Larry Gelbart, one of the most acclaimed and prodigiously productive writers of almost seven decades died this week at age 81. If you’ve laughed since the 1940’s, you almost certainly know his work. He got started as a teenager writing for Danny Thomas’ radio show and went on to work with Neil Simon, Woody Allen, and Mel Brooks on the legendary writing staff of the Sid Caesar show. He went on to co-create the television version of “M*A*S*H,” to co-write the script for “Tootsie,” and to write the Broadway hits “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (made into a movie with Zero Mostel) and “City of Angels” (now being adapted into a film).
And as this lovely tribute by Bob Elisberg notes, he was also a man of great principle and kindness.
There may have been more renowned writers in a single medium, but his versatility was breathtaking, and so he may have been the most successful and best writer ever in America who wrote in all three major media — the theater, movies and television.
Be sure to read Elisberg’s piece, especially the quote at the end from Gelbart about being a writer.
Here is Gelbart, talking about how television has changed society and how he’d like to be remembered.
Here is my favorite scene from “Tootsie” (second on the American Film Institute’s list of the hundred funniest American films of all time).
And here is the trailer for the hilarious “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
NPR’s Scott Simon also has a fine essay about Gelbart, describing him as “a great wit, who wrote with great heart.” It’s good to know that we still have another movie from him to look forward to.