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Carl Reiner, beloved creator of ‘Dick Van Dyke Show,’ has died

Mike Stewart
Associated Press

New York – Carl Reiner, the ingenious and versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a “second banana” to Sid Caesar and rose to comedy’s front ranks as creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and straight man to Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man,” has died. He was 98.

Reiner’s assistant Judy Nagy said he died Monday night of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, California.

In this Oct. 15, 1993 file photo, writer-comedian and film director Carl Reiner appears after an interview in New York.

One of show business’ best liked men, the tall, bald Reiner was a welcome face on the small and silver screens, in Caesar’s 1950s troupe, as the snarling, toupee-wearing Alan Brady of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and in such films as “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

In recent years, he was part of the roguish gang in the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies starring George Clooney and appeared in documentaries including “Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age” and “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”

Carl Reiner and Brad Pitt share a scene in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven."

Tributes poured in online, including from Steve Martin, who said: “Goodbye to my greatest mentor in movies and in life. Thank you, dear Carl. Actor Josh Gad called Reiner “one of the greatest comedic minds of all time” and Sarah Silverman said ”his humanity was beyond compare.” Actor Alan Alda tweeted “His talent will live on for a long time, but the loss of his kindness and decency leaves a hole in our hearts.”  Billy Crystal added “all of us in comedy have lost a giant.”

Guest speaker Billy Crystal, left, hugs Carl Reiner during a hand and footprint ceremony for the Reiners at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Friday, April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles.

Films Reiner directed included “Oh, God!” starring George Burns and John Denver; “All of Me,” with Martin and Lily Tomlin; and the 1970 comedy “Where’s Poppa?” He was especially proud of his books, including “Enter Laughing,” an autobiographical novel later adapted into a film and Broadway show; and “My Anecdotal Life,” a memoir published in 2003. He recounted his childhood and creative journey in the 2013 book, “I Remember Me.”

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" writer Bill Persky, producer Carl Reiner, actress Mary Tyler Moore, actor Dick Van Dyke, and writer Sam Denoff display Emmy awards in 1966. Reiner got his Emmy for producing the winning series.

But many remember Reiner for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the most popular TV series of all time and a model of ensemble playing, physical comedy and timeless, good-natured wit. It starred Van Dyke as a television comedy writer working for a demanding, eccentric boss (Reiner) and living with his wife (Mary Tyler Moore in her first major TV role) and son.

“The Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments because that was very, very personal,” Reiner once said. “It was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar show.”

Actress Lily Tomlin and honoree Carl Reiner speak onstage at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Presents: "An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner" on October 13, 2011 in North Hollywood.

The pilot, written by Reiner, starred himself as Rob Petrie, and aired in July 1960. When the show was reworked (CBS executives worried Reiner would make the lead character seem too Jewish), Van Dyke was cast and the program ran from 1961 to 1966. One famous fan, Orson Welles, was known for rushing to his bedroom in the afternoon so he could be near a TV when the show was on.

“Although it was a collaborative effort,″ Van Dyke later wrote, ”everything about the show stemmed from his (Reiner’s) endlessly and enviably fascinating, funny, and fertile brain and trickled down to the rest of us.”

The story line had Petrie as the head writer for “The Alan Brady Show,” a comedy-variety series not unlike “Your Show of Shows,” in which Reiner, as Brady, was the egocentric star. Petrie’s fellow writers were character actors Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell and Rose Marie as Sally Rogers.

In this April 15, 1958, file photo, writer Carl Reiner and actress Polly Bergen pose with their statuettes at the Emmy Awards presentations in New York.  Reiner won for best continuing supporting performance by an actor in a dramatic or comedy series for "Caesar's Hour."

It was an early parody of the Caesar show, which would later be dramatized in the film “My Favorite Year” and Neil Simon’s play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

Besides acting in and producing the “Van Dyke” series, Reiner wrote or co-wrote dozens of episodes. Although the show was the very best of good clean fun, it wasn’t clean enough for network censors. Reiner often battled network officials over the sleeping arrangements of Rob and his wife; the Petries slept in twin beds. He wanted them to sleep in a double bed.

Reiner had joined the classic comedy revue “Your Show of Shows” in 1950 after performing in Broadway plays. Much of Reiner’s early work came as a “second banana” – although, as Caesar once put it, “Such bananas don’t grow on trees.” He performed in sketches – satirizing everything from foreign films to rock ‘n’ roll – and added his talents to a writing team that included Brooks, Simon, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart.

“As second banana,” he told TV Guide, “I had a chance to do just about everything a performer can ever get to do. If it came off well, I got all the applause. If it didn’t, the show was blamed.”

It was during the “Show of Shows” years that Reiner and Brooks started improvising skits which became the basis for “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Reiner was the interviewer, Brooks the old man and witness to history.

Entertainer Mel Brooks, left, gets a kiss from filmmaker Carl Reiner during his Hand and Footprint ceremony on the 40th anniversary of the movie "Young Frankenstein," in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood section of Los Angeles Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.

Reiner: “Did you know Jesus?”

Brooks: “I knew Christ, Christ was a thin lad, always wore sandals. Hung around with 12 other guys. They came in the store, no one ever bought anything. Once they asked for water.”

After the pair performed the routine at a party, Reiner said Steve Allen insisted they turn their banter into a record. The album, “2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks,” appeared in 1960 and was the start of a million-selling franchise.

The duo won a Grammy in 1998 for their “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000” and Reiner won multiple Emmys for his television work. In 2000, he received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor. When the sound system failed at the start of the ceremonies, Reiner called from the balcony, “Does anybody have four double-A batteries?”

Besides “All of Me,” Reiner directed Martin in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “The Man With Two Brains” and “The Jerk.”

Carl Reiner, left, gets a kiss from his son Rob Reiner as they address the crowd during a hand and footprint ceremony on Friday, April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles.

Reiner is the father of actor-director Rob Reiner. The younger Reiner starred as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law on “All in the Family,” and directed “When Harry Met Sally …” and “The Princess Bride.” Rob Reiner said in a tweet Tuesday that his “heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.”

Carl Reiner was born in 1922, in New York City’s borough of the Bronx, one of two sons of Jewish immigrants. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood, where he learned to mimic voices and tell jokes. After high school, Reiner attended drama school, then joined a small theater group.

During World War II, Reiner joined the Army and toured in GI variety shows for a year and a half. Back out of uniform, he landed several stage roles, breaking through on Broadway in “Call Me Mister.”

He married his wife, Estelle, in 1943. Besides son Rob, the couple had another son, Lucas, a film director, and a daughter, Sylvia, a psychoanalyst and author. Estelle Reiner, who died in 2008, had a small role in Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…” – as the woman who overhears Meg Ryan’s in a restaurant and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Carl Reiner and his daughter Annie Reiner attend the LA Premiere of "If You're Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in Beverly Hills.

His greatest disappointment was “Bert Rigby, You’re a Fool,” a 1989 musical he wrote and directed that starred Robert Lindsay, a British actor Reiner believed could be a new Dick Van Dyke. The film flopped, and Reiner’s career as a director faded.

Reiner, inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame, remained involved in other entertainment projects. In the 1990s, he reprised the Alan Brady character for an episode of “Mad About You.”

His death was first reported Tuesday by celebrity website TMZ.

In this May 25, 1967 file photo writer-comedian Carl Reiner poses in his new hairpiece in Los Angeles.

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AP National Writer Hillel Italie and Entertainment Writer Mark Kennedy contributed to this story.