Carl Reiner (1922-)
To adults of a certain age, Carl Reiner is well known for his contributions to comedy on television and in film, but his comedic genius, critics have noted, has crossed genres and generations. The New York-born actor, writer, and director began his entertainment career playing Sid Caesar's sidekick on the 1950s television series Your Show of Shows, and has acted in numerous other television programs and films. However, Reiner told an American Film interviewer, "I think I was meant to be a director." His first big success came with The Dick Van Dyke Show, an enormously popular 1960s situation comedy about a television writer and his family. Later, Reiner moved from television to film, directing such films as Oh God! and the Steve Martin vehicles The Jerk, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and The Man with Two Brains. He also teamed up with his friend, fellow comedian, and director Mel Brooks to make Two Thousand Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, a popular comedy recording with Reiner playing the straight man to Brook's ancient curmudgeon.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Reiner grew up dreaming about a career on the stage. At the urging of his brother, he began attending free acting classes at a 1930s-era Works Progress Administration dramatic school. From there, while still a teen, he auditioned successfully for the Daily Theater on 63rd Street and Broadway in New York. During the Second World War, he served in an entertainment unit in the South Pacific, and at war's end he toured as a stand-up comic. In 1947, he appeared in his first Broadway musical, Call Me Mister, after touring with the national company for a year, but his true calling as an entertainer would be in television and film.
Reiner was hired as a utility man on the program that would become Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar. Renowned for its creative cast and writers, Your Show of Shows provided Reiner with the opportunity to perform and contribute his ideas to the comedy bits. He also forged the partnership with Mel Brooks that led to the "two thousand year old man" routines, many of which found their way onto recordings that are still in print.
Perhaps Reiner's single greatest success as a writer was The Dick Van Dyke Show, a situation comedy that ran for five years, beginning in 1961. The show featured actor Dick Van Dyke as a television writer, with Mary Tyler Moore as his wife. Reiner appeared occasionally as the conceited, toupee-wearing star Alan Brady, but his lasting contribution to the show was the writing—he authored a great many of the scripts himself and heavily edited the rest, showing great comedic sensitivity to the personal tics and quirks of his cast. After garnering a number of Emmy awards for his scripts—and capturing top ratings—Reiner decided to end the show before its popularity waned. He moved on to films, principally as a director.
A multi-talented artist, Reiner has dabbled in another medium: book-writing. In 1958, he published an autobiographical novel, Enter Laughing, about his early days in show business. Beginning in the 1990s, he has devoted more time to fiction, releasing a sequel to Enter Laughing, Continue Laughing, as well as a purely comedic farce titled All Kinds of Love and a book of short stories called How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Mostly Happy Stories. The new millenium saw Reiner approach a new genre with the publication of his children's book Tell Me a Scary Story … But Not Too Scary!
Tell Me a Scary Story … But Not Too Scary! was inspired by Reiner's grandson, Nicky. Reiner often tells stories to his grandchildren, and one day Nicky asked Reiner to tell him a story that was scary, but not too scary. The phrase "stuck in my head," Reiner told Entertainment Weekly's Matthew Flamm. The resulting book is written as if Reiner was telling it directly to a child, complete with interjections such as "This isn't too scary for you, is it?" and "Should I keep going?" The story, purportedly one from the narrator's childhood, begins with a man named Mr. Neewollah moving in next door to the narrator's home. The boy, watching him move in, sees something fall from one of Mr. Neewollah's boxes: a marble that looks exactly like an eye. Wondering what else Mr. Neewollah might have, the boy tries to peek in a basement window one night. He sees what looks like a hideous monster before he falls through the window. Inside, he discovers that the monster is not really a monster, just a mask—Mr. Neewollah is a costume-maker. Some reviewers thought that the story, especially with its creepy illustrations by James Bennett, might actually be too scary for some young readers: "the rational explanations come too late to assuage readers already frightened," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, on the other hand, declared that "gross-out enthusiasts will probably lap this up."
Asked to explain his ability to make people laugh, Reiner said in American Film: "You have to imagine yourself as not somebody very special but somebody very ordinary. If you imagine yourself as somebody really normal and if it makes you laugh, it's going to make everybody laugh. If you think of yourself as something very special, you'll end up a pedant and a bore." He continued: "If you start thinking about what's funny, you won't be funny, actually. It's like walking. How do you walk? If you start thinking about it, you'll trip."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Reiner, Carl, Tell Me a Scary Story … But Not Too Scary!, illustrated by James Bennett, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2003.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
American Film, December, 1981, interview with Reiner, pp. 13-20.
Back Stage, April 9, 1999, p. 42.
Business Wire, August 11, 2000, "Co-Star of Your Show of Shows Receives a Show of His Own from the Friars Club of California," p. 52.
Daily Variety, July 21, 2003, Brendan Kelly, "Splendor Wins at Laughs Fest," p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, March 26, 1993, p. 82; June 11, 1993, Nisid Hajari, review of All Kinds of Love, p. 55; November 5, 1993, p. 50; July 28, 1995, David Browne, review of The American Comedy Box, 1915-1994: But Seriously …, p. 61; April 18, 1997, p. 50; October 10, 1997, p. 98; November 15, 2002, Matthew Flamm, "Between the Lines," brief interview with Reiner, p. 138.
Film Comment, July-August, 1982, pp. 9-16.
Hollywood Reporter, June 23, 2003, Cynthia Littleton, review of My Anecdotal Life, p. 2.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, review of My Anecdotal Life, pp. 524-525; September 1, 2003, review of Tell Me a Scary Story … But Not Too Scary!, p. 1130.
Kliatt, March, 2000, Sherri Forgash Ginsberg, review of The Prince and the Pauper, p. 52.
Library Journal, October 1, 1989, Randy Pitman, review of Bert Rigby, You're a Fool, p. 131; May 1, 2003, Rosalind Dayen, review of My Anecdotal Life, p. 116.
Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1989; February 27, 2001, Susan King, interview with Reiner, p. F-5; May 16, 2003, Tony Peyser, review of My Anecdotal Life, p. E-21.
Modern Maturity, March-April, 1999, p. 44.
New York, October 6, 1997, Judith Stone, interview with Reiner and Mel Brooks, pp. 56-59.
New Yorker, December 13, 1969, pp. 47-49.
New York Times, May 21, 1982; October 26, 2000, Irvin Molotsky, "For Carl Reiner's Comic Mind, a Humor Prize," pp. B5, E5.
New York Times Book Review, April 18, 1993; July 27, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, review of My Anecdotal Life, p. 13.
Premiere, December, 2001, Brantley Bardin, interview with Reiner, p. 116.
Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1993, review of All Kinds of Love, p. 204; January 17, 1994, review of Aesop's Fables, p. 37; June 12, 1995, review of Continue Laughing, p. 49; July 3, 1995, review of Continue Laughing, p. 26; October 28, 1996, "2000 Year Old Man Is Back—Just in Time," p. 25; August 23, 1999, review of How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Mostly Happy Stories, p. 46; August 6, 2001, review of The Prince and the Pauper, p. 32; November 18, 2002, John F. Baker, review of Tell Me a Scary Story … But Not Too Scary!, p. 14; April 14, 2003, review of My Anecdotal Life, p. 60.
School Library Journal, October, 1996, Melissa Hudak, review of The Prince and the Pauper, p. 79; October, 2003, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Tell Me a Scary Story … But Not Too Scary!, pp. 134-135.
Time, February 27, 1989, Richard Schickel, review of Bert Rigby, You're a Fool, p. 83.
U.S. News and World Report, November 6, 2000, Bruce B. Auster, "A Straight Man Gets a Laugh," p. 12.
Variety, March 1, 1989, review of Bert Rigby, You're a Fool, p. 20.
Washington Post, October 24, 2000, Frank Ahrens, "A Seriously Funny Man: If Life's a Joke, Humorist Carl Reiner Gets It," p. C01; October 26, 2000, Frank Ahrens, "Carl Reiner, Your Comedian of Comedians," p. C10.
Dick Van Dyke Show Official Web Site, http://www.dickvandykeshow.com/ (April 8, 2004), "Carl Reiner."
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (January 14, 2004), "Carl Reiner."
Museum of Broadcast Communications Web Site, http://www.museum.tv/ (January 14, 2004), "Reiner, Carl."
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyCarl Reiner (1922-) Biography - Career, Awards, Honors, Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Member, Adaptations