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Carl Reiner: 'My Anecdotal Life'

Tell Carl Reiner that his new memoir makes a life in show business seem wholly appealing, and he beams.

"That's terrific. That's the nicest thing I've heard," Reiner said.

What's not to like about kibitzing with Mel Brooks and creating a comedy classic (their "2,000 Year Old Man" routine), passing a stormy night at a Catskills resort with jazz great Sidney Bechet or party games with Jonathan Winters?

As Reiner describes it, his chosen line of work is all play.

"You're doing it with people that when you go to lunch, you laugh. When you go to dinner, you laugh. At work, the same. It's one big, long party," Reiner said. "There's no other way to describe it."

Leave it to others to paint the dark and grasping side of Hollywood. In "My Anecdotal Life" (St. Martin's Press, $24.95) the 81-year-old Reiner skips merrily through bits and pieces of his life and 60-year career, highlighting the offbeat and often silly times he shared with friends and colleagues.

He's been, variously, a writer, actor and director for television ("Your Show of Shows," "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), film ("The Jerk," "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," "Oh, God!") and stage. He's published five books.

Reiner is self-effacing and tells embarrassing - and invariably funny - stories only against himself. One exception is the studio boss who tried to enlist him in a batty movie idea. The proposed comedy's title: "Buffalo Bill Meets Adolf Hitler."

Fellow celebrities are also Reiner fans. In a book jacket quote, Johnny Carson lauds him as "a brilliant storyteller" and adds, "as we say in the Midwest, a good egg (the gentile counterpart of mensch)."

The tough times are not in the memoir, nor are they written on Reiner's face or in his manner, either. He is genial and gracious in an interview in the home that he and his wife, Estelle, have shared for 42 years. It's filled with photographs of his three children, including actor-director son Rob Reiner, and five grandchildren.

Family makes an appearance in "My Anecdotal Life" as well. There are tender stories about parents Bessie and Irving (mom was a whiz at hiding her illiteracy; dad was a self-taught inventor who created a near-perpetual clock battery that his son remains proud of) and beloved older brother Charlie.

The book doesn't encompass all of Reiner's career. Left out, for example, is "Ocean's Eleven," in which he appeared with such A-list stars as George Clooney and Brad Pitt and which introduced Reiner to a new generation.

While awaiting a script for the hit movie's planned sequel, Reiner is awash in other projects.

"I've got more going on this year than in the last few years," he said. "I've always done something, but this year it's all popping at once."

Two TV specials are tied to "The Dick Van Dyke Show," the 1961-66 sitcom that Reiner created about the home life of Rob and Laura Petrie (Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) and Rob's job as a comedy writer for fictional TV variety host Alan Brady (played by Reiner).

TV Land, the cable channel that recycles old series including "The Dick Van Dyke Show," enlisted Reiner to create an animated version of "The Alan Brady Show." It's planned for July.

He's written another hour-long show for TV Land, set for fall, that revisits the Petries and which is to reunite cast members including Van Dyke, Moore and Rose Marie.

Reiner also is the author of a forthcoming children's book inspired by a grandson's entreaty to "Tell me a scary story, but not too scary." And he's provided voiceovers for an upcoming movie ("The Good Boy") and TV series ("Father of the Pride")

He rejects the idea he might be working a bit too hard. "That kind of stuff you do in your underwear," Reiner said.

There's another underwear project under way, a novella.

"There's something in the computer that I don't know if I can get out. I love talking about it because the title is so good: 'Nnnnn,"' Reiner said. It's about a writer who keeps adding one more 'N' to his successive book titles, and who's up to his fifth work. "I've got to finish that."

Would Reiner say he's got an absurdist view of life?

He's only willing to admit he goes for the punch line.

He recalls being in the balcony of the Kennedy Center, preparing to be honored with the center's prestigious Mark Twain Prize for humor in 2000. The power failed at the ceremony's start and an onstage screen went dark.

"It's quiet, and here's all these people in tuxedoes. And I say, as loud as I can, 'Does anybody have four double-A batteries?' And the place exploded for 10 minutes."

He tried but failed to talk a producer into leaving the bit in when the show was edited for broadcast.

"You're honoring someone for being funny," he marvels, shaking his head. "That's as funny as I get."

By Lynn Elber

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