Carl Reiner Biography

Author, Television Actor, Director, Actor (1922–)
Carl Reiner created, wrote and produced The Dick Van Dyke Show. It was based on his experience as a television writer for Your Show of Shows.


Carl Reiner was born on March 20, 1922, in the Bronx, New York. He served with an entertainment unit during World War II and entered television in 1949. He worked on what would become Your Show of Shows, where he acted and wrote comedy with Mel Brooks. In 1961, he developed the sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show and occasionally appeared as the character Alan Brady. He also directed films and wrote novels.

Early Career

Actor, director and writer Carl Reiner was born on March 20, 1922, in the Bronx, New York. Reiner is one of the greatest creative talents in American comedy. Growing up in the Bronx, he was the son of a watchmaker and a housewife. A shy child, he dreamed of becoming an actor. His older brother encouraged him to take a free acting class at a dramatic school run by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. This led to him joining Paul Gilmore's theater company at the Daily Theater at the age of 17.

During World War II, Reiner served in the military. Initially trained as a radio operator, he later studied at Georgetown University to become a French translator. Reiner, after a stint as a teletype operator, joined an entertainment unit and toured the Pacific performing for his fellow servicemen. After the war ended, Reiner spent time honing his chops as a stand-up comedian at a resort in New Hampshire. He then toured with the national company for the Broadway show Call Me Mister. In 1948, Reiner made his Broadway debut in Inside U.S.A., a musical revue.

'Your Show of Shows'

Reiner landed his first job in television in 1949, performing on the Admiral Broadway Revue, which starred the unpredictable comedian Sid Caesar. The program evolved into Your Show of Shows the next year. Your Show of Shows showcased the talents of Caesar and Imogene Coca. During the show, Reiner played a variety of characters, including several slick salesman parts as well as frequently serving as Caesar's straight man and sidekick. The show was a precursor to today's Saturday Night Live, a 90-minute live comedy program. While serving a featured actor on the show, Reiner also worked with the show's writers, including Neil Simon and Mel Brooks.

In the early days of the show, Reiner and Brooks developed a routine known as the 2000 year old man, which they performed at parties and other events. The whole bit, according to Publisher's Weekly, started after Reiner asked Brooks, "Here's a man who was actually at the scene of the crucifixion 2,000 years ago. Isn't that true, sir?" And Brooks just started ad-libbing from there. Steve Allen helped the duo record a hit comedy album of the routine in 1960.

During Your Show of Shows's final year, Reiner received an Emmy Award nomination for Best Series Supporting Actor in 1954. He continued performing with Caesar on his next project, Caesar's Hour. Featuring comedy sketches and music, one of the show's most famous recurring sketches involved Caesar, Reiner and Howard Morris (another alumnus from Your Show of Shows) as suburban commuters on a train. For his work on the show, he received three Emmy Award nominations and won twice, in 1957 and in 1958.

Sitcom Writer

Using his own experiences as a television writer, Reiner began developing a sitcom. Originally he was to be the show's star. A pilot for the series, then known as Head of the Family, was shot. But it was later reworked with Dick Van Dyke as its star. The Dick Van Dyke Show premiered in the fall of 1961 and its popularity grew steadily, developing into a big hit. Van Dyke played Rob Petrie as a writer who works on a sitcom called The Alan Brady Show with fellow comedy writers Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Maurice "Buddy" Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam). Only 23 years old when the show began, Mary Tyler Moore played his wife, Laura. Reiner also appeared as Alan Brady, the cavalier comedy star. Some may have thought that his character was based on Sid Caesar, but Reiner told Daily Variety, "Alan Brady was a composite of Milton Berle, Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason, who never spoke to [their] writers."

Behind the scenes, Reiner wrote most of the episodes and heavily edited the others. He also served as a producer on the show. All of his efforts paid off, winning three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy and Variety consequently from 1962 to 1965. Reiner scored two more Emmy Awards as a producer when the show was recognized as Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment in 1965 and as Outstanding Comedy Series in 1966.

Film Career

Looking to go out on a high note, Reiner decided to end the show in 1966. The following year, he made his film directorial debut with Enter Laughing (1967), which was based on his 1958 semi-autobiographical novel by the same title. Already been adapted for the stage by Joseph Stein in the mid-1960s, Stein and Reiner co-wrote the screenplay for the film version. The story revolved around a young actor's start in show business.

In the 1970s, Reiner directed more films, most notably the box office hit as Oh, God! (1977) with comedian George Burns as the title character. He also worked with Steve Martin on several successful projects. Their first film together was the over-the-top comedy The Jerk (1979) in which Martin played a poor, simple-minded cat-juggling man who goes from rags to riches to rags again. Another box office hit for the duo was the supernatural All of Me (1984). In this romantic comedy, Martin played a lawyer with a dying client (Lily Tomlin) who tries to have her soul transferred to another woman. The transfer went wrong and her soul actually ends up in the body of Martin's character.

Later Work

Applying his comic talents to the printed page, Reiner published his second novel, All Kinds of Love in 1993. This was soon followed by Continue Laughing (1995). In 1997, Reiner and Mel Brooks teamed up to revisit their 2000 Year Old Man routine. The result was the book, The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000, and a recording by the same title, which won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Comedy Album.

Resurrecting his character from The Dick Van Dyke Show, Reiner won an Emmy Award for his guest appearance as Alan Brady on the popular sitcom Mad About You with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in 1995. Five years later, he scored another Emmy Award nod for his guest appearance on Beggars and Choosers, a Showtime cable network comedy series. More recently, he has appeared in the remake of the Rat Pack classic, Ocean's Eleven (2001), with George Clooney taking over the role of ex-con Danny Ocean, played by Frank Sinatra in the original. His character leads a gang of cool criminals to pull off a heist in Las Vegas. Reiner played Saul Bloom, a retired crook who gets drawn into the gang's action. He reprised his role in the film's two sequels, Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007).

Reiner again revived Alan Brady for a 2004 television special, The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, which brought together the surviving cast members of the original show. Around this time, he branched out into writing children's books. Tell Me a Scary Story—But Not Too Scary! was published in 2003. Teaming up with Mel Brooks, Reiner co-authored The 2000 Year Old Man Goes to School in 2005. His most recent work is a humorous novel entitled NNNNN (2006).


In addition to his Emmy Awards, Reiner has received numerous accolades during his nearly six decades in entertainment. He has been inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and received the Mark Twain Prize for American humor in 2000. In 2007, Reiner was made an honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America.

Reiner's wife, Estelle passed away in 2008. They were married since 1943 and have three children, Rob, Annie and Lucas. His son, Rob Reiner, is a well-known actor and director.

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