Morton Lachman, one of the creative minds behind Bob Hope who was a writer and producer for the famous comedian for more than two decades before shifting into sitcom production in shows including “All in the Family,” “Gimme a Break” and “Kate & Allie,” died Tuesday at UCLA Medical Center. He was 90 and would have celebrated his birthday Friday.
FOR THE RECORD: A news obituary in Thursday’s Section A on television producer and comedy writer Morton Lachman said he won an Emmy for outstanding comedy series for “All in the Family” in 1971. The award was in 1978.
The cause was a heart attack and diabetes, according to his family.
For 28 years, until 1975, Lachman was a key member of Hope’s gag-writing machine, along with such writers as Larry Gelbart, Hal Kanter, Gene Perret, Sherwood Schwartz and Mel Shavelson. He also co-wrote and produced Hope’s television specials.
He later produced, directed and wrote for such shows as “The Red Skelton Hour,” “Sanford” and “That’s My Mama.” He also wrote for 11 Academy Awards and six Grammy Awards shows and co-wrote the movies “Yours, Mine and Ours” (1968, 2005) and “Mixed Company” (1974).
Among his awards were two Emmys: one for outstanding comedy series in 1971 for “All in the Family” and the other for directing an episode of “ABC Afternoon Playbreak” called “The Girl Who Couldn’t Lose” in 1975.
Born March 20, 1918, Lachman was a Seattle native who often was mistaken for a New Yorker (“People just naturally assume . . . every writer went to high school with Woody Allen in Brooklyn,” he once quipped.)
He aspired to become a journalist when he was a student at the University of Washington in the late 1930s. But after World War II, when he got out of the Army, he saw an ad in Variety seeking gag writers for singer-comedian Eddie Cantor. That job led him in 1947 to Hope, who invited Lachman to pitch jokes for his radio show.
The self-described “introvert from Seattle” found himself in a room full of gag writers vying for Hope’s approval. He jotted a joke on an old envelope and shyly gave it to the star, who read the joke to himself, then crumpled the paper. When all the other writers finished pitching their gags, Hope recited Lachman’s joke, earning big laughs.
Over the next decades, he traveled the globe with Hope, who was “fabulous to work for if you were a writer,” Lachman told Daily Variety in 1996. “He was comfortable in his own shoes, and not jealous like a lot of comics.”
Lachman recalled in that interview one occasion when the comedy icon was “at a loss” to explain how people were treating him. “We were in Red Square for the first show from Moscow ever done. We were passing Lenin’s Tomb and passing thousands of people and nobody looked at him. He said, ‘Mort, this is weird. Nobody knows me.’ I said, ‘Congratulations, now you know what it’s like to be me.’ He laughed and hugged me.”
Lachman is survived by his wife, Natalie Gittelson Lachman of Los Angeles; three children from his first marriage, JoAnn Culbert-Koehn, Diane Lachman and Robert Lachman; three stepchildren, Celia Gittelson, Eve Gittelson and Tony Gittelson; a sister, Doris McKeever Keenan; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at noon Friday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.