It was a night to celebrate Carl Reiner and his nearly 60 years on the cutting edge of American comedy. The occasion: the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Humor Award, taped for later broadcast on PBS.
Reiner's talents are legendary. Why, just ask Steve Martin what's the first thing that comes to mind when he hears the words Carl Reiner: "Carl and Reiner."
But, seriously, say his name and people do light up.
His career really started when he was 17, when he was working in a machine shop as a helper in a hat factory. His brother read in the newspaper about a free drama class, which was part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Work Progress Administration.
"If it wasn't for Franklin Roosevelt and my brother," Reiner said, "I wouldn't be here talking to you."
From that moment, Reiner became an actor, and a writer, and a producer, and a director.
"Some directors," says Steve Martin, "give you advice,...like, 'You're in love with this woman....' But Carl stopped, walked over, and said,...'Funny it up.'"
Through the years, Reiner did it all, and he did it all very well. But television is where Reiner really made his name. It all began back in 1950, when Your Show of Shows hit the airwaves. It quickly became one of television's successful and funniest shows ever.
Then, based on his own experiences as a TV writer, Reiner produced, wrote and acted in The Dick Van Dyke Show, which is a model of the modern sitcom. It made household names out of Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.
"Everything was relationships. Everything was situations," recalls Van Dyke. "He was never cynical or mean....Everything affected him. He saw what was funny about it, but it was nice, you know....I think Carl could have been a psychiatrist. He is such a student of human nature."
Moore remembers a lot of laughter on the set of the series and gives Reiner credit for teaching her "how to be funny, how to get a laugh, how to get a bigger laugh. He was my confessor. He never would stand for any silence about an issue that was unresolved. He always forced you to bring it out in the open. So there was never any secret hostility on the set. If anyone had a problem, by God, you sat and talked about it, and you laughed about it. But you got it out."
You can't talk about Reiner and not talk about Mel Brooks. Together, they created what is now their life-long comedy duet: the interviews with the 2000-year-old man. It began as an inside joke, when they were both young writers. Sometimes, Reiner simply would turn to Brooks and start interviewing him as if he were a 2000-year-old man, or a pirate, or a sailor. "And we laughed for 10 years," says Reiner.
Funny people aren't always fun to be around, and show business is not always the place for family life.
Reiner presents the excetion to both.
His is a very close and loving family. He has been married to his wife, Estelle, for 57 years. They have three children: Annie, Lucas and Rob Reiner.
Did Rob Reiner know, even as a child, that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps?
"I didn't know as a kid, but I certainly knew by high school that this is something that I wanted to be part of. And not so much because you had such great humor and such laughter in the household. But because my father was so loved by his friends," says Rob Reiner. "I looked up to him. I knew that he was, you know, successful, and he was good at what he did. But he was also loved as a person. And so, I wanted that for myself. I wanted to be thought of the way he was."
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