R.I.P. Carl Reiner, legendary creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show
Image: The Everett Collection
When Carl Reiner first came up with The Dick Van Dyke Show, the series creator told USA Today in 2019, it was out of necessity. Out of every sitcom role he was offered, none of the writing excited him. He remembered it was his wife who planted the seed to write his own better show, which he called Head of the Family.
He said, "I was getting offered a lot of situation comedies. They weren't very good, and my wife said, 'Why don't you write one?' So, I wrote Head of the Family for myself."
There was just one problem, though. Reiner said, "It didn't sell." Luckily, that wasn't the end of the series that would become The Dick Van Dyke Show, thanks a lot to titans of TV, producers Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard.
Reiner said, "Somebody gave the scripts to Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas. Sheldon said, 'These are wonderful.' I said, 'Sheldon, I don't want to fail twice with the same material.'"
That's when Leonard changed the course of TV history by breaking the news to Reiner that his show would work, if he made one major change: "He said – and this is my favorite line: 'You won't fail. We'll get a better actor to play YOU.' It was Dick Van Dyke, maybe the most talented man that's ever been on television."
Taking the hit to his ego, Reiner slid over to bring in Van Dyke to star and proved Leonard right, as The Dick Van Dyke Show overcame its star's relative anonymity to become a sitcom that's still hilarious and relevant today.
Reiner described one of his all-time favorites from the classic series that he may not have starred in, but he undeniably remained as the brains behind its overarching success: "I favor the ones people said wouldn't work and one of those was 'It May Look Like a Walnut'. I decided to do a version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Instead of pods, I used walnuts. Rob, who thinks he's having a nightmare, opens the closet and a thousand pounds of walnuts come sliding out, filling the floor, with Mary Tyler Moore riding the crest of the wave on her stomach."
In 1962, at the 14th Annual Emmy Awards, Reiner took home the trophy for "Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy" for The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was the credited writer for 55 out of 158 total episodes — not to mention an eventual part of the ensemble cast himself as the hilarious Alan Brady.
Born to a watchmaker in the Bronx, Reiner would serve in the Army Air Forces in World War II. The Army sent him to Georgetown University to study to be a French interpreter. It was there he got his first taste of performance, directing a Molière play in French. In the service, Reiner auditioned for Major Maurice Evans — who would later be a Batman villain, a Planet of the Apes ape and Bewitched character. Evans transferred Reiner to the Special Services, where he would serve entertaining troops in the Pacific.
Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows would cast Reiner as writer and sketch comedian, pitting him alongside the similarly brilliant Mel Brooks. Reiner and Brooks would team to become a comedy duo, in a wildly popular routine called the 2000 Year Old Man.
The 2000 Year Old Man franchise would lead to five comedy albums and a Grammy Award, not to mention a television special.
Following The Dick Van Dyke Show, Reiner shifted his focus to the big screen, where he teamed with another budding comedy legend, Steve Martin. Reiner directed and co-wrote the Martin side-splitting Martin movies The Jerk (1979), Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). Meanwhile, his son, Rob, hot off All in the Family, would follow in his footsteps with equally timeless comedies like This Is Spinal Tap.
In 2000, at the age of 78, Reiner rightfully was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. He did not stop there.
Reiner continued to act, appearing in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's 11 trilogy. He was in the series finale of House. In 2014, he released an autobiography titled My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir.
Mel Brooks wrote in his blurb: "Aren't we lucky that Carl Reiner's memory is still intact. He has given us a veritable treasure trove of wonderful recollections, some side-splittingly funny and a few that are really touching. The best one is about me."
On June 29, Reiner died in his Beverly Hills home, according to TMZ. He was 98 years old.
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