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“I’ve had such a good life,” says Carl Reiner, the pioneering, influential and undisputedly great comedy writer, director and actor, who, along with his son Rob Reiner, will have his handprints and footprints immortalized in cement in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre on Friday as part of the 8th TCM Film Festival. Mortality is a topic that, unsurprisingly, comes up as Reiner and I sit down at his Beverly Hills home a week after his 95th birthday to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast. “If I go during this interview, if I pass now, I’m fine,” he says before adding, with his trademark sense of humor, “Just remember to tell them about my books that they can buy.”
(Click above to listen to this episode or here to access all of our 130+ episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Robert De Niro, Amy Schumer, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Louis C.K., Emma Stone, Harvey Weinstein, Natalie Portman, Jerry Seinfeld, Jane Fonda, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Taraji P. Henson, J.J. Abrams, Helen Mirren, Justin Timberlake, Brie Larson, Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Vikander, Aziz Ansari, Jessica Chastain, Samuel L. Jackson, Kate Winslet, Sting, Isabelle Huppert, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Michael Moore, Lily Collins and Denzel Washington.)
Reiner, who was born in the Bronx, grew up amidst the Great Depression and served in World War II before entering show business, en route to 12 Emmys and one Grammy. He first made his name two-thirds of a century ago, during the earliest days of television, when he went to work for Sid Caesar. In 1950, he was hired as an actor on Caesar’s groundbreaking variety program Your Show of Shows, and soon became a member of its writers room — the most fabled in TV history — as well, before following Caesar to his next show, the sketch comedy program Caesar’s Hour.
While working on those two programs, Reiner hit it off with a collaborator, Mel Brooks, and the two improvised a comedy skit that spawned five blockbuster albums and laughter to this day: The 2,000 Year Old Man, in which Reiner, the consummate straight-man, interviews Brooks, who hams it up as the eponymous character.
After seven years with Caesar, Reiner went off on his own. He struggled to find work as an actor and ultimately decided to pen 13 episodes of a semi-autobiographical TV sitcom that he called Head of the Family, the pilot of which he starred in — and which failed. That series came back to life, however, under a different title and with a different leading man (and lady): The Dick Van Dyke Show, starring Dick Van Dyke (and Mary Tyler Moore), and ran from 1961 through 1966 under the oversight of Reiner, who also played a key supporting part in it. It’s now widely regarded as one of the greatest TV sitcoms of all time.
Reiner subsequently devoted larger amounts of time to the big screen, acting in such films as 1966’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and helming such films as 1979’s The Jerk and 1984’s All of Me (two of the four in which he directed Steve Martin). In recent years, Reiner has made cameos in movies like the 2001, 2004 and 2007 Ocean’s films and in 2016 on TV’s Family Guy. And he also has been a prolific author (most recently of the graphic diary Carl Reiner, Now You’re Ninety-Four, which chronicles his 94th year of life) and tweeter (frequently targeting President Donald Trump, whose defeat of Hillary Clinton upsets him to no end).
What keeps life fun and worth living, though, are family and friends, Reiner emphasizes. “We have three great kids, my wife [the late Estelle Reiner, best known to the public for saying “I’ll have what she’s having” in Rob Reiner’s 1989 comedy film When Harry Met Sally…] and I. … That’s the only thing that matters, who you send out into the world, and my wife and I have been part of spawning three just great human beings … who have given me five grandchildren.” And, Reiner notes, he and Brooks, best friends for 67 years and both now nonagenarian widowers, get together for dinner and a movie in Reiner’s living room almost every night of the week, keeping each other sharp and laughing. “He’s the funniest man in the history of the world,” Reiner says of Brooks — although Reiner still has a lot of fans who might slightly disagree.
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