 1970s, Reiner consulted, wrote and directed for an edgier "The New Dick Van Dyke Show" (1971-74), but quit in the first year due to CBS' meddling censorship of the episodic content. He went on to write the TV movie "Starring: Nancy Clancy" (1973) for Van Dyke to direct, but the actor's subsequent disputes with the network over the sitcom - similar in many respects to Reiner's beef - would end the run of "The New Dick Van Dyke Show." Despite it all, Reiner managed to get an animated special version of "The 2,000 Year Old Man" (1975) aired on the network.By the late 1970s, Reiner began turning his attention to movies, a medium he had only lightly explored in the past. He took the reins for a character far older than 2,000 years, directing comedian George Burns in "Oh, God!" (1977), Larry Gelbart's adaptation of the novel. He then landed in, arguably, one of his greatest collaborative periods with actor-stand-up comedian Steve Martin, which yielded a slew of well-regarded comedies. First up was the Martin-scripted classic, "The Jerk" (1979), which followed a dim-witted naïf on a strange path to entrepreneurial success. In 1982, Reiner rolled out the film noir send-up "Dead Man Don't Wear Plaid," with Martin as the detective Rigby Reardon and co-writer-director Reiner playing the villainous role of Wilfred von Kluck. Through each successive film with Martin, a screwball sensibility was further unleashed within Reiner - most evident in the pair's crafting of "The Man with Two Brains" (1983), an off-the-wall comedy about brain surgery and romance. Martin finally capped off their hot creative run as the unwanted beneficiary of Lily Tomlin's departing spirit in Reiner's hilarious body switching comedy, "All of Me" (1984). After his years working with Martin, Reiner spent the later 1980s under a director-for-hire approach. It was a perpetual summer for the multi-hyphenate, who grabbed the keys for John Candy's genial vacation comedy, "Summer Rental" (1985) and signed up for a comic lesson in school time apathy with "Summer School" (1987). Reiner then went back to writing and directing, tailoring a deeply personal role for actor Robert Lindsay, who he coaxed to star in as an aspiring actor in "Bert Rigby, You're a Fool" (1989). The subsequent studio work, however, including the dark, murderous "Sibling Rivalry" (1990), the thriller spoof entry "Fatal Instinct" (1993), and the breezy, rekindled romance of "That Old Feeling" (1997) stalled commercially and creatively. Still, despite his directing duties, Reiner was still in command of his own creations. He won an Emmy Award for his guest appearance as Alan Brady, whom he had continued to revisit every so often over the years at the behest of Hollywood's adorers, and on the sitcom "Mad About You" (NBC, 1992-99) in 1995 - the same year he continued the story of Bronx-born actor David Kokolovitz in the novel, Continue Laughing. He and Brooks also re-teamed for a CD and follow-up book of more cultural observations from The 2,000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000; in the process acquiring a 1998 Grammy statue before Reiner racked up yet another Emmy nomination in 2000 for his guest work on Showtime's "Beggars and Choosers" (1999-2001). With Steven Soderbergh's inspired remake of "Ocean's Eleven" (2001), Reiner took to playing the comic elder statesman. It was a strong third act to a career marked by perfectly-suited collaborations. Amongst a cast of career criminals led by actor George Clooney and his youthful gang of clownish co-stars, Reiner's reluctantly retired character, Saul Bloom, provided the essential comedic counterpoint. An in-demand Reiner went back to the small screen for some prominent guest spots on network television, including a guest appearance on the finale of "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002), and as the recurring TV station owner Mr. Portinbody of "Life with Bonnie" (ABC, 2002-04) - even adding another Emmy Award nomination to the count before slipping back into the shoes of Alan Brady, now animated for TV Land's "The Alan Brady Show" (2003). Much like his "Ocean's" character, Reiner - by now into his eighties - no longer needed to work consistently except on projects that fueled his fire. He had stepped into the international heist of "Ocean's Twelve" (2004), with Saul Bloom again grudgingly coaxed out of retirement, and enjoyed voicing one of Siegfried & Roy's white lions on NBC's short-lived primetime cartoon "Father of the Pride" (2004-05). But as always, was most comfortable working alongside familiar companions. Hence, the return for "Ocean's Thirteen" (2007) was a natural move. With the gang back on Vegas soil, Reiner was back to his best tricks, accruing casino fortunes as well as laughs. Turning to the small screen once again, Reiner had memorable roles on "House, M.D." (Fox, 2004-2012) and "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003-15), while voicing characters on animated series like "The Cleveland Show" (Fox, 2009-13) and "American Dad" (Fox, 2005-). He went on to a guest starring role on "Parks & Recreation" (NBC, 2009-15), where he played the president of a senior citizens group whose endorsement is sought by both Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Bobby (Paul Rudd) in their run for city council. Active on social media up until his death, Reiner became politically outspoken, backing and endorsing left-leaning causes and candidates. Carl Reiner died on June 29, 2020 at the age of 98.





Guest Appearances