In Memoriam: Larry Gelbart

No one ever knows how to write something like this. Wait, let me take that back: Some people can write what they feel, sincerely and beautifully, even if it’s a difficult thing to do. Larry Gelbart was one of those people. Sadly, we lost Larry today, age 81, from cancer.

Immensely talented and one of the best American comedy writers around, Larry was also genuine, lovely, and warm. When I first found the Internet it was through Usenet back in the mid-1990s, and one of the first newsgroups I read was alt.tv.mash. Imagine my disbelief when someone who claimed to be Larry Gelbart posted there! It didn’t take long for me to be convinced that it really was Larry, especially when he mentioned the newsgroup in an interview. Larry, who went by the nym ElSig (and later “nick”, for some reason) was always so happy to answer questions and to jump in with a well-timed “That’s news to me” when someone who didn’t know much about “M*A*S*H” provided incorrect “facts” about Larry or the show.

Larry Gelbart and I emailed back and forth a few times, and of course talked (in Usenet terms) on the group. This was years ago, I haven’t been active on Usenet for a very long time, but I’ll never forget him. He was kind enough to neither ignore nor laugh at me when I sent him a squeeing fangurl email. You see, “The Wrong Box” is one of my favorite films, and I was unable to control myself when I realized I had Gelbart’s email address. Despite my embarrassing email, he was gracious, kind, and told me how much he and Burt Shevelove had enjoyed adapting the novel to film. On the newsgroup he talked about the character based on him in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” — Kenny, played by VIctor Garber — and brought others from “M*A*S*H”, such as actor Jeff Maxwell, to the forum. His posts were never boring, and I was always astounded that the newsgroup didn’t overflow with people once the word got out that it really was Larry Gelbart posting to the group.

The more I read from Gelbart online the more I realized how truly talented he was. If you get a chance to see him in interviews or documentaries, you won’t be disappointed. Recently he appeared in the doc “Make ‘Em Laugh”, which our local PBS station aired.

Larry, you will be deeply missed. Rest in peace.


This picture appears on boston.com and other sites saying that Larry Gelbart is the man on the right. I don’t think that’s Larry, that’s Woody Allen.

The boston.com obit.

Ken Levine’s brief but heartfelt post about Larry Gelbart’s passing.

The L.A. Times blog The Daily Mirror’s post of Larry Gelbart articles, both about him and written by him.

6 Comments

  1. I’m sure that’s actually Gelbart in the photo–Woody Allen would’ve appeared shorter, for one thing. Also, Allen was not one to grin like that!

    Gelbart made an interesting appearance around ten years ago on a comedy panel hosted by Alan King. On that show Gelbart said that he recently introduced his grandson to Buster Keaton on DVD. That’s creating good karma! :D

  2. I’m not so sure. I’ve seen Allen with that exact grimace-grin in his old standup stuff:

    And a young Woody Allen:

    http://scottbrothers.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/woody-young.jpg

    Maybe we’re not looking at the smae guy. The guy on the right directly behind Mel Brooks is standing and doesn’t look tall at all, he looks quite short. boston.com lists them as: “(front, from left) Gary Belkin, Sheldon Keller, Michael Stewart, Mel Brooks, and (rear, from left) Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, and Larry Gelbart”.

    This is supposed to be a photo of the “Show of Shows” writers, but I think it’s “Caesar’s Hour” which shared many of the same writers but which also had Allen.

  3. KING OF JAZZ super secretly left me this message:

    This is getting interesting!

    If it pleases the court, I do think the fellow on the (extreme) right is sitting; he looks slightly scrunched and his bent pants knee seems to be showing.

    I concede that Mr. Allen could occasionally make the expression you mentioned, but forensically speaking the shape of the chin seems more like Gelbert than Allen.

    I rest my case, nervously. ;D

    I see you’re right, his knee is up. He must be sitting on the windowsill that Mel Tolkin is sitting on.

    Forensically speaking, ha ha, I think his chin probably looks weird because of the expression he’s making, so it’s really hard to tell who it is. If I had a picture of a young Larry Gelbart I could guess more accurately. But there is no such picture to be had! The earliest I can find is the 1970s.

    This may require a trip to the library. Horrors!

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