In response, Mike Schlesinger gently reminded me that I had overlooked Henry Winkler, but my defense was that while Winkler did direct two (and only two) amiable features - Billy Crystal's "The Memory of Me" and Burt Reynolds' "Cop & 1/2" - his work did not have the impact of, say, DeVito's "The War of the Roses," Penny Marshall's "Awakenings," James L. Brooks' "Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News" or anything by Howard.
Mike's comment stayed with me and I thought about who else I might have forgotten. One name came to mind - Carl Reiner. True, Reiner predates his television peers by a good decade - he emerged as a film director in the 1970s - but he certainly deserved to be referenced in the piece as something as a trailblazer, one of the first to make the transition.
In a pilot film titled "Head of the Family," produced in 1959 for CBS, he played the TV writer Rob Petrie and Barbara Britton and Sylvia Miles co-starred in the roles that would subsequently be played by Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie when Van Dyke, then a hit on Broadway in the 1960 stage version of "Bye Bye Birdie," came on board as the star.
Now a success on TV without being in anyone's shadow, Reiner moved into film, writing his first screenplay - the astute, acerbic jab at advertising, "The Thrill of It All" (1963), directed by Norman Jewison and starring Doris Day and James Garner (and featuring Reiner in a series of witty cameos).
A year later, Reiner made his big-screen directorial debut with the film version of "Enter Laughing" (1967), another terrific comedy that's been unaccountably forgotten, starring José Ferrer, Elaine May and Reni Santoni in the role played on stage by Arkin. (Arkin looked youthful enough on stage but couldn't pass for a twenty-something actor on screen.)
Reiner wrote his own adaptation. Of course.
The subject of "Where's Poppa?," starring Ruth Gordon and George Segal as mother and son, was momism, and it was greeted with controversy when its jaw-dropping fade-out scene was deleted at the 11th hour, following a testy New York press junket. (The sequence was subsequently restored for home entertainment.) I attended the aforementioned junket and remember Reiner announcing to the media the morning after the screening that the scene in question was determined to be "offensive."
To which a joker in the crowd shouted, "The whole film's offensive!"
By today's (lowered) standards, "Where's Poppa?" would be rated PG.
It took ten years before Reiner's film career would truly kick back into action. The movie was "The Jerk" (1979) and it was the first of a fruitful collaboration with Steve Martin. Suddenly, Carl Reiner was trendy.
Each film that Reiner made with Martin got better - "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982), "The Man with Two Brains" (1983) and "All of Me" (1984).
He directed an esoteric little film with the British comic, Robert Lindsay, called "Bert Rigby, You're a Fool" (1989) and a promising comedy with Kirstie Alley and Bill Pullman, "Sibling Rivalry" (1990) which seems to have the fingerprints of studio tampering. Its flaws notwithstanding, I like "Sibling Rivalry," as well as the last movie that Reiner has directed to date, "That Old Feeling" (1997), a refreshingly old-fashioned comedy that pairs Bette Midler perfectly with the much-missed Dennis Farina.
As an actor, Reiner was pleasing company, a quality that came through in the handful of films that he directed. He had a good run as a filmmaker and, now that he's seemingly returned to acting (Steven Soderberph's "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy), his friendly face is a most welcomed presence.
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~photography: Universal-International 1963©
~Publicity shot of the writer at work
~Reiner's opening credits for "Head of the Family" (precursor to "The Dick Van Dyke Show")
~photography: CBS 1959©
~photography: United Artists 1966©
~George Segal and Ruth Gordon in Reiner's "Where's Poppa?"
~photography: United Artists 1970©
~Reiner on the set of "The Jerk" with Steve Martin
~photography: Universal 1979©
~Martin and Lily Tomlin in "All of Me"
~photography: Universal 1984©