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Gene Perret, the masterful comedy writer and producer who collected three Emmy Awards for his work on The Carol Burnett Show and penned jokes for Bob Hope for nearly three decades, has died. He was 85.
Perret died Nov. 15 of liver failure at his home in Westlake Village, his daughter Linda Perret told The Hollywood Reporter.
During his 50-year career, the South Philadelphia native also wrote for two Tim Conway-starring shows as well as for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, All in the Family, Welcome Back, Kotter, Three’s Company, CPO Sharkey, Gimme a Break!, Love, American Style and What’s Happening!!
An analytical expert when it came to comedy, Perret joined Burnett in 1973 and served as a staff writer on her legendary CBS variety program for its final five seasons. He received his Emmys in 1974, ’75 and ’78 and was nominated three other times.
Perret collaborated with Hope for 28 years, writing for his TV specials and USO Christmas tours. He accompanied the famed comedian on many of the trips he made around the world to entertain the troops before Hope retired in the 1990s.
Born on April 3, 1937, Eugene Richard Perret went to work for General Electric in 1956 and got laughs during a roast of his boss at a party. He sent jokes to Slappy White and Phyllis Diller, who hired him and encouraged him to write full-time.
“If you saw the kind of engineer I was, you’d know that going into comedy was a natural progression,” he said.
Perret quit engineering in 1969 and moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he landed writing jobs on The Jim Nabors Hour, The Tim Conway Show and Laugh-In.
Later, he wrote for specials starring John Ritter and Helen Reddy and produced episodes of Kotter, Three’s Company and the 1980-81 Conway show.
Perret also authored more than three dozen books, including the influential Comedy Writing Step by Step and The Comedy Writing Workbook, and hosted workshops for young writers and comedians.
A mentor to many, he was honored by the South Philadelphia Walk of Fame in 2013.
Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Joanne (she and Perret first met in kindergarten, were in the same class through 8th grade and were reintroduced by a former classmate after attending separate high schools); children Joe, Terry, Carole and Linda, his co-author on several books; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
He called comedy writers “incurable rewriters” in a 2018 interview.
“As soon as they hear a line, they begin to ‘improve’ it,” he noted. “The feeling is that the joke should be as effective as possible, and all lines can be improved. The original may be the funniest version, but we always try to make it funnier. If we succeed, it is funnier; if we don’t, it’s still a pretty good line.”
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