Carl Reiner: a class act

Now and then, a bit of what matters most — business-wise — is dropped off in the mail box. Today this unexpected package arrived: Carl Reiner’s latest book, “Too Busy to Die.” The title came to Reiner after he complained to his pal Mel Brooks that he was at loose ends after finishing his latest project. “You’re too busy to die,” said Brooks, 91. Reiner, 95, thought that phrase had a nice ring to it.

I didn’t order this book, it just arrived. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Reiner — via email — for a feature which appeared in The Toronto Star. The story had to do with the latest Dick Van Dyke Show in Colour holiday special, which aired before Christmas on CBS.

The multiple Emmy Award-winner answered all my questions as only he can, although he may have misunderstood my last query. I asked what he and Van Dyke and Brooks all drank and where can I get some — meaning, I too, want to live to be 100 with that many marbles.

The writer/producer/director took my question at face value and, pardon the expression,  gave me a straight answer:

When I did drink, I drank beer, and that was about it. Mel Brooks is not a drinker. Dick Van Dyke was a drinker, way back, and he’s been a tea totaler for a hundred years. Steve Martin said that the single most talented man ever in show business is Dick Van Dyke. I agree.

Three guys who know how to live

I agree as well, but Van Dyke, 92 in December, had a pretty talented boss, too. Reiner even inscribed his book for me, and he made a decent stab at spelling my name right; I may just change it to match his inscription.

I also asked Reiner in that email exchange about one of my favourite films, “My Favorite Year.” Reiner was part of the immortal sketch troupe who backed the great Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows and later Caesar’s Hour in the ’50s. “My Favorite Year,” on which Brooks — one of Caesar’s legendary writers — was an uncredited executive producer, was a romanticized, behind the scenes retelling of those great early sketch shows.

Reiner surprised me with his response to that question:

I wasn’t happy with that film, it went way past what we did, it wasn’t at all what it was about, they had gangsters shooting  —  you know, we did gangster shows once in a while, and one gangster called us and said, You know, I loved that show.

What a mensch!

The book is packed with great stories and photos and even some Canadian content. Turn to page 75 for a hair-raising story about Norman Jewison, the director who gave Reiner his one and only leading film role. That was in the spirited and delightful 1966 Cold War comedy “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”

Reiner writes of the time he, his co-stars Eva Marie Saint and Brian Keith and Jewison all crammed into a four-seater Cessna — along with a fifth passenger, the pilot — on a wild, rainy-night ride north of San Francisco.  It all could have ended very badly, but only a pair of boots were lost.

There’s a forward by Judd Apatow, too, who makes a pretty good case that he is striving to be the next Carl Reiner — if the old one ever stops writing books.

“Too Busy to Die” carries the “Random Content Ink” imprint, an enterprise of the author. He intends for it to be “a haven for celebrities, artists, and policy-makers to share their stories and to solidify their own legacy through print, digital and social media.”

Long may Reiner live up to the title of his book. Order your copy here; he’ll even sign it for you!

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