The death of Carl Reiner last Monday brought home a fact of life -- that the members of TV’s old guard are dwindling to a few.
Reiner was 98. On his page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com), his first acting credit is a 1948 TV show called “The Fashion Story.”
His career as an actor on TV appears to have run up until at least 2018, when he guest-starred on an episode of “Angie Tribeca.”
Few people in any occupation can boast a run of 70 years. Many of us would not even want to stay that long in the profession or occupation that we either found, or that found us.
By all appearances, Reiner enjoyed every minute of it. And he was enormously successful at all of it -- performing, writing, producing and directing -- in both television and movies.
He was around for so long in both of those media that many of us can conjure images of him from the various phases of his life that vary greatly.
There is the black-and-white, younger Reiner participating in manic sketches with Sid Caesar in the 1950s and, a few years later, playing the brash, combustible TV star Alan Brady in “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
And as recently as the 2000s, there was the living-color Reiner seen in the George Clooney “Ocean” movies.
For those of us who are occasionally given to the deadly sin of envy, Reiner appeared to have lived an enviable life. He was serially successful in show business, and upwardly mobile too.
Each phase of his career led him on to bigger and better things. The Sid Caesar shows begat “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which begat acting roles in movies of the 1960s that led to writing and directing them.
His long life was a gift, for it gave him the opportunity to take the kind of lengthy victory lap in his old age that most people do not get to experience.
For years, he was lauded as a legend wherever he went. Maybe this was important to him. Or maybe it wasn't.
His family, friends and community seemed important to him, however. He appears to have been a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend.
Maybe that was the secret to Carl Reiner's longevity -- that, and a lot of laughter too.
Photo courtesy of The Decades TV Network
What's especially interesting about Carl Reiner in the early days is the fact that he planned to be the star of the show that eventually became "The Dick Van Dyke Show" but wiser heads talked him out of that and he settled for a supporting role--which made sense as his success in "Your Show Of Shows" was as a foil to Caesar---along with Imogene Coca and Howard Morris. When Coca tried a lead role in a sitcom named "Grindle" shortly after "Your Show Of Shows" departed the TV scene she bombed in the Nielsens for the same reason. By herself, this talented comic was unable to capture and hold the audiences' interest---as part of a quartet, with Caesar in the lead, she was perfect. Later attempts to go solo by comics such as Tim Conway and Don Knotts met the same fate. As foils to bigger talents they were terrific, but they were not big enough in their own right to helm a show.
It is not "not big enough". The writers and producers are to blame for that. Because they were such experts at being a foil, the producers wanted them to stay that way.