The ten decades of Carl Reiner

The co­me­dian, writer and di­rec­tor has died, aged 98. We pick one high­light from each decade of an in­cred­i­ble life

Empire (Australasia) - - PREVIEW - IAN NATHAN


As a Jewish boy raised in the Bronx, New York, Reiner’s com­edy ca­reer started early: he pre­tended to read prayers at syn­a­gogue, in what he called “dou­ble-talk He­brew” — es­sen­tially, gib­ber­ish. “I was then, and still am, a He­brew il­lit­er­ate,” he wrote in the

2013 mem­oir I Re­mem­ber Me.


As a young ac­tor em­bark­ing on the abun­dant ag­o­nies of au­di­tion­ing, Reiner botched one such ef­fort by boldly de­liv­er­ing the stage di­rec­tions as if they were di­a­logue (at least, ac­cord­ing to Reiner’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal-ish 1958 novel, En­ter Laugh­ing).


Dur­ing World War II, Reiner talked his way into the Spe­cial Ser­vices at a pro­duc­tion of Ham­let and toured re­vues in the South Pa­cific; as he later re­counted on the Co­nan O’brien show, troops would throw pa­payas if they didn’t like the act.


Reiner met fel­low Jewish co­me­dian Mel Brooks (be­low, with Reiner in 1966) while both worked on Sid Cae­sar’s Your Show Of Shows — the start of a 70-year friend­ship. “I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’” Reiner re­called to The Guardian of their first meet­ing. “This guy is the fun­ni­est sin­gle hu­man be­ing on the planet.”


Reiner of­ten found his muse in the mir­ror. The Dick Van Dyke Show re­plays his life as a tele­vi­sion writer, only to be­come a sen­sa­tion af­ter they re­cast the lead. It was the per­fect joke

— Reiner mis­cast as him­self.


Grad­u­at­ing into a Hol­ly­wood player, Reiner di­rected Oh, God!, which had Ge­orge Burns as a cigar­chomp­ing de­ity on Earth — a typ­i­cally sub­ver­sive act from a de­vout athe­ist. “It’s hard for me to be­lieve in God af­ter the Holo­caust,” Reiner snarked. “He’s ei­ther not lis­ten­ing or he’s very busy mak­ing flow­ers.”


Nur­tur­ing Steve Martin’s an­tic gifts across a quar­tet of hits, he was the foil be­hind the cam­era — most bril­liantly in shadow-kissed noir par­ody Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Reiner’s East Coast dis­dain for Hol­ly­wood frip­pery is in full swing — Martin ‘shares’ scenes with cin­e­matic roy­alty, us­ing archive footage.


Thirty-seven years af­ter En­ter Laugh­ing, Reiner wrote an aut­ofic­tion se­quel. Con­tinue Laugh­ing picks up where the last book left off, fol­low­ing a Reiner-es­que as­pir­ing ac­tor tour­ing the Deep South with a the­atre com­pany — a “Jew from the North” in “the land of the Gen­tiles...catholics, blondes, and cru­ci­fixes ev­ery­where”.


Weary of be­ing be­hind the cam­era, Reiner stole the Ocean’s se­ries as slip­pery old goat Saul Bloom. He got the role days be­fore film­ing started, af­ter pro­ducer Jerry Wein­traub (his for­mer col­league from Oh, God!) called him up.


Reiner be­came a pro­lific nona­ge­nar­ian tweeter. “I can­not go to bed un­less I do an anti-trump tweet,” Reiner once said. His Twit­ter ac­count was a mix of right­eous furies and touch­ing wis­dom; three days be­fore his death, he wrote: “Noth­ing pleases me more than know­ing that I have lived the best life pos­si­ble.”

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