Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

September 13, 2009

true greatness

Off-topic but I feel like I must write this.

Words like "great" are thrown about freely these days. "Great performance", "great actor" etc. It's rare to write about a true great.

Here's a great, and yet you may not recognise the name. Larry Gelbart. I mention him because he died a couple of days ago.

He was the genius behind the brilliant TV series Mash, and my favourite ever comedy film Tootsie. He was also a brilliant writer for the stage, conquering all three media.

On Mash, he was at the helm for the first four years when it was at his comic peak. The obits make a lot of him creating the dramatic thread of the programme (war is bad - perhaps not such a breakthrough?) but most of the funniest lines of those years came from Gelbart's pen.

He went on to other triumphs, especially with Tootsie, which is one of those films where every scene has a very funny line. It's a film that doesn't date at all.

I also have a soft spot for him because I used to hang out at the alt.tv.mash newsgroup (remember newsgroups?) where he also used to hang out. People often sent him questions, and as is often the case with hardcore fans, they were mostly asking about the trivial details. Why did that picture hang on the left of the CO's wall and later on the right? Why was Blake's sister called Susie in this ep and Jane in that one. Gelbart always replied, usually and understandably with no recollection at all about the point being raised. But his replies were always polite and witty and genuinely grateful for the continuing interest in him and his work.

Some of the obits mention his reaction to his death being declared last year, which gives the flavour of his wit.

In December, 2008, the still-professionally active Gelbart found himself the subject of an Internet hoax on the online bulletin board alt.obituaries, which reported that he was "gravely ill . . . from a massive stroke." He was fine, of course -- and in fine comedic fettle. Referring to his alleged pending demise, he e-mailed alt.obituaries: "Does that mean I can stop exercising?" But ever the re-writer, Gelbart came up with another witty response in a brief chat with an inquiring Los Angeles Times reporter: "I was dead, but I'm better now."

People always enthuse about the actors in shows like this. They often talk as if the best lines must have been created by the actors. Here's a nod to the writers who create the characters, the situations, the words, the comic genius.

RIP Larry Gelbart. Thanks for all the laughs. There were many.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree, I grew up on MASH, and while my politics are now on a different part of the spectrum, his writing was always razor sharp and hilarious. I'm glad he lived a good long life.

6:36 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home