CARL REINER: A True Hollywood Legend (1922-2020)
A reminiscence about a great American humorist when he was happy to let his wife Estelle take the spotlight; and a wonderful 2013 tribute to the multi-talented star by Patt Morrison. RIP: Reiner passed away June 29 at age 98.
He will be a hit in heaven
An award-winning multi-faceted entertainer, filmmaker, author, family man and friend to many, Carl Reiner is remembered for many accomplishments on TV, in movies, on stage and more - but one memory i will always carry was watching him at the Gardenia Super Club in Hollywood where he happily took a supporting role to his wife Estelle who around age 70 found a new career as a chanteuse.
When my wife Jodi and I arrived to see Estelle's highly stylized jazz performance, Carl was at the door greeting guests and helping them find seats. He gushed about how much he loved the way she sang. "She embraces melancholy ballads reminiscent of those Billie Holiday might have performed," reported the Los Angeles Times in 1985, "at another she leans toward Sophie Tucker’s red-hot-mama style. She has drawn heavily from tough, brassy Bessie Smith songs, which often reflect very independent women."
My wife Jodi Taylor with Carl and Estelle Reiner circa 1990s
"Carl acts as the host welcoming numerous celebrity and showbiz pals. "He laughs at his wife’s jokes, greets guests, helps her work the crowd," noted the LA Times article. "He also carries her dress and her music and outfits the stool near the piano with cold water, a rundown of the show and one of his pocket handkerchiefs."
When she sang you could see his eyes locked on her, a loving look on his face, more like a newly wed than someone married for over four decades.
A highlight came when she dedicated her next song to her husband, and then dove into a red-hot version of "Soldier Boy," calling Carl "her soldier boy." They were married in 1943, the same year he was drafted into the Army Air Force during World War II.
It was hard to believe this was the world famous director of hit movies, highly rated TV series, narrator of Grammy-winning albums and numerous books, because that night he was just a husband madly in love and proud to be there for his wife.
People Magazine recently recalled that shortly before his passing, Carl tweeted about Estelle.
"Nothing pleases me more than knowing that I have lived the best life possible by having met & marrying the gifted Estelle (Stella) Lebost---who partnered with me in bringing Rob, Annie & Lucas Reiner into to this needy & evolving world," he wrote.
"Reiner and Lebost – known for her memorable one-liner, “I’ll have what she’s having,” in their son Rob Reiner's 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally — married in 1943," wrote People. "They were together for 64 years, until her death in 2008 at the age of 94. The couple had three children: Rob, Lucas and Annie."
EDITORS NOTE: There are a lot of wonderful bios of Carl Reiner, including his own books and documentaries, but one that stayed with me was written in 2013 by the wonderful Patt Morrison, longtime LA Times columnist, and one of the movers behind the revitalization of the Los Angeles Press Club. What follows is a tribute to Carl Reiner she wrote when he was given The President's Award at the 55th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards. It is re-printed here.
At the journalism awards with Carl Reiner and LA Press Club's dynamic Executive Director Diana Ljungaeus, who posted this 2015 photo June 29 on FaceBook.
Laughter to Last a Lifetime, or Several
How President’s Award Winner Carl Reiner Has Kept Generations in Stitches and Changed the Face of Comedy
By Patt Morrison
It’s a scientific fact that at least 8.4 percent of all the laughs you have ever laughed since you were born have been generated by Carl Reiner. You can look it up. “The New Yorker” ran a cartoon in the 1940s, showing a couple of matrons walking past a movie theatre, and one says to the other, ‘’You know, I saw a movie that didn’t have Ingrid Bergman in it.” Same idea: just try to find a comedy bit in the last 60 years that doesn’t have Carl Rein-er’s fingerprints on it.
First it was on Broadway, where his audiences went home repeating the jokes as well as humming the tunes from the shows he appeared in. Then he made the entire television nation laugh, with “Your Show of Shows” and then “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Mr. Reiner created “The Dick Van Dyke” show, wrote for it, directed it, and of course performed in it, as the rarely seen but comically tyrannical Alan Brady. The man is a media machine. The stage ... television ... and records.
In the ground-breaking “2,000-Year-Old-Man,” he plays the straight-man interviewer to the two-K birthday boy, Mel Brooks. The first of the five records about the miraculously two-millennia-old man was made 52 years ago, which is like 2,000 years in the world of comedy, but it is a timelessly popular bit that aspiring comics will often say is what got them into comedy in the first place. It has never been out of print, and the last album in the series won a Grammy for spoken word performance. A Grammy is an award shaped like a golden gramophone, which the 2,000-year-old man probably bought when it was patented in 1887.
President’s Award Winner Carl Reiner Has Kept Generations in Stitches and Changed the Face of Comedy Laughter to Last a Lifetime, or Several Lifetimes. To this Mr. Reiner has added nine Emmy awards—and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
And then there’s his role of director. Al-though there is no photographic record of him ever donning the jodhpurs and boots getup of Cecil B. DeMille, Mr. Reiner directed 15 movies, whose cast members include George Burns, Lily Tomlin, Ruth Gordon, and his co-writer Steve Martin. Fifteen movies, and all of them talkies— which is only four fewer talkies than DeMille ever directed.
Carl was a comic genius but also an actor who could play a heavy,as he did in three "Oceans" caper movies
He has acted on the big screen in about a dozen films; not content with confining himself to comic roles, Mr. Reiner recently under-took to become the sinister Saul Bloom in the Ocean’s Eleven film series.
As for writing, how many typewriter ribbons has Carl Reiner gone through? He’s credited with more than a half-dozen screenplays, starting with a Doris Day movie, The Thrill of It All. That’s even before he got to the first of his dozen books. The latest is called I Remember Me, and here too he ventures into a new medium. Because I Remember Me is also an e-book that features his home movies in a touch-screen popup.
If you want to see Mel Brooks in swim trunks on the beach on Fire Island, this is your opportunity. To this day, Mr. Reiner and Mr. Brooks can sometimes be found of an evening, sitting on the Reiner sofa, watching television programs which are bound to be less amusing than what these two have to say about them.
Mr. Reiner has been acting ever since Harry Truman was in the White House—and once he actually acted in the White House, for President Eisenhower’s birthday. During the deep-freeze years of the Cold War, in the ballroom of the White House, he gabbled away to the guests in double-talk Russian, which is one of his trademarks—to the great mystification of one of the guests, the president of Mexico.
Where did all this wit, where did all these wits, come from? From the Bronx, where he was born—such a funny word, Bronx. From parents who loved music and humor, and kept a radio to make sure it had both. From a father whose sangfroid allowed him to drill and fill his own tooth. From the United States Army, which, in its infallibility, trained him to be a French translator and then sent him to Hawaii. And from his three children and his adored Estelle, his ukulele-playing, still-life-painting, nightclub-singing, movie-scene-stealing wife. Of her, he wrote after she died, “I think I became a writer because of my need to tell Estelle who and what I cared about, what bugged me and what I found funny.”
Imagine how crammed his wallet must be, full of membership cards from just about every guild in Hollywood. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was put there 53 years ago, in the original batch ever installed. And it is, fittingly, right next to that of another renowned American humorist, Will Rogers. Are you getting the drift? There is no stopping this man. And if there’s an award for best comic tweet, he’ll wind up winning that too – although who would ever want to limit Carl Reiner to just 140 characters?