CARL REINER, TV PIONEER TURNED AMERICA’S GRANDPA, DEAD AT 98
Carl Reiner was America’s Grandpa. America’s hilarious, pioneering, brilliant, lovely, kind and wonderful grandpa.
Mr. Reiner, who died Monday night at the age of 98 in his Beverly Hills home, was a comedian, an actor, a director, a writer and a mentor to generations of young talents. He was one of the founding fathers of American television, from his writing and performing on the groundbreaking “Your Show of Shows” in the early 1950s to his creation of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which set the tone for so many TV-programs-about-TV-programs, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “Murphy Brown” to “The Larry Sanders Show” to “30 Rock.”
As a commercial filmmaker with a light and sure comedic touch, Reiner helmed hits such as “Oh, God” (1977), “The Jerk” (1979) and “All of Me” (1984). He was a brilliant presence in the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy and lent his warm and friendly voice to films such as “Toy Story 4” and TV shows such as “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”
The man who emerged as a show business presence in an era when there were 48 states and most families could only dream about owning a television went on to embrace 21st century technology. Reiner was an active and lively presence on social media until the last day of his life, posting thousands of messages to his 367,000-plus followers on a Twitter account he started in 2012 to keep up with his grandson Jake.
Just three days ago, Reiner’s talent agent, George Shapiro, tweeted a photo of Reiner, longtime friend Mel Brooks and Reiner’s daughter Annie all wearing “BLACK LIVES MATTER” T-shirts along with the caption, “My Heroes.”
A tribute in Variety featured some of Reiner’s most memorable tweets, which were often targeted at President Trump, e.g., “Enjoyed eating breakfast but not nearly as much as reading your reactions to my Thursday Tweet that had master grammarian Donald Trump excited about our citizens urging him to ‘RESIGN’ as president, when they were actually urging him to ‘RESIGN!’ ” In a more personal Tweet, Mr. Reiner mused, “Is it because I’m Jewish I feel guilty if I don’t come up with a daily tweet? Do Gentiles have similar guilt about their Twitter neglect.”
Classic American Grandpa.
In a Tuesday morning tweet, Mr. Reiner’s son, the actor-filmmaker-activist Rob Reiner, wrote: “Last night my dad passed away. As I write this my heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.”
(Mr. Reiner’s wife, Estelle, whom he married in 1943, died in 2008. She delivered one of the most famous one-liners in movie history as the woman in the deli who said, “I’ll have what she’s having,” in Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…”)
One of my favorite episodes in Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” features Seinfeld, Reiner and Mel Brooks preparing and enjoying a meal at Reiner’s home, which features twin TV tray tables for the old-time legends. Brooks (wearing a “Young Frankenstein” hoodie) spoons his soup and tells one of the oldest jokes ever (the punchline is, “I make a living”), and the boys have a meal of sandwiches and beer as Carl putters about the living room before settling into his comfy chair, tucking his napkin into his collar because that’s what you do when you’re in your 90s. Seinfeld is in his glory, and we vicariously share that feeling.
And then there’s that finale in “Ocean’s Eleven,” when the gang gathers at the Bellagio Fountain and the camera pans across the faces of relatively young actors such as Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt — and there’s Carl Reiner, a sprightly 79 at the time, sporting the kind of fishing hat that only works when you’re that age, and he gives a little nod to Pitt, and one by one the team exits, until it’s just Mr. Reiner, who finally walks away just before the Bellagio fountain waterworks begin.
We were so lucky to have him for nearly two more decades after that.