Carl Reiner, the veteran comedy actor, writer, director and producer who created the classic sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and played second banana to Sid Caesar and straight man to Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, died Monday evening. He was 98.
The Associated Press reported his death Tuesday morning, citing his assistant Judy Nagy, who said Reiner died of natural causes at his Beverly Hills home.
The Bronx-born Reiner worked in a machine shop after high school as he took free acting classes sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. He made $1 a week for his first paid acting gig but had to promise not to brag about his good fortune to the other cast members at a Manhattan theater.
He first came to national attention in the 1950s on Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” where he wrote alongside Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and other comedy legends. He remained lifelong friends with Brooks; in their later years, the two often shared dinner and a movie at Reiner’s Beverly Hills home.
Reiner was the foil for the zany Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man,” an enduring routine they spontaneously devised during a slow time in the writers’ room at “Your Show of Shows.”
On “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which ran from 1961-66, Reiner occasionally played the egomaniacal Alan Brady, star of the TV show whose writing staff was headed by the show’s main character, Rob Petrie. In a pilot, Reiner played the lead role — which he loosely modeled on himself — but later concluded that Van Dyke would be a better fit.
Reiner told The Times in 1993: “‘The Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments because that was very, very personal, the most personal thing I’ve done. Because it was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar Show. All those other things have just been entertainments. I was a man for hire.”
The films Reiner directed include: “The Comic” (1969), starring Van Dyke; “Where’s Poppa?” (1970), starring George Segal and Ruth Gordon; “Oh, God!” starring George Burns and John Denver; and four films starring Steve Martin — “The Jerk” (1979), “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982), “The Man With Two Brains” (1983) and “All of Me” (1984). The last film he directed was 1997’s “That Old Feeling,” with Bette Midler and Dennis Farina.
Reiner was active on social media until the day he died. On June 29, he tweeted a rebuke of President Trump: “As I arose at 7:30 this morning, I was saddened to relive the day that led up to the election of a bankrupted and corrupt businessman who had no qualifications to be the leader of any country in the civilized world...”
Reiner’s son and fellow filmmaker Rob Reiner once said of his father: “His main thrust in life is making other people happy and keeping the world which he inhabits moving. He’s what they used to call in the Catskills a tummler — somebody who keeps people engaged and stimulated. He always gets a sense of the room he’s in and expresses what’s on everybody’s mind.”
The critic Pauline Kael “once wrote that she’s not sure if I’m a serious filmmaker or not,” Carl Reiner once recalled in an interview. “So I assured her: I’m not.”
McLellan and Chawkins are former Times staff writers.