While the world will be a little less funny now, heaven will be a laugh riot now that Sally Rogers can once again exchange snappy barbs with Alan Brady her toupee-wearing boss on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Played brilliantly by the multi-talented Carl Reiner, the creator, producer, writer, and actor of that hit show, died on June 29.
Talk about a long run, this 98-year-old giant of 20th-century comedy spanned the history of television from its very dawn.
An early champion of women, he created some of televisions most memorable and iconic female characters.
This is the man who brought us Laura Petrie, the New Rochelle housewife who defiantly traded in the per-requisite starched dress and pearls of other TV housewives of the time for a more fetching pair of capris. After several seasons of stilted TV sitcom moms like June Cleaver and Margaret Anderson, Laura was a breath of fresh suburban air. Played to perfection by Mary Tyler Moore, he proved a woman could be both a PTA Mom and sexy.
And he created spunky Sally Rogers.
She was sharp, sassy, and sarcastic. And single. As a full-fledged member of the comedy writing team on the fictitious Alan Brady Show, she was a whip-smart working professional that was neither a teacher, a nurse, a ballerina nor a model, the usual assortment of career choices generally presented to girls at that time.
The Dick Van Dyke show was revolutionary. Instead of watching a husband and his briefcase come home from a mysterious unseen job in Corporate America, viewers watched the action in Rob Petrie’s office whereas head writer of the comedy variety show he worked with a saucy gal played by Rose Marie who could banter with the boys and out wisecrack most of the men around her. Including tormenting her hair challenged, egotistical boss Alan Brady played by Reiner. He once said he based that character not on Sid Caesar but a composite of Milton Berle, Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason.
Carl Reiner who created The Dick Van Dyke Show originally called Head of the Family-based it on his real-life experience as a family man living in New Rochelle and writing for Sid Caesar’s variety/sketch show Your Show of Shows in the 1950s.
While my TV generation remembers Carl Reiner from that classic sixties show an earlier generation revered Reiner as both a writer and performer the classic live TV sketch comedy program Your Show of Shows.
Growing up my parents spoke endlessly on the brilliance of the skits on Your Show of Shows. The writing was unparalleled thanks to the not too shabby likes of Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon.
But it was my grandmother Sadie who was a die-hard fan. It was must-see TV for her. In the early 1950’s “Coca and Canasta” was her Saturday night ritual with the other widowed ladies in her gracious Riverside Drive apartment in Manhattan. Setting up for the girls for their weekly card game never varied from the Brach Bridge mix in the cut glass bowls to the silver cigarette urns filled with the proper assortment of Pall Malls, Parliaments and Tareytons placed just so on George Briand snack tables.
The evening consisted of a rousing game of cards followed by schmoozing, kvetching, and laughing until their kishkes were sore watching their favorite TV program Your Show of Shows.
Zany comedienne Imogene Coca never failed to keep the girls in stitches with her side-splitting skits and as Nana Sadie was fond of saying: “Don’t even get me started on that meshuggah Sid Caesar!” But it was Carl Reiner’s second banana straight man to Caesars zany that would stay with her.
Just as years later I could vividly recall with bittersweetness the very last Saturday night episode of Mary Tyler Moore in 1977, so the sting of the final episode of Your Show of Shows in 1954 stayed with her.
On the Saturday of June 5, she and the girls were thrown a wild card- after this broadcast, they would have to make do on Saturday nights with just the Canasta. Their Saturday night fixture had been unceremoniously canceled. That would be the last episode of that gold standard of sketch comedy. “…Just thrown on the discard pile,” a forlorn Nana lamented, “like some unwanted joker. Hoo Ha” The laughter on the fifteenth floor would be a little dimmer come Saturday nights.
Today a world filled with such darkness just got a lot dimmer. Every bit a mensch as a comedian, Carl Reiner’s acerbic wit was a welcome voice in today’s twisted twitter-sphere. A political activist, his was an enlightened view never more necessary than during these troubled times. Oh, how I wished he could have lived to see Trump defeated. He’d have the last laugh.