​Carl Reiner: Still making us laugh

For a showbiz family, the Reiners were pretty normal. Robbie, the future director, had a pretty good arm. So did mom. And in the summer they'd all hit the beach -- sometimes with longtime family friend Mel Brooks.

Brooks and Reiner are still close.

Smith asked, "How often do you guys see each other now?"

"At least six, seven times a week," said Reiner. "He sits right there, we watch television."

There's nothing on TV like "The 2,000-Year-Old Man," an impromptu sketch gone wild, with Reiner interviewing Brooks as the oldest man in the world.

Reiner: "Many, many hundreds of years ago most men had more than one wife. Did you ever practice polygamy in those days?"
Brooks: "I never practiced it. I was perfect at it!"

Reiner himself was the oldest man in the star-packed "Ocean's Eleven" gang.

But his biggest box office hits were behind the camera, as director of comedies like "The Jerk" and "Oh, God," starring George Burns.

Court Clerk: "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
God: "So help me, me."
Judge Baker: "So help you, you?"
God: "If it pleases the court, and even if it doesn't please the court, I'm God, Your Honor."

"You clearly are a guy who likes to make people happy," said Smith. "Is that a tough trait to have when you're a director?"

"No," said Reiner. "As a matter of fact, it's a wonderful trait to have. You can get the best out of people if they're happy and not worried or not frightened that they're going to make a mistake. Robbie does exactly the same. Don't demand anything of anybody. You hire actors who you think are going to be right for the part, and then you let 'em go."

Maybe that's why Rob Reiner cast his mom Estelle for a small, but climactic, moment in "When Harry Met Sally." ["I'll have what she's having."]

But what really got Estelle Reiner excited was singing, and as Carl wrote in his memoir, it was something Estelle loved until the day she died in 2008.

Smith asked, "Why did you decide to write about the last moments of her life?"

"Because it was sooo beautiful," he replied. "Estelle died at 94, when she was 94. And the last year of her life was lying in bed. She always thought she was going to go back and sing. And she couldn't really get out of bed. She had major problems. But her mind was always there.

"And at the last moment she wasn't even breathing -- a breath every minute, a little something. And we touched her. Nothing. And I said, 'She should go out hearing something lovely, like her last album.' So I put [it] on, the first song is, 'A, You're Adorable.' And that was playing. I said, 'Play it up loud. Maybe she'll hear it as she's going.' And we played it loud. And one of the hospice nurses says, 'Oh, she has such a lovely, sweet voice.'

"And Lucas, my son, went right up to his mother he said, 'Ma, you hear what she said? She says you have a lovely, sweet voice.' And Estelle mouthed 'Thank you,' and passed away. Didn't aspirate it, but her lips, we all saw it. 'Thank you,' dead and gone.

"I had to write about that, because it was a good way to go. A good way to go."

And music still keeps him going. Reiner sings on his daily walks, and at one point, even considered a career as a crooner.

"I was six years old. I said, 'I wanna be an Irish tenor,' I told my father. And he said, 'You can be a Jewish tenor.'"

We're thankful Carl Reiner chose to make us laugh instead.


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