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Gary Belkin, 78; TV Writer for Sid Caesar, Carol Burnett Won Emmy for PBS Special

Times Staff Writer

Gary Belkin, a comedy writer who honed his skills on Sid Caesar’s “Caesar’s Hour” and went on to work for such television classics as “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Sesame Street,” has died. He was 78.

Belkin died Thursday in Los Angeles of emphysema, said his friend Mona Charles.

The Bronx-born Belkin got into comedy by suggesting ideas for New Yorker cartoons and writing jokes for radio comedians, and soon broke into television on Caesar’s variety show, which aired from 1954 to 1957.

He worked as part of a large team of writers, many of whom had written for Caesar’s earlier “Your Show of Shows,” which ran from 1950 to 1954.

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Belkin and his colleagues reunited with Caesar in 1996 for a PBS pledge drive television special called “Caesar’s Writers,” arranged by the Writer’s Guild West. The program featured Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Larry Gelbart, as well as Belkin, Sheldon Keller, Aaron Ruben, Simon’s brother Danny, and Mel Tolkin.

“The energy of the reunion simulated what actually went on in the writers’ room years before,” Caesar said in his 2003 “Caesar’s Hours” memoir. “The chemistry, respect and affection were still there.”

Belkin went on to write variety show scripts for “The Danny Kaye Show” and spent eight years with “The Carol Burnett Show.” He also wrote for sitcoms, including “Get Smart,” “The Doris Day Show,” “Three’s Company” and “Newhart” and scripted specials for such celebrities as Frank Sinatra (“Sinatra: Concert for the Americas”), Anne Bancroft (“Annie and the Hoods”) and Doris Day (“The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special”).

He earned an Emmy for his PBS sex education program “VD Blues” as well as an Emmy nomination for “Sesame Street” in 1985.

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He also shared an Emmy nomination for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1987

Belkin also wrote quips and poetry for Muhammad Ali.

Typical of Belkin’s wit was his “The Beverly Hills Philosophy,” which The Times reprinted in 1994 in its Laugh Lines column:

“Friends don’t let friends drive Yugos.

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“There is no such thing as a free brunch.

“Practice random profligacy and senseless acts of spending.

“Less is moronic.

“If you give a man a fish ... also give him a lemon wedge and basil.”

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Belkin had no immediate survivors.

A public memorial service will be planned at a later date.


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