He was half of the team (with Mel Brooks) who created the 2000-Year Old Man. He invented that TV show about the comedy writer and family man who stumbled over an ottoman every week (The Dick Van Dyke Show), and he’s directed 15 movies including Where’s Poppa, Enter Laughing, All Of Me, and The Man With Two Brains.“Who deserves the title of ‘Renaissance Man’ more than Carl Reiner?” asked emcee Mike Schlesinger at the American Cinematheque’s salute to Reiner. From the back of the Aero Theatre, Reiner bellowed out “Nobody!” In between screenings of Enter Laughing, and The Comic, Schlesinger interviewed Reiner and took questions from the audience. In 1967’s Enter Laughing, Reni Santoni plays a young man who aspires to be an actor, despite the disapproval of his working-class Bronx parents. “I haven’t seen that movie in 20 or 30 years,” Reiner remarked.He wrote it originally as a novel, in 1957. “I was 35 when I wrote it, but I was writing about when I was a 17-year old boy. There were things in the movie that were exact accounts. We recreated exactly where I worked (a place called ‘Foreman’s Machine Shop’) and it was letter-perfect.”He had doubts about whether he could be a writer. But had he not been a writer for TV’s Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar?“I was a writer ‘without portfolio,’” Reiner explained. “I sat in the Writers’ Room with Mel Brooks and Sid and the others. It was my ‘college.’ But I was allowed to make suggestions and if they were good, they took them.”The novel was adapted for the stage by Reiner’s friend Joe Stein and played successfully on Broadway with Alan Arkin in the lead role. For the film version, as Arkin had become too old for the role, Reni Santoni got the part. Santoni, who was also present at the Aero screening, joked with Reiner about how he himself, at 26, was a bit long of tooth for the role. Enter Laughing is now back on stage in New York as a musical, and the original novel has been reissued by Phoenix Press. Reiner also recently recorded a book-on-tape of the novel and found it interesting, “as an 87-year old guy, to be reading about myself!” 1969’s The Comic is Reiner’s most serious work, although it has its humorous moments, mostly in the silent clips within the film. These black and white clips were filmed, Reiner said, “exactly like the way they did movies back then. We did two or three of them a day and ad-libbed them. We studied a lot of silent film comedies and cannibalized bits from them.”The story line has Dick Van Dyke playing a composite of several silent comedians, whose career goes downhill due to adultery, drinking, and the advent of sound films. Reiner and co-writer Aaron Rubin researched the lives of silent comics and found that “they all had such sad lives.” There is no redemption for Van Dyke’s character and yet the film finds a way to make him sympathetic.As for Dick Van Dyke, who became a TV star and pop icon through the classic Dick Van Dyle Show, Reiner cannot praise him enough. “Dick always said he was born in the wrong century,” he said of Van Dyke’s way with silent-movie style pratfalls.Carl Reiner has enough of a legacy in American comedy to sit back and relax now, right? But as a last delightful gift to his audience, he announced that he and Mel Brooks are going to team up for a new “2000-Year Old Man” album!“So many people of all ages have told me how much they love the 2000-Year Old Man,” he said. “So we figured we would bring him back.”
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