Larry Gelbart, who died late last week, was one of the few writers who not only worked in nearly every facet of the entertainment industry — but in many respects, dominated it. And for over sixty years, no less — an impressive record by any standards, just like those of the other great entertainments that Larry had the good fortune of working with.
Larry, of course, will always be remembered for helping to bring M*A*S*H to television, as not only a writer, but a producer as well. Larry, along with Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe, not only laid out the groundwork for M*A*S*H in every aspect (including casting the actors to play the series’ chief characters, including Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce), but also raised the bar in terms of quality, not only for the writers, producers, and directors who followed in Larry and Gene’s footsteps after they left M*A*S*H in the mid-to-late-1970’s, but also the creative forces behind some of TV’s popular series in the past few decades. More importantly, M*A*S*H showed the aftermath of war, as depicted in the M*A*S*H 4077th O.R. scenes — which, like the 1970 film version, set it apart from past TV military sitcoms — and gave generations of viewers something to think about, including many Korean War veterans who were saved by the doctors and nurses of the real-life M*A*S*H units that inspired not only the film and TV versions, but also Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel that launched the franchise.
M*A*S*H represented but one part of Larry Gelbart’s long and distinguished career — he also wrote NBC’s Your Show Of Shows and Caesar’s Hour in the 1950’s (along with Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Woody Allen, to name a few), as well as hit films like Oh God! and Tootsie. Not to mention co-writing the 1960’s Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. I’d list a few more of Larry’s accomplishments — but I’m already sure that other journalists and historians more experienced than yours truly have already got that covered.
I never met Larry Gelbart during his lifetime — however, I did communicate with him via e-mail several times during the final years of his life, including the time when Larry praised the article I wrote on the M*A*S*H franchise on Telewatcher’s website a few years ago (and for those who wishing to check it out, please go to http://www.telewatcher.com/Drama/M*A*S*H/Mash.48938). I greatly appreciated Larry’s e-mail letter concerning my Internet article — just like Larry appreciated my efforts in writing it.
I can only hope that decades after his death, everybody will still be talking about Larry Gelbart and his contributions to the entertainment world — and his influence on not only the art form that he mastered, but also those talented enough to tackle it. Larry was and will always be one of a kind.
Internet web site: http://jlavernoich2008.web.officelive.com/default.aspx
Facebook site: http://www.facebook.com/john.lavernoich?ref=name
My Space site: http://www.myspace.com/jlavernoich