Carl Reiner died today at the age of 98, as reported by TMZ. The actor and comedian died of natural causes, according to Vanity Fair. He leaves behind an impressive body of work that includes acting, writing, and directing, boasting co-stars and collaborators that reads like a who’s who of Hollywood’s funniest men and women. Here’s what you need to know about the late director’s life.
1. Reiner Served in World War II
Reiner was born in New York City on March 20, 1922, to Irving Reiner and Bessie Mathias Reiner, both of whom were immigrants. His father was a Romanian-born watchmaker and his mother was from Hungary, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).
Both Carl and his older brother Charlie served in World War II. Charlie fought in 11 major battles, including the invasion of North Africa in 1942. Carl, meanwhile, honed his comedy skills during the war.
According to his 2014 memoir “I Just Remembered” (via the Military Times), the night before he was supposed to be shipped out to fight, he had the opportunity to audition for actor and Major Maurice Evans, who was there performing for the troops as part of the entertainment services division. With Evans was Captain Allen Ludden — the man who would go on to become a famous game show host and Mr. Betty White.
Reiner auditioned for them and both Evans and Ludden agreed he would be a welcome addition to their ensemble. “With the aid of General Richardson, the head of the Central Pacific Base Command, I was transferred to Major Evans’ entertainment section and performed at Army bases throughout the Central Pacific,” wrote Reiner.
2. Carl Credits Charlie For His Start in Show Business
Before the war, Reiner was working as a mechanic’s helper in a sewing machine repair shop in the 1930s, according to the JTA. Before the war, his brother Charlie saw an add that the Works Progress Administration, which was a program established by President Franklin Roosevelt to find job-seekers positions working on public works projects, was offering a free drama workshop. That’s how Carl got his start in show business.
“I’ve always maintained that I owe my career to two men – my brother Charlie and FDR,” quipped Reiner at the 2008 Israeli Film Festival.
According to the Los Angeles Times article from when Reiner received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Reiner worked during the day in the Bronx, then traveled to the acting class in Manhattan at night. Six months into the class, he got a job at the Gilmore Theater near Central Park and the rest was history.
Charlie Reiner passed away in 2001 at the age of 83.
3. Reiner Won Five Emmys for The Dick Van Dyke Show
Reiner was known for his comedy, from Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, to the series of skits called “The 2,000-Year-Old Man” with Mel Brooks. But his most decorated work is undoubtedly The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Reiner created in 1961.
The show ran five seasons on CBS, winning 15 Emmys, including three for Reiner in writing and two as a producer. He also earned Primetime Emmy Awards for his work on Caesar’s Hour and Mad About You.
In an interview with the Television Academy, Reiner said The Dick Van Dyke Show was largely based on his life and he always wanted the show to be true to that.
“I tried every premise on for size — ‘would I do this?’ — because it was based on my wife and I. It was one of the few shows that was not — most of the shows were battles of the sexes … but the Van Dyke Show was based on my wife and I. We’re worthy adversaries, we argued about things, but we were two against the world rather than against [each other] … you always knew these two people would stay together no matter what.”
4. Reiner Is Also Known for His Movies
Following the success of The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and The New Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1970s, Reiner went on to direct a string of comedies that include Oh, God!, The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man with Two Brains, All of Me, Summer School, Fatal Instinct, and That Old Feeling.
Reiner collaborated with actor Steve Martin on several of those, including All of Me, which earned both Martin and co-star Lily Tomlin Golden Globe nominations. Reiner told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that Martin was the quickest study of acting he had ever seen.
“[Steve Martin] was like a rock star in comedy. He performed in front of 46,000 people in a venue and he said, ‘Oh, I got tired of doing that.’ He wanted to be an actor, but he had never acted before. So when I was called in to do The Jerk, he had never acted with another actor. It was sort of a revelation to him, that you can actually talk to somebody else, but he was the quickest learner I have ever seen,” said Reiner.
In recent years, Reiner had been flexing his acting muscles both on screen and via voiceover work. He starred in Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Father of the Pride, Ocean’s Thirteen, The Cleveland Show, Two and a Half Men, Hot in Cleveland, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Family Guy, and Toy Story 4.
5. He is Survived by His Three Children and Many Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren
During the summer of 1942, Reiner was doing a summer theater stint in the Adirondacks and that’s where he met his wife, a singer named Estelle Lebost, according to the LA Times. They married the following year and were together 65 years until her death in 2008.
Estelle Reiner is probably most famous for delivering the iconic movie line “I’ll have what she’s having” their son Rob’s 1989 film When Harry Met Sally….
Over the course of their marriage, Estelle and Carl had three children: Rob, the renowned actor/director, born in 1947, Sylvia “Annie” Reiner, an author and playwright born in 1949, and Lucas Reiner, an actor/director born 1960. Reiner is also survived by six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. In 2016, when he then only had five grandchildren, Reimer told The Hollywood Reporter, “I’ve said a number of times, ‘If I go tomorrow, I’ve had nothing but fun in life.’ I had a 65-year great marriage, three great kids, and five grandchildren. You can’t ask for anything more.”