R.I.P. Carl Reiner, legendary creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show

The mind behind some of Hollywood's funniest moments was 98.

Image: The Everett Collection

When Carl Reiner first came up with The Dick Van Dyke Show, the series creator told USA Today in 2019, it was out of necessity. Out of every sitcom role he was offered, none of the writing excited him. He remembered it was his wife who planted the seed to write his own better show, which he called Head of the Family.

He said, "I was getting offered a lot of situation comedies. They weren't very good, and my wife said, 'Why don't you write one?' So, I wrote Head of the Family for myself."

There was just one problem, though. Reiner said, "It didn't sell." Luckily, that wasn't the end of the series that would become The Dick Van Dyke Show, thanks a lot to titans of TV, producers Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard.

Reiner said, "Somebody gave the scripts to Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas. Sheldon said, 'These are wonderful.' I said, 'Sheldon, I don't want to fail twice with the same material.'"

That's when Leonard changed the course of TV history by breaking the news to Reiner that his show would work, if he made one major change: "He said – and this is my favorite line: 'You won't fail. We'll get a better actor to play YOU.' It was Dick Van Dyke, maybe the most talented man that's ever been on television."

Taking the hit to his ego, Reiner slid over to bring in Van Dyke to star and proved Leonard right, as The Dick Van Dyke Show overcame its star's relative anonymity to become a sitcom that's still hilarious and relevant today.

Reiner had his favorite. He picked his Top 10 episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show for MeTV.

Reiner described one of his all-time favorites from the classic series that he may not have starred in, but he undeniably remained as the brains behind its overarching success: "I favor the ones people said wouldn't work and one of those was 'It May Look Like a Walnut'. I decided to do a version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Instead of pods, I used walnuts. Rob, who thinks he's having a nightmare, opens the closet and a thousand pounds of walnuts come sliding out, filling the floor, with Mary Tyler Moore riding the crest of the wave on her stomach."

In 1962, at the 14th Annual Emmy Awards, Reiner took home the trophy for "Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy" for The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was the credited writer for 55 out of 158 total episodes — not to mention an eventual part of the ensemble cast himself as the hilarious Alan Brady.

Born to a watchmaker in the Bronx, Reiner would serve in the Army Air Forces in World War II. The Army sent him to Georgetown University to study to be a French interpreter. It was there he got his first taste of performance, directing a Molière play in French. In the service, Reiner auditioned for Major Maurice Evans — who would later be a Batman villain, a Planet of the Apes ape and Bewitched character. Evans transferred Reiner to the Special Services, where he would serve entertaining troops in the Pacific.

Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows would cast Reiner as writer and sketch comedian, pitting him alongside the similarly brilliant Mel Brooks. Reiner and Brooks would team to become a comedy duo, in a wildly popular routine called the 2000 Year Old Man.

The 2000 Year Old Man franchise would lead to five comedy albums and a Grammy Award, not to mention a television special.

Following The Dick Van Dyke Show, Reiner shifted his focus to the big screen, where he teamed with another budding comedy legend, Steve Martin. Reiner directed and co-wrote the Martin side-splitting Martin movies The Jerk (1979), Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). Meanwhile, his son, Rob, hot off All in the Family, would follow in his footsteps with equally timeless comedies like This Is Spinal Tap.

In 2000, at the age of 78, Reiner rightfully was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. He did not stop there.

Reiner continued to act, appearing in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's 11 trilogy. He was on House. In 2014, he released an autobiography titled My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir.

Mel Brooks wrote in his blurb: "Aren't we lucky that Carl Reiner's memory is still intact. He has given us a veritable treasure trove of wonderful recollections, some side-splittingly funny and a few that are really touching. The best one is about me."

On June 29, Reiner died in his Beverly Hills home, according to TMZ. He was 98 years old.

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frances3agape 23 hours ago
The wig episode "Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth" is my fave D-V-D episode
2nd is "That's My Boy?" about bringing home the wrong baby (with the original tv Mission Impossible actor Greg Morris)
3rd is "It May Look Like a Walnut" about a outer space nightmare
4th is "Ghost of A. Chantz" about a haunted cabin
Carl Reiner knew REAL comedy.
I mainly know him from tv, am probably naive, but don't recall anything of his rated more than PG-13
JDWJDW2 2 days ago
I did not know until I read this article that Carl Reiner had died. He was a pure comic genius. I always enjoyed the Dick Van Dyke Show episodes with him in them the best. Carl Reiner was also good at drama as he was in an episode of Night Gallery where he plays a professor whose speech angers the gods into causing wild thunder and lightning. Then he has a grotesque face at the end. RIP Mr Reiner and keep them laughing in eternity.
frances3agape JDWJDW2 23 hours ago
YES - that NG was AWESOME !
It was short but had great lines and plot.
Class dismissed, Professor Reiner
MrsPhilHarris 4 days ago
Coast To Coast big Mouth is my favourite DVD episode. Carl Reiner was priceless.
Newyorkcitygal 4 days ago
God bless you and your family/There was only one Carl Reiner .he was the best! I also love his son Rob Reiner, from All in the family to everything he produces and directed.
RobertMBlevins 6 days ago
Carl Reiner. What a legacy he leaves, and people will be watching and laughing for decades to come. Not just the Dick Van Dyke show, but the MOVIES. Both as star, or director. The Jerk, Oh, God, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid...the list is endless. And he does all this almost up to the day he died. If there is a heaven, Carl is up there right now doing stand up or seeking out a cast and writer for some spoof on living there.
frances3agape 6 days ago
Pure genius!
No mention of his HBO documentary "If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast".
Don't recall the year, but it is TRULY INSPIRING! The following is what came up on HBO.com search.
"What's the secret to living into your 90s--and loving every minute of it? In this documentary, irrepressible writer-comedian Carl Reiner (who shows no signs of slowing down at 95) tracks down several celebrated nonagenarians, and a few others over 100, to show how the twilight years can truly be the happiest and most rewarding."
RIP, you've earned it
MikefromJersey 6 days ago
MeTV Guys,
Very nice article, but maybe you could delete the reference to the beyond creepy Maurice Evans.
He was a serial child molester. When he was nearing the end of his life his friends arranged for
homeless street boys to lay in bed with him. That's the problem with reading up on Hollywood,
you find out how bad some of these people are.
OMG - how DISGUSTING!
Sometimes, we need to look behind the curtain
Frances,
How about Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the 2nd most powerful man in the world
from 1999 to 2007. A sick monster, the judge at his trial branded him a multiple molester
of children. His DC pals have done an excellent job of hiding his memory.
Sorry to get so serious at this site, but these people should have a light shown on them
so we can all be on the alert for these creatures.
texasluva 6 days ago
I was so sad to see him go the other day but WOW 98 years on this planet A tribute to such a known wonderful person and the things he brought to the rest of us during these years .....
Hi Texas,
I agree, he was an American Genius and Sid Caesar was NEVER as funny after Carl stopped writing for him. Reiner sent me an autographed 4 years ago, Dick Van Dyke as well, "Millie"
sent me hers when she was on The Nanny.
Wow! That is pretty cool Mike. I have no autos from Hollywood stars. I did have a baseball signed by Early Wynn (HOF) but sold it on Ebay (I think like 60 bucks). I wished I had one on Mickey Mantle 1952 rookie card or Babe Ruth, Ted Willians and others. Did have 1000's of 1950-60s cards (9 were Mantle from 1956-1968). Do you collect certain ones? Hey! I went to Jersey Mikes the other day first time in like 4 years. It was okay.
Texas,
I was Jersey Mike way before those Johnny Come Lately Sub shop people came along.
Only baseball item I have is a seat from Comisky Park. If you want a genuine signed autograph,
the best way is if the star wrote his Bio. Write him care of his publisher, they send it direct to the star, bypassing all the layers of their "people" at a network or movie studio. Plus you proved you are a true fan by putting $$ in their pocket by buying their book, plus the ego stroke of being interested in their Life.
When i was a kid I wrote Field Marshal Montgomery, he sent me not an autograph but his
travel size chess set he had toted around for years in the field. He was downsizing his household goods and I lucked out.
as he was getting elderly
Ha ha! So funny. Johnny Come lately. FN no way. Field Marshal Montgomery? You mean like the guy portrayed him in Patton? OMG that Lackey "Monty" (j/k), his chess set, holy whatchamaycall it! That is a real prize and history. What were you doing at Comisky Park? You from Chicago? White Sox fan? Do you sit on it watching a game and slugging down a brewski? I was at World Series in 1998. We lost to the Stanks. I used to live in San Diego. I been to 100 Charger games big stars. Even Saw Joe Namith play. Pete Rose you name them. Had mini seats for Padre games some time ago. I am in Texas now. Hate the Cowboys he he. You have some really interesting history Mr Mike.
Hi Texas,
Monty had a life long interest in helping kids, scouts etc. I was into history and my father suggested I write to WW 2 leaders. Omar Bradley, Jimmy Doolittle, Tito sent me autographed photos, they all were long lived. My grandfather went to the first game at Comisky Park, when they tore it down the seats were cheap so I bought one, it's fun to watch games in it.
1998 Padres were a nice team but those 1998 Yanks are recognized as one of the 10
best teams of all time, so they didnt have much of a chance.
The Cowboys? My nephew moved to Dallas, married a local, and when his son was born, 5 years later had him "X" a statement promising never to root for the Dallas Cowpies.
Ha ha. I love it! I went to Game 4 in 1998. The score was like tied late in the game. Stanks had bases loaded. A high chopper to the mound which up like 20 feet in the air and there was no play. We left 9 men on base and lost 3-0. 1-0 going to the 8th. That was about it for us. 3 best things in sport. Yankees lose, Cowboys lose and Lakers lose. Chargers went to the Superbowl I think 1994. I remember the Steelers game and we stopped them at the goal line to get there. Though again we score like 26 vs 49ers and lose by 23 LOL. Wow you get to sit in that chair. More awesome history.
RichardPniewski 6 days ago
The article neglected to mention his film "The Comic," in which Dick Van Dyke portrays a Buster Keaton-like silent comedian. The film is admittedly imperfect but has a devastating final shot.
Hi Guy,
Great catch about The Comic, the end was brilliant and worthy of Chaplin. Also Reiner in The Russians Are Coming was brilliant as the "American Dad" on vacation. No one else has ever come close to showing a universal type so accurately.
WarrenJones 6 days ago
No one is perfect. Look at the son he left for the world.
EricFuller WarrenJones 6 days ago
Look at yourself in the mirror Warren. What are your kids doing for the world?
MaryMitch WarrenJones 5 days ago
Rob Reiner is a chip off the old block - a great director and social warrior, just like his old man.
pellinigroup 6 days ago
HOW ABOUT BROADCASTING THE MOVIE 'TEN FROM YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS?'
Irish 6 days ago
Rest in peace Mr. Reiner. Another great talent gone.
MarthaWashington 6 days ago
METV, again, another tribute, again at 6pm on Sunday's. IT would be nice if you would broadcast the programming in ALL areas. I've missed numerous episodes of programming which I would have loved to watch, but because I live in the suburbs, you don't broadcast this programming there..only paid advertisements 5pm Dietrich Law, 5:30pm paid programming, 6:00pm paid programming, 6:30 Dietrich Law (again) 7pm polka buzz (rerun) 7:30 Concert for Hometown Heros....Yeah, no wonder why I don't watch your station
Obviously you are a fellow Western New Yorker. This has long been one of my pet peeves. If you have a broadcast antenna, you might be able to pull in the uninterrupted Me-TV feed at 67.3. Not perfect, but certainly better.
Plural of Sunday is Sundays. MeTV doesn't pre-empt their own programming, your local station does. Heroes is misspelled.
It is up to the MeTV affiliates in your area what they broadcast. Some are part MeTV and news and other showings. My area is 100% MeTV. Some areas have NO MeTV. Each one are different owners management companies. Your beef is with them. You can not threaten someone else that has zero control over your viewings. Here look it up and see whom owns your MeTV station rights and broadcasts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MeTV_affiliates
DavidBartholomew 7 days ago
Favorite movie...

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

Look it up, you will totally enjoy it!
What a great movie!!
kimmer 7 days ago
Condolences to family and friends.. Thank you to a man who was instrumental in the pioneering television entertainment field. He leaves a wonderful legacy.
WarrenJones kimmer 6 days ago
His son isn't part of that legacy, the good part, anyway.
Wiseguy WarrenJones 6 days ago
Your opinion of Rob Reiner is not relevant to this article.
kimmer WarrenJones 6 days ago
You took a simple condolence about a man and his body of work to a dark place. Wiseguy's comment said it best......
kimmer Wiseguy 6 days ago
Thank you for your integrity. I couldn't find the words....
EricFuller kimmer 6 days ago
Warren must be jealous that he lacks any sort of genius or creativity.
Krn 7 days ago
Thank you for all of the laughs!
froyla 7 days ago
He was so funny in person I often thought I must have not heard him say that.......😉. condolences to rob, sincere.
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