Irving Brecher, a comedy writer whose career in radio, television and the movies included writing two Marx Brothers comedies, co-writing the Judy Garland musical "Meet Me in St. Louis" and creating the radio and TV series "The Life of Riley," has died. He was 94.
Brecher died of age-related causes Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his wife, Norma.
Comedy writer Larry Gelbart, a longtime friend, remembered Brecher for his great wit.
"He was always a treat whenever he spoke," Gelbart told The Times on Tuesday. "I, for one, am sorry he didn't do more [writing]. He had had such success so early."
Born in the Bronx on Jan. 17, 1914, Brecher was a teenage usher at a movie theater on 57th Street in Manhattan when he began sending one-liners on penny postcards to columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan.
Occasionally, some of his funny lines showed up in print with his name included.
When he found he could make money selling lines to vaudeville comedians, he and a friend -- fledgling comedy writer Al Schwartz -- ran a small ad in Variety offering their gag-writing services.
Brecher said in an interview for Jordan Young's 1999 book "The Laugh Crafters" that at the time, a brash young comedian named Milton Berle had a self-promoted reputation for stealing other people's material.
Brecher and Schwartz's ad offered "positively Berle-proof gags, so bad not even Milton will steal them."
Their first customer: Milton Berle, who paid them $50 for a page of one-liners.
Brecher, then 19, continued to write gags for Berle and other acts before he turned to radio.
When Berle was signed by CBS in 1936 to do a radio program, "The Gillette Original Community Sing," Brecher became the program's only writer.
And when Berle went to Hollywood to costar in the movie "New Faces of 1937," the radio show went west with him. So did Brecher, who continued to write the program as well as the final script for the movie.
Brecher was soon under personal contract to producer-director Mervyn LeRoy, who took him to MGM, where he wrote the screenplays for the Marx Brothers' "At the Circus" (1939) and "Go West" (1940) and shared an Oscar nomination for the screenplay for "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944).
Among his other screenwriting credits are "Shadow of the Thin Man," "Du Barry Was a Lady," "Yolanda and the Thief," "Cry for Happy" and "Bye Bye Birdie."
In the early '40s, Brecher also created, wrote and produced the radio series "The Life of Riley," starring William Bendix.
Brecher wrote and directed a 1949 feature film version of "The Life of Riley," and the show became an Emmy Award-winning TV series with Jackie Gleason as bumbling working-class everyman Chester A. Riley before Bendix took over the role he played on radio.
Brecher's directing credits include the 1952 Betty Hutton musical "Somebody Loves Me" and the 1961 Robert Wagner comedy "Sail a Crooked Ship," which was Ernie Kovacs' last picture.
He also created and co-produced (with George Burns) "The People's Choice," a 1955-58 sitcom starring Jackie Cooper, which featured a pet basset hound named Cleo whose voice only the audience could hear.
Irving Brecher dies at 94; Comedy writer got an Oscar nod for 'Meet Me in St. Louis'
Brecher also created 'The Life of Riley' and wrote for Milton Berle and the Marx Brothers.
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