Q&A; WITH CARL REINER : On Comedy, Books and Toupees
Carl Reiner was upset. He found out that someone had hired a stripper to perform at a surprise afternoon birthday party for the man who’s editing his upcoming fall film--the noir parody “Fatal Instinct.” “What are they thinking?” he said. “‘We should be more enlightened than this. It’s dehumanizing to the young woman and besides, arousing somebody in the middle of the afternoon, it just doesn’t seem right.” He had the stripper canceled. “Now you know who I really am,” he said. “I’m a prude.”
Well, you sure wouldn’t know it from reading Reiner’s new novel, “All Kinds of Love” (Birch Lane Press, $18.95), a Hollywood sex farce that has people doing the horizontal hula all over the place, the story of a big-time producer and his unfulfilled wife who both end up having an affair with their beautiful female Japanese tutor while their son runs off with one of the twin Salvadoran maids.
Reiner, 71, is best known as a writer and producer whose accomplishments include creating “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” directing “All of Me” and “The Jerk,” teaming with Mel Brooks for the legendary 2,000-Year-Old Man routines and writing for Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows” in the 1950s. He’s won 11 Emmy Awards and with his wife of 49 years, Estelle, has three children, including director Rob Reiner.
Reiner’s first novel, “Enter Laughing,” published in 1958, was adapted as a Broadway play and a feature film.
Reiner talked in his office at the Warner-Hollywood studios . (The stripper never arrived but a birthday cake was delivered in time for the party.)
Question: Why did you wait so long between novels?
Answer: When I wrote “Enter Laughing” I was just so excited about having written a book. Because I was an actor up until then. On “Show of Shows” I was a writer without portfolio and all the other writers would say, “What do you know? You’re a (bleeping) actor.” But I knew I was a writer, too, and having a book proved it. Then I started to write another book the next summer, with the same character from “Enter Laughing” and the editor read 160 pages and said, “This is very good, but you’d have a much more important book if you changed the central character.”
So I stopped and started writing the Van Dyke show instead and then a few movies. I just got busy, I guess. And the difference is that all those things I was writing made money for me, and novels are never for profit. They’re like a luxury. Now that I’m venerable and have time between pictures, I had time to write a novel again.
Q: Why would a man of your years and distinguished accomplishments write a book with so much humping in it?
A: I think there’s a little more to it than that, although there is a lot of humping. The thing is, you don’t lose your sexuality as you get older. It’s funny, because I used to ask older people about their sexuality because you wanna know what’s in store for you.
Now I’m 71 and this is how you think, this is what you think about. You don’t act out all this stuff, but it’s always with you and writing this book allowed me to feel those things that the characters might be feeling. That’s why--I’ve been told--some of it is arousing. I was on “The Vicki Lawrence Show” and she started reading a section out loud and I had to stop her. I said, “I’m blushing, it’s not meant to be read out loud.”
Q: Is writing a novel different from writing a screenplay or a television show?
A: When you’re writing a novel, you’re writing with your muse. I don’t know who that is. When you’re writing a novel, you’ve got nobody but yourself. All those other things you need collaborators. You don’t need anybody--an actor--to interpret it.
Q: So you may be prouder of this than anything else you’ve done?
A: Absolutely. Although the Van Dyke show is probably the most thrilling of my accomplishments because that was very, very personal, the most personal thing I’ve done. Because it was about me and my wife, living in New Rochelle and working on the Sid Caesar Show. All those other things have just been entertainments. I was a man for hire.
Q: Who’s the funniest person you know?
A: Mel Brooks has made me laugh as much as any human being can make another person laugh. Not only the 2,000-Year-Old Man, where he kept astounding me every time we did it. But he once described catching a mouse in his house, and the story went on for 25 minutes. He impersonated the mouse and everyone involved. It was such a piece of genius that he couldn’t ever repeat it again. All of us who were there remember to this day and it wasn’t a bit, it was just him telling a story in his house.
Q: How do you think Rob is most like you?
A: His work ethic. He’s more dogged than I am. When he gets after something, he won’t let go. He’s like a pit bull. He used to come every summer and watch us do the Van Dyke show, when he was 14, 15 and he says he learned everything from me. Also I think he’s smarter than me. He’s got, really, a photographic memory. He’s been bright since he was a kid.
Q: When did you start losing your hair?
A: I had hair until I was 30. I lost little bits in the front and I had my first toupee on “Show of Shows,” a little piece they added to the front and every year I got a bigger piece. I never wore it except on the show because on TV I was supposed to be the handsome guy, the guy who was cuckolding Sid Caesar. And then I decided I wouldn’t wear it on television unless it was network. On local shows, I wouldn’t wear it. I had all these rules for myself.
Q: But eventually you stopped wearing it at all.
A: The last time was at a People’s Choice Awards maybe seven, eight years ago, because I was the host and I figured I’d dress up. Guys like Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston used to wear theirs all the time and they asked how I decided when to wear it and when not to wear it and I told ‘em, when it’s a big crowd, then I’ll wear it. Jimmy Stewart was never without his. Fred Astaire.
Q: So who has the worst rug on television?
A: The ones where the hair sticks out, that’s bad. I don’t want to name names.
Q: Marv Albert?
A: See, I thought he just had funny hair. The trick is not to put too much hair up there. I always looked good because I ordered the guy to put one-third of the hair he put in a regular rug.
Q: Sam Donaldson?
A: Oh no, that’s not a rug. He’s got crazy hair.
Q: Who’s the best? Ted Danson?
A: His is only in the back, which almost doesn’t count. Burt Reynolds goes up and down, good and bad.
Q: Is there anything else about the book that we ought to mention?
A: Just make sure that everyone who reads this article buys a copy. That’s not much to ask, is it?