​Carl Reiner: Still making us laugh


Nearly 93, the funnyman behind TV classics like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and movies like "The Jerk" is still making us laugh (including correspondent Tracy Smith).

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Carl Reiner started getting laughs on TV comedy more than 60 years ago. No wonder he's an entertainment legend -- a legend who's lost none of his legendary wit, as Tracy Smith discovered when she came to call. Originally broadcast on March 8, 2015:

"First thing in the morning, before I have coffee, I read the obits," Reiner said. " If I'm not in it, I'll have breakfast."

Carl Reiner CBS News

At 93, Reiner is in a shape people half his age might envy:

"My doctor says all my vital signs are perfect. I could live another hour!" he said.

He only sounds like he's on borrowed time.

The truth is, Smith said, he is still productive. "You're still writing. I mean, it's not like you're waiting around."

"No, no. I wake up every morning anxious to get to my -- what do you call it? We used to call it a typewriter. My computer!"

By any name, that keyboard is busy: Reiner's just finished a new book about one of his best-known memorable creation: "Why and When 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' Was Born."

And the 12-time Emmy-winner has a lot more to look back on.

Carl Reiner didn't create TV, but he was there in the delivery room. As a writer and performer, he was a giant among giants. His co-writers on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" alone included Larry Gelbart (creator of the TV show "MASH"), comic genius Mel Brooks, and playwright Neil Simon.

In fact, he was on TV before he even owned a TV.

"Yes, we didn't have a TV when I did 'Show of Shows," he said. "And we finally got a little seven-inch set and the kids used to watch it. And Robbie was four or five or six, and he said, 'Say hello to me.' And I said, 'I can't say hello on television, but when I do this -- when I put my tie up in the finale while we're saying goodbye -- that's for you.'" Reiner did it every night.

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But after years of writing sketch comedy, Reiner had an idea for a show of his own: a sit-com about a New York City comedy writer (like him), who lived in the suburbs with an adorable family (like his).

"I wrote a thing called 'Head of the Family,'" he said. "It was okay. Just okay. It didn't work."

The pilot flopped. But Reiner had written 13 full episodes, and producer Sheldon Leonard thought of a way he could make it all work.

You might remember Leonard from "It's a Wonderful Life," as the bartender who tells it straight. ["Hey, look, I'm the boss. You want a drink or don't you?"]

Reiner recalled, "He says, 'We'd love to talk to you about these episodes.' I said, 'Fellas, I don't wanna fail with it a second time.' And he said, 'You won't fail. We'll get a better actor to play you.' And he suggested Dick Van Dyke."

The show, which ran for five seasons on CBS, was a major hit. Reiner wound up playing the pompous boss, Alan Brady. But the rest of the show mirrored his life. In fact, Mary Tyler Moore's Laura Petrie was inspired by the real-life woman Reiner went home to every night.

As a young GI during World War II, he'd met Estelle Lebost, an artist eight years his senior.

"He was just extremely handsome," Estelle told CBS News back in 2007.

"I had a lot of hair in those days, black hair," said Carl."Too much black hair or too much wavy hair."

"No, no, he was really good-looking, but typical. I said tall, dark, and handsome."

And what did Reiner think when he saw her? "Nice figure," he said. "Of course. I was 20!"

They married in 1943, and had three children: Robbie, Annie and Lucas.