Akron Beacon Journal, January 6, 1963
By JACK MAJOR
Carl Reiner always wanted his own television show, but he never dreamed he would get it the way he did.
For one thing, Reiner imagined he’d be the star of the show. He isn’t. That title goes to Dick Van Dyke.
Reiner doesn’t even appear on the program, except for one episode last season, but all viewers saw was the back of his head.
Instead Reiner concentrates on other duties – as the program’s creator, producer and – most importantly – its writer.
Reiner, who phoned a few days ago to promote his show, admitted he has been a ham for as long as he can remember, so he was as surprised as anyone when he stopped performing to concentrate on writing.
“I’d still like to act,” he said, “but I don’t have the time anymore.”
He said he always regarded writing as a greater challenge than acting, “but I didn’t think I could do it.”
Now he is regarded as one of Hollywood’s top writers, and last spring collected an Emmy award for his work on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He wrote 19 of the 30 scripts used by the series last season and supervised the writing of the other 11. He wrote 15 of the first 20 scripts the show did this season.
In addition Reiner completed two movie scripts and one of them – “The Thrill of It All” – already has been filmed. It’s a Technicolor comedy starring James Garner and Doris Day.
Reiner is justly proud of his television writing, but admitted he got a bigger kick from the movie.
“ ‘The Thrill of It All’ was a thrill for me,” he said. “New York’s East Side Highway was reconstructed at the studio for one of the scenes. It was quite a sight. And to think I started it all!”
What really started it all was a book called “Enter Laughing,” which Reiner wrote in 1957. Until then he was best known as a television performer who was second banana to Sid Caesar.
Caesar’s show was canceled in 1957 and a lull in Reiner’s career allowed him to make his first serious attempt at writing. His book, a collection of short stories, was an instant hit.
Reiner, 39, was born in the Bronx and early in life decided he would be a major league baseball player.
“I was what they called a ‘three sewer’ hitter,” he said. “I could belt the ball three sewer covers away, which i quite an accomplishment when you’re playing ball on a Bronx street.”
When Reiner turned 17, his interest turned away from baseball toward dramatics. He enrolled in acting school and joined a little theater group.
“We worked every night,” he recalled, “but I wasn’t getting any money for it. I got uppity one day and demanded to be paid. After all, we were charing the audience from 22 to 88 cents for admission.
“My demands were met. After that I received one dollar per performance and I was satisfied. I should have been. I was the highest paid actor in our troupe.”
But the year was 1942 and, thanks to Uncle Sam, Reiner was headed for a different kind of troupe. He and his buddy, Howard Morris, took their Army physicals together.
“He weighed 104 pounds at the time,” said Reiner, “and I didn’t think he’d be accepted.”
But he was, though Morris and Reiner were separated after their induction. Reiner spent his first four months of Army life in the hospital, recovering from pneumonia. Later he was sent to foreign service school at Georgetown University where he studied French.
“The Army wanted to make interpreters out of us,” said Reiner.
However, the Army, as you know, works in mysterious ways. After completing his classwork, Reiner was sent to Hawaii, where he found Morris, who helped his friend transfer into Major Maurice Evans’ special services unit. Morris was the unit’s first sergeant. And so the friends served out their Army days as entertainers.
After their discharge, both men became professional actors, but for five years went their separate ways. Reiner performed on Broadway the musical, “Alive and Kicking,” and was spotted by television producer Max Liebman, who signed the actor for “Your Show of Shows,” which starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Morris later joined the show.
Years later, when Caesar’s show was canceled, Reiner wrote his book, but didn’t abandon performing. He made three movies – “The Gazebo,” “Happy Anniversary” and “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” – and made two comedy record albums with Mel Brooks.
Recently he completed a brief role in the movie comedy, “It’ a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
“I usually work seven days a week on the Van Dyke show,” he said. “I spend the weekend at home writing a rough draft for a new script and I polish during the other five days. Rewriting and last minute changes also keep me busy.”
Much of the show is based on Reiner’s own experiences.
“I was allergic when I lived back East,” he said, “and I wrote a script about it. Dick did a beautiful job. He sneezed 49 times during the show and each one was a different kind of sneeze.”
Despite his work schedule – and his success – Reiner said he has been able to maintain a happy home life.
“I have a great family,” he said. “I have a son, Robert, who is 15; a daughter, Ann, who is 13; another son, Lucas, who is two; a German shepherd, Rinnie, who is eight, and a wife, Estelle, who is ... well, let’s says she’s over 30.”