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Thread: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

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    Member redsfandan's Avatar
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    `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81
    By CHRISTY LEMIRE, Associated Press Writer Christy Lemire, Associated Press Writer
    2 hrs 5 mins ago

    LOS ANGELES – Larry Gelbart, the award-winning writer whose sly, sardonic wit helped create such hits as Broadway's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," the films "Tootsie" and "Oh, God!" and television's "M-A-S-H," is dead.

    Gelbart died at his Beverly Hills home Friday morning after a long battle with cancer, said Creative Artists Agency, which represented him. He was 81.

    His wife of 53 years, Pat Gelbart, told The Associated Press Friday that after being married for so long, "we finished each other's sentences." She declined to specify the type of cancer he had.

    "It wasn't a surprise. He had cancer, we've known that. We didn't know what the outcome would be, the result, whatever. And so here we are and we were sort of prepared for this," she said. "It's enough to be able to be resourceful and go forward."

    Gelbart, who won a Tony for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," an Emmy for "M-A-S-H" and was nominated for two Oscars, is most likely best remembered for the long-running TV show about Army doctors during the Korean War.

    Carl Reiner, his longtime friend and colleague, called Gelbart "the Jonathan Swift of our day."

    "It's a great, great, great, great, great, great loss. You can't put enough `greats' in front of it," said Reiner, who directed "Oh, God!" from Gelbart's Oscar-nominated script. "The mores of our time were never more dissected and discussed. He had the ability to make an elaborate joke given nothing but one line."

    "M-A-S-H" debuted on CBS in 1972, when the nation was still embroiled in the Vietnam War, and some viewers were initially puzzled or offended by its depiction of the cynical, wisecracking physicians who worked frantically to save the lives of soldiers.

    By its second season it had caught on, however, and it remained one of television's top-10 rated shows for a decade, until its final episode in 1983. Along the way, it won numerous awards including the Emmy for best comedy series.

    "What attracted me to `M-A-S-H' was the theme song, `Suicide is Painless,'" Gelbart once remarked. "It was written in a very minor key and appealed to me emotionally."

    The show, based on a book and the 1970 Robert Altman film of the same name, starred Alan Alda. Gelbart was brought into the project by producer-director Gene Reynolds who worked with him shaping the show.

    After writing 97 half-hour episodes and winning an Emmy, Gelbart quit during the show's fourth season, saying he was "totally worn out."

    But Pat Gelbart recalled the fondness with which people in the industry regarded him.

    "Strangely enough, the thing that transpired in his rise to success was that everybody he worked with — co-writers, producers, actors, actresses — had nothing but a good word to say about him. He was never considered anything but reasonable, considerate, and never did anything untoward," she said. "I thought that was a singular kind of wonderful and most rare part of him. He didn't try to be a goody two-shoes. He just had that kind of character."

    His entry into the entertainment business 30 years before had been worthy of a TV script itself.

    Gelbart's father was a Los Angeles barber with a clientele of Hollywood notables, including Danny Thomas. While cutting Thomas' hair one day, he bragged of his 16-year-old son's writing ability and the comedian asked to see some of his work. Soon Thomas had hired Gelbart to write for his radio show.

    "A comedy prodigy does not exist. A kid can make other kids laugh, but to make adults laugh with sophisticated humor at that age, it's not heard of," Reiner said Friday. "He had an unerring ear and eye for humor. He had a funny mother, which helps, and a father who loved jokes."

    He went on to write gags for Bob Hope, Jack Paar, Red Buttons, Jack Carson, Eddie Cantor and Joan Davis. In 1953 he accepted Sid Caesar's offer of $1,000 a week to work for "Caesar's Hour," joining a legendary writing team that included Reiner, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon.

    "He's the fastest of the fast, the wittiest man in the business," Brooks once said of him.

    Deciding to expand his horizons, Gelbart also co-authored a revue, "My L.A.," which was a local hit in 1948.

    His first foray to Broadway was far less successful. His 1961 play, "The Conquering Hero" closed after seven performances.

    His next Broadway show, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," written with Burt Shevelove, enjoyed a far better fate the following year. Based loosely on the Roman plays of Plautus with songs by Stephen Sondheim, the show was a runaway hit, resulting in road companies and a 1966 movie with Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers.

    After the play's success, Gelbart decided to move with his wife and five children to England, quipping that he wanted "to escape religious freedom in America."

    They remained there for nine years, and his only notable work during that time was a script, written with Shevelove, for the 1966 black comedy, "The Wrong Box."

    By the time he returned to Hollywood, however, he had a broader view of the world that he said helped him tackle "M-A-S-H."

    "I make jokes all the time," Gelbart once said of his penchant for comedy. "It's a tic — a way of making myself comfortable. I can't imagine not having humor to lean on."

    Gelbart also returned to the theater with "Sly Fox," which transformed Ben Jonson's Elizabethan "Volpone" to Gold Rush San Francisco. Starring George C. Scott as the devious miser, it was a solid success.

    "Mastergate," a scathing treatment of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, flopped in 1989, but Gelbart scored the same year with "City of Angels," a musical spoof of Hollywood movies and crime novels.

    His films "Oh, God!" with George Burns as a philosophical deity, and "Tootsie," with Dustin Hoffman as a cross-dressing actor, both brought him Academy Award nominations, and the HBO movie "Barbarians at the Gate," about Wall Street chicanery, brought another Emmy.

    Larry Simon Gelbart was born in Chicago, moving to Los Angeles while in high school.

    He married singer and actress Pat Marshall in 1956 and they raised their two children, Becky and Adam, and her three by a previous marriage, Cathy, Gary and Paul. Cathy died of cancer at age 50.
    __
    AP writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.
    "Now that's a real shame when folks be throwin' away a perfectly good white boy like that."

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    Member ochre's Avatar
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    Re: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    By my, admittedly rough, "they go in threes/six degrees of seperation" calculations, you and I are two of last dozen or so people alive redsfandan.
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    Re: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    I was a fan of MASH and I thought it got fairly contrived towards its end. This isn't to drift the thread off towards a "jumped the shark" conversation, but rather to point out that Gelbart was a great comedy writer. He was nominated, as the article notes, for two Oscars (Oh, God! and Tootsie).

    He cut his teeth on the brilliant "Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca with fellow comedy writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen and Neil Simon, perhaps the TV equivalent of the 1927 Yankees.
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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    NPR's Scott Simon with this essay on Larry Gelbart:

    Larry Gelbart was a great wit, who wrote with great heart. I don't want to dampen laughs by saying that he wrote classics. He wrote gags, one-liners, plays, sitcoms and films.

    He co-wrote the 1982 film, Tootsie, a classic comedy, and said of its star, Dustin Hoffman, with whom he reportedly had "creative differences," "Never work with an Oscar winner who is shorter than the statue."

    Larry Gelbart's father was a Chicago barber, who once cut Danny Thomas' hair, and handed Thomas an envelope with some jokes written by Larry. They made Danny Thomas laugh, and he hired Larry Gelbart — who was all of 16 — to write jokes for his radio show. In the 1950s, Larry Gelbart found a seat in what was probably the most famous hothouse in which comedy has ever grown: the Writer's Room of the Sid Caesar show, alongside Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Carl Reiner, who would go on to create their own classics.

    TV "was a pristine medium" then, Larry Gelbart told the Sunday Times of London. "There were no footprints in the snow. You weren't worried about doing something that somebody else had done the night before, because there was no night before."

    He co-wrote the Broadway musical, Conquering Hero, which closed after just seven performances. But he managed to immortalize his flop by saying, as they struggled through tryouts of the musical in Philadelphia, "If Hitler's alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical."

    A classic line; one constantly quoted by his friend, Mel Brooks, who went on to write The Producers, which famously features a lunatic musical built around Adolph Hitler.

    Larry Gelbart had much more success when he wrote the book for Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in 1962, which brought Borscht Belt humor to ancient Rome, and it was a great fit. He moved to London then, "to escape religious freedom in America," he joked, but got called back in the '70s to help create M*A*S*H, the classic TV series that ran longer than the war in which it was set.

    After all those successes, the barber's son didn't need to work, at least for money. "I need to write to find out what I'm thinking," Larry Gelbart said. "I've been doing it professionally almost 60 years, so if I don't like it I've wasted a lifetime... . I work on several things at once, then I'm never finished."

    Larry Gelbart got cancer last year. But in December, when spurious reports winged around the Web that he had died of a massive stroke, he once again wrote his way out of pain with a one-liner.

    Larry Gelbart sent an e-mail to friends that asked: "Does that mean I can stop exercising?"
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    My clutch is broken RichRed's Avatar
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    Re: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    Those early years of M*A*S*H, when Gelbart was involved, had some of the funniest writing in TV history. I can still watch the reruns over and over.

    RIP.
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    Re: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    Quote Originally Posted by RichRed View Post
    Those early years of M*A*S*H, when Gelbart was involved, had some of the funniest writing in TV history. I can still watch the reruns over and over.

    RIP.
    I can still quote some of the one liners. I'm still waiting for someone at work to boast that they can find anything...
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    Re: `M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81

    One can tell how great and memorable a series was when you can quote so many one-liners.

    One of my best all-time series. I still watch it nightly on Hallmark channel. I have the first 3 years on DVD, with the original cast; but I still enjoyed it in the later years. Charles not so much, but I liked Henry Morgan's portrayal of Col. Potter.
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