Al Gordon dies at 89; Emmy-winning comedy writer for Jack Benny


Al Gordon, an Emmy Award-winning comedy writer who spent much of his more than 40-year career writing for Jack Benny’s penny-pinching, vain and perennially 39-year-old persona, has died. He was 89.

Gordon died Wednesday of age-related causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his son, Neil.

In a career that began after World War II and included writing for Eddie Cantor’s radio show, Gordon soon teamed with comedy writer Hal Goldman.


A few months after they met, they learned that Jack Benny needed new material for Rochester, the valet character played by Eddie Anderson on Benny’s radio show.

They wrote a sketch and, after another writing job for the show, were hired to join Benny’s writing staff in 1950, just as Benny began his transition into television.

Over the next 24 years — through Benny’s TV show and his post-series TV specials until his death in 1974 — the comedian always referred to Gordon and Goldman as “the new writers.”

During their time writing for “The Jack Benny Program,” Gordon and Goldman shared two Emmy Awards with fellow Benny writers in 1959 and ’60.

“Hal and I had the best jobs in Hollywood,” Gordon told The Times in 1996. “We worked for a man who was truly a prince in this business.”

Gordon and Goldman, who also shared an Emmy with writer Sheldon Keller in 1966 for “An Evening with Carol Channing,” had different personalities.


Gordon was characterized in The Times story as the fast-talking, pushy one from the Bronx. He’d pace back and forth shouting out one-liners as the urbane Goldman, a mild-mannered Minnesota native, sat at the typewriter.

“Look, I was Jack’s unpolished diamond, the guy who could really deliver the one-liners,” Gordon said. “Hal was a nice man, but I was more active. He wanted to take it easy.”

To which Goldman responded in a separate interview: “I was the typist, as Al probably told you. And, yes, he couldn’t type. I don’t think he could even spell! Al came up with very good jokes, but I had better judgment.”

Gordon, who received seven other Emmy nominations over the years, wrote for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Flip Wilson Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Tony Orlando and Dawn” and “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters.”

He also wrote for sitcoms, including “That’s My Mama,” “Carter Country,” “Hello, Larry,” “Three’s Company” and “227.”

Gordon was born April 21, 1923, in Akron, Ohio, and moved with his family to the Bronx as a child.


He never dreamed of becoming a comedy writer, but his natural flair for comedy surfaced while he was serving in the Army Air Forces on a small island in the Azores during World War II.

A plane carrying members of a Special Services entertainment unit had engine trouble and landed on the island. And as a group of comedy writers worked on jokes for the upcoming show while waiting for parts to arrive, Gordon began injecting his own comments into the proceedings.

“He had an ability to know what to say and how to say it,” Neil Gordon said. “He kept correcting their jokes and adding jokes.”

After the war, Gordon’s son said, “One of those guys remembered him and sent him a telegram saying, ‘We’d like you to come to Hollywood and write radio shows with us.’ ”

In addition to his son, Gordon is survived by his daughter, Jill; and two granddaughters.