clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Remembering Carl Reiner, from TV pioneer to skilled director to America’s Grandpa

Long after his great accomplishments on ‘Your Show of Shows’ and ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ the funnyman reinvented himself as an active Twitter commentator.

Carl Reiner in 2003.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

Carl Reiner was America’s Grandpa.

America’s hilarious, pioneering, brilliant, lovely, kind and wonderful grandpa.

Mr. Reiner, who died Monday night at the age of 98 in his home in Beverly Hills, was a comedian, an actor, a director, a writer and a mentor to generations of young talents. He was one of the founding fathers of American television, from his writing and performing on the groundbreaking “Your Show of Shows” in the early 1950s to his creation of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which set the tone for so many TV programs-about-TV programs, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “Murphy Brown” to “The Larry Sanders Show” to “30 Rock.”

Carl Reiner (top) worked with (clockwise from right) Howard Morris, Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar on “Your Show of Shows.”
Sun-Times file

As a commercial filmmaker with a light and sure comedic touch, Reiner helmed hits such as “Oh, God” (1977), “The Jerk” (1979) and “All of Me” (1984). He was a brilliant presence in the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy and lent his warm and friendly voice to films such as “Toy Story 4” and to TV shows such as “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”

The man who emerged as a show business presence in an era when there were 48 states and most families only could dream about owning a television went on to embrace 21st-century technology. Reiner was an active and lively presence on social media until the last day of his life, posting thousands of messages to his 367,000-plus followers on a Twitter account he started in 2012 to keep up with his grandson Jake.

Just three days ago, Reiner’s talent agent, George Shapiro, tweeted a photo of Reiner, longtime friend Mel Brooks and Reiner’s daughter Annie, all of whom were wearing “BLACK LIVES MATTER” T-shirts. It was captioned “My Heroes.”

A tribute in Variety featured some of Reiner’s most memorable tweets, which were often targeted at President Trump, e.g.: “Enjoyed eating breakfast but not nearly as much as reading your reactions to my Thursday Tweet that had master grammarian Donald Trump excited about our citizens urging him to ‘RE-SIGN’ as president, when they were actually urging him to ‘RESIGN!’ ” In a more personal Tweet, Mr. Reiner mused: “Is it because I’m Jewish I feel guilty if I don’t come up with a daily Tweet? Do Gentiles have similar guilt about their Twitter neglect.”

Classic American Grandpa.

In a tweet Tuesday morning, Mr. Reiner’s son, the actor-filmmaker-activist Rob Reiner, wrote: “Last night my dad passed away. As I write this my heart is hurting. He was my guiding light.”

Steve Martin, who starred in four films directed by Carl Reiner including “The Jerk” and “All of Me,” posted a grateful farewell tweet to “my greatest mentor in movies and in life.”
Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

(Mr. Reiner’s wife, Estelle, whom he married in 1943, died in 2008. She delivered one of the most famous one-liners in movie history as the woman in the deli who said, “I’ll have what she’s having,” in Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…”)

One of my favorite episodes in Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” features Seinfeld, Reiner and Brooks preparing and enjoying a meal at Reiner’s home, which features twin TV tray tables for the old-time legends. Brooks (wearing a “Young Frankenstein” hoodie) spoons his soup and tells one of the oldest jokes ever (the punch line is, “I make a living”), and the boys have a meal of sandwiches and beer as Carl putters about the living room before settling into his comfy chair and tucking his napkin into his collar because that’s what you do when you’re in your 90s. Seinfeld is in his glory, and we vicariously share that feeling.

Andy Garcia and Carl Reiner in “Ocean’s Eleven.”
Warner Bros.

And then there’s that finale in “Ocean’s Eleven,” when the gang gathers at the Bellagio fountain and the camera pans across the faces of relatively young actors such as Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. And there’s Carl Reiner, a sprightly 79 at the time, sporting the kind of fishing hat that only works when you’re that age, and he gives a little nod to Pitt. One by one the team exits until it’s just Mr. Reiner, who finally walks away just before the Bellagio fountain waterworks begin.

We were so lucky to have him for nearly two more decades after that.