May 2003

Carl Reiner’s variety show

By Carl Reiner
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Some funny things happened to Carl Reiner on his way to the Television Academy Hall of Fame. He's collected them in My Anecdotal Life, a backstage tour of his stellar career as one of show business's most creative minds. Instead of presenting a chronological autobiography with his new book, Reiner offers his reminiscences "in the order that they popped into my head," resulting in what he calls a literary "variety show." While that approach makes it easy on the writer, it also makes it easy on the reader, and as a result we get a breezy and delightful memoir.

In 1939, when he was a 17-year-old machinist's helper, Reiner—proud of his ability to make funny faces and belch at will—enrolled in a free government-sponsored drama class. That was the first step of a career that has reaped a trunkful of Emmys and a Grammy. In this book, he recounts his writing and acting days with zany Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows, which kept TV watchers in stitches during the 1950s. Reiner, who directed numerous films, including Oh, God! and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, also takes a backward look at his creation, The Dick Van Dyke Show, which turned Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore into superstars.

We learn that Reiner and Mel Brooks were dubious about their signature 2,000 Year Old Man routine. It was a howling success at private parties, but they felt its ethnic flavor would limit broad appeal. All doubt vanished when Cary Grant reported that, when the record was played in Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II "roared."

In addition to recalling some tender family moments, Reiner tells how he tried to teach a resisting Mickey Rooney to cross his eyes for the role of a character named Cockeye, and how he led a group that included Eva Marie Saint, Theodore Bickel, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Winters in a serious game of ring-around-the-rosey. These and plenty of other celebrity-filled stories will make the reader smile, chuckle or guffaw—which, after all, is exactly what Carl Reiner always aims to do. 

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My Anecdotal Life

My Anecdotal Life

By Carl Reiner
St. Martin's
ISBN 9780312311049

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