Friday, September 11, 2009

Goodbye, Farewell, Amen - Larry Gelbart

Larry Gelbart passed away today of cancer. He was 81, and he lived a good life - a life any writer could envy. He developed the movie MASH into a famous TV show and wrote on that series for four years. He wrote the book for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the script for Tootsie, and HBO's Barbarians at the Gate. He won many awards and earned millions for his work. You can read the LA Times obituary here, where many very funny people attest to his geniality and comedic gift.

When I met him, we were working on a short-lived TV show. He came in as a consultant to try and save the thing, although even his magic powers couldn't do that. Nonetheless, Larry was a wonderful person for an aspiring writer to be around. I didn't know him well, but I did get to see how hard he worked, how razor sharp his mind and wit were, and the integrity with which he carried himself. Not only was Larry hilarious, he was honest and unafraid. He didn't blink at disagreeing with Hollywood's major bigwigs. He'd call a jerk a jerk, and right to the jerk's face. This is a town where executives who fail horribly are paid millions, complimented, and given production deals.

He'd also call you sweetheart if you were one. And he had the worst luck with technology - cars, toasters, computers, all seemed to implode if he came near them. I'm grateful I wasn't responsible for fixing all the machines he somehow managed to mangle. The rumors said he made a million dollars a week on the MASH residuals from all over the world. I don't know about that, but I do know he had a mansion in Beverly Hills and a house in Capri, Italy, where he'd retreat when he needed a break from Hollywood's hollowness. He deserved every penny, every golden reward. He put his heart, soul, and back into his writing. He was confident of his talent, but never arrogant.

MASH was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid, and I told him so. I'm really glad I got the chance to do that. I searched for a MASH clip to share with you here, but none seem to be available. So here's a very funny scene from Tootsie to remind you of his wit, his insight, and his talent.

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