Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Carl and Rob Reiner: Some Big Shoes to Fill

On April 7, two Reiners added their footprints to the forecourt of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater, thus becoming the first father-son duo to make a concrete impression upon the entertainment industry. (Sorry about that!) It was an honor long overdue. Without Carl and Rob Reiner, the world would be a much less funny place. 

There are (or were) other Reiners too. Carl’s wife Estelle, who passed away in 1994 after 64 years of marriage, was a professional singer. But she will forever be known for her scene-stealing line in her son’s 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally—“I’ll have what she’s having.” Rob’s sister Annie is an author, playwright, and poet. And Rob’s kid brother Lucas has been at the helm of several indie film projects. I feel a bit sorry for Lucas, who by all reports is a good guy, because being the junior Reiner can’t be easy. Many years ago, as a fledgling day camp counselor, I was in charge of the bus that picked up young Lucas every day. Knowing what family he came from, I kept waiting for this little tyke to make me laugh.

As for Carl Reiner, where to begin? He won his spurs in early TV, as both writer and second banana on Sid Caesar’s hilarious variety shows. He created The Dick Van Dyke Show, and played one of its most memorable characters, the egomaniacal Alan Brady. He played straight man to Mel Brooks’ unforgettable 2000 Year Old Man, using his improv skills to guide Brooks’ zany performance. He acted in movies like The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming. As a film director, he had a cult hit with Where’s Poppa, followed by a huge hit with Oh, God! And he directed and co-wrote four films, including The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, that helped establish Steve Martin as a comedy icon. Still active at 95, he has newly announced an autobiography, to be called Too Busy to Die. In doing all of this, he has made bald look beautiful. 

I first became aware of Rob Reiner when I was a theatre critic for the UCLA Daily Bruin, circa 1969. I was sent to a small theatre in Hollywood to see a pair of comic one-acts. The first has totally slipped from my memory, but I still remember the second, “The Howie Rubin Story.” In it Reiner portrays a young boy with a Walter Mitty-like imagination: he likes to picture himself doing great things. So endearing was Rob in this role that I instantly knew he was destined for stardom. And so it came to pass. After playing some small sitcom roles and doing some writing for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Rob was cast as Michael Stivic, son-in-law and left-leaning nemesis to Archie Bunker on the legendary All in the Family. So completely was he identified with this role by the American public that he’s still known to quip, “"I could win the Nobel Prize and they'd write 'Meathead wins the Nobel Prize'.  

Today he’s highly regarded as a director of comedic tour-de-forces like This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride. But he’s also been honored for films ranging from the poignant Stand by Me to the creepy Misery to the tough-minded legal drama, A Few Good Men. These days he’s also known as a dedicated social activist, promoting marriage equality and initiatives designed to help young children. In 2006, there was talk of him running to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California.  I would love to have seen that campaign: The Terminator versus The Meathead. 

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