In a way, this is another case of “get to the parent first.” Lord knows his career isn’t perfect, but I do want to get to Rob Reiner at some point. More importantly, though, I’ve been doing a lot of considerably younger people lately, and I’d like to spend this month paying tribute to people who are at least eighty. This is, I’ll be blunt, informed by the fact that I’d intended to be writing about Harry Dean Stanton today, and he died before that could happen. But there is also the fact that Carl Reiner has a career going back to at least 1948. He has nine primetime Emmys, from 1957 to 1995. He has a Grammy. He even has three movies listed as in production, and he’s ninety-five.
Believe it or not, his first experience with theatre was putting on Molière in French while in language training for the Army. And in fact it was the Army that first saw his talent and sent him around the Pacific theatre as an entertainer. From there, Broadway. Your Show of Shows. Teaming with Mel Brooks. The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! The Dick Van Dyke Show. Dozens of other things, including several episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. He’s had a long, fascinating career.
On the other hand, one of the best things he gave us was not being someone the network saw in a role, because the fact that they didn’t like him in a show he was developing called Head of the Family is why we have The Dick Van Dyke Show—and also let us have Reiner as Alan Brady, which was sheer delight. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and seek out the clip where he talks to Laura Petrie after she’s spilled the beans to the public that he wears a toupee. It’s not one of the most celebrated moments of the show, but it’s enormously funny.
With few exceptions, Reiner hasn’t tried drama. The Army may have had him doing Molière and Hamlet, but he seems to be much more interested in Summer School and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. And I’m okay with that. It seems as though the way to get people to really care about you as a performer is to show that you can Also Do Drama. And goodness knows there are some great comic actors who are also great at drama. But comedy isn’t easy, and if you’re as good at it as Reiner, why bother showing you can do other things?
Yes, he’s done one thing that I’ve seen and hate—he wrote and appeared in The Thrill of It All, a horrifically anti-feminist “comedy” starring James Garner and Doris Day. It’s one of the worst movies we saw in The Only Film Class I’ve Ever Taken. Mostly, though, he’s done very little I’ve even seen and not cared for, and I adore The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and will have to remember to submit it for Tradefest one of these months. His hysteria is delightful, and there is little funnier than watching him try to ride a child’s bicycle.
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