During the early years of television comedy, from 1950 to 1957, he co-wrote and acted on Caesar's Hour and Your Show of Shows, starring comedian Sid Caesar. In the 1960s Reiner was best known as the creator, producer, writer, and actor on The Dick Van Dyke Show. He also had great success as a film director and writer, and partnered with Steve Martin in the 1970s when Reiner co-wrote and/or directed some of Martin's most successful films, including 1979's The Jerk.
Reiner formed a comedy duo with Mel Brooks in "2000 Year Old Man", and acted in films such as The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) and the Ocean's Trilogy (2001–2007). Reiner has won nine Emmy Awards and one Grammy Award during his career. He is the father of actor and director Rob Reiner, author Annie Reiner and grandfather to actress Tracy Reiner.
Reiner was born in the Bronx, New York City, New York on March 20, 1922, the son of Irving, who was a watchmaker, and Bessie (née Mathias) Reiner. His parents were Jewish immigrants, his mother from Romania and his father from Austria. His older brother Charlie served in the 9th Division's 37th Infantry at 11 major World War II battles and had his ashes buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At age 16, Charlie read in the New York Daily News about a free dramatic workshop being put on by the Works Progress Administration and told Carl about it. His uncle Harry Mathias was the first entertainer in his family. He had been working as a machinist repairing sewing machines. He credits Charlie with changing his career plans.
Reiner was drafted into the Army Air Forces in 1943 and served during World War II, eventually achieving the rank of corporal. He initially trained to be a radio operator, but after spending three months in the hospital recovering from pneumonia, he was sent to Georgetown University for ten months to train as a French interpreter. During language training, he had his first experience as a director, putting on a Molière play entirely in French. In 1944, after completing language training, he was sent to Hawaii to work as a teleprinter operator. The night before he was to ship out for an unknown assignment, he attended a production of Hamlet by the Special Services entertainment unit. Following an audition for actor and Major Maurice Evans, he was transferred to the Special Services. Reiner performed around the Pacific theater, entertaining troops in Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima for the next two years. He was discharged in 1946.
Reiner performed in several Broadway musicals (including Inside U.S.A. and Alive and Kicking) and had the lead role in Call Me Mister. In 1950, he was cast by producer Max Leibman in Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, appearing on air in skits while also working alongside writers, such as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Reiner also worked on Caesar's Hour with Brooks, Simon, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, Mike Stewart, Aaron Ruben, Sheldon Keller, and Gary Belkin.
Starting in 1960, Reiner teamed with Brooks as a comedy duo on The Steve Allen Show. Their performances on television and stage included Reiner playing the straight man in 2000 Year Old Man. Eventually, the routine expanded into a series of 5 comedy albums and a 1975 animated TV special, with the last album in the series winning a Grammy Award for Spoken Comedy Album. The act gave Brooks "an identity as a comic performer for the first time," said Reiner. Brooks's biographer, William Holtzman, called their 12-minute act "an ingenious jazz improvisation ...", while author Gerald Nachman described Reiner's part in guiding the act:
The routine relies totally on the team's mental agility and chemistry. It's almost heresy to imagine Brooks performing it with any other straight man. Reiner was a solid straight man to Caesar, but with Brooks he is the second-banana supreme...guiding his partner's churning comic mind.
In 1959, Reiner developed a television pilot titled Head of the Family, based on his own personal and professional life. However, the network did not like Reiner in the lead role for unknown reasons. In 1961, it was recast and retitled The Dick Van Dyke Show and became an iconic series, making stars of his lead actors Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. In addition to writing many of the episodes, Reiner occasionally appeared as temperamental show host Alan Brady. The series ran from 1961 to 1966. In 1966, Reiner co-starred in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.
On The Dick Van Dyke Show, he began his directing career. After the series ended its run, his first film feature was an adaptation of Joseph Stein's play Enter Laughing (1967), which, in turn, was based on Reiner's semi-autobiographical 1958 novel of the same name. Balancing directing, producing, writing, and acting, Reiner has worked on a wide range of films and television programs. Films from his early directing career included Where's Poppa? (1970), Oh, God! (1977), and The Jerk (1979).
In one of his memoirs, Reiner writes, "Of all the films I have directed, only Where’s Poppa? is universally acknowledged as a cult classic. A cult classic, as you may know, is a film that was seen by a small minority of the world’s filmgoers, who insist that it is one of the greatest, most daring, and innovative moving pictures ever made. Whenever two or more cult members meet, they will quote dialogue from the classic and agree that 'the film was ahead of its time.' To be designated a genuine cult classic, it is of primary importance that the film fail to earn back the cost of making, marketing, and distributing it. Where’s Poppa? was made in 1969 for a little over $1 million. According to the last distribution statements I saw, it will not break even until it earns another $650,000."
Reiner played a large role in the early career of Steve Martin, by directing and co-writing four films for the comedian: The Jerk in 1979, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid in 1982, The Man with Two Brains in 1983, and All of Me in 1984. Reiner also appeared in both The Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.
In 1989, he directed Bert Rigby, You're a Fool. In 1990, he narrated the Grimm children's story "The Musicians of Bremen" (music by Bernard Rogers) for a CD of classical music for children. In 2000, Reiner was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. A year later, he portrayed Saul Bloom in Steven Soderbergh's remake of Ocean's Eleven, and later reprised the role in Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). From 2004 to 2005, Reiner voiced Sarmoti in Father of the Pride.
Reiner is the author of several books, including his 2004 memoir My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir and novels, such as his 2006 novel NNNNN: A Novel. In American Film, he expressed his philosophy on writing comedy: "You have to imagine yourself as not somebody very special but somebody very ordinary. If you imagine yourself as somebody really normal and if it makes you laugh, it's going to make everybody laugh. If you think of yourself as something very special, you'll end up a pedant and a bore. If you start thinking about what's funny, you won't be funny, actually. It's like walking. How do you walk? If you start thinking about it, you'll trip."
In May 2009, he guest-starred as a clinic patient on the season finale of House. Reiner also voiced Santa Claus in Merry Madagascar and reprised his role in the Penguins of Madagascar episode "The All Nighter Before Christmas." In December 2009, Reiner guest-starred as a television producer on Two and a Half Men.
In June 2010, Reiner guest starred in Hot in Cleveland as Elka Ostrovsky's date and reprised the role in July. He also made appearances on The Cleveland Show as Murray and wrote the story for the episode "Your Show of Shows", named after the program that started his career. In October 2013 and January 2014, Reiner reprised his role on Two and a Half Men.
On December 24, 1943, Reiner married singer Estelle Lebost. The two were married 64 years, until her death. At the time of the marriage, Reiner was 21 and she was 29. Estelle delivered the line "I'll have what she's having" in the deli scene of their son Rob's 1989 film When Harry Met Sally. She died on October 25, 2008, at age 94.
He is the father of Rob Reiner (b. 1947), poet, playwright and author Sylvia Anne (Annie) Reiner (b. 1949), and painter, actor, and director Lucas Reiner (b. 1960). Carl Reiner has six grandchildren, four from Rob and two from Lucas, and five great-grandchildren.
Reiner has described himself as a Jewish atheist. He has said, "I have a very different take on who God is. Man invented God because he needed him. God is us." Reiner also told Moment journalist Lynda Gorov that he developed atheism as the Holocaust progressed.
A Democrat, Reiner endorsed United States senator of Vermont Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination during the 2016 United States presidential election.
Reiner resides in Beverly Hills, California. At 95, he is one of the oldest celebrities active on Twitter.The Thrill of It All (1963)
The Art of Love (1965)
Enter Laughing (with Joseph Stein, 1967)
The Comic (with Aaron Ruben, 1969)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (with Steve Martin and George Gipe, 1982)
The Man with Two Brains (with Steve Martin and George Gipe, 1983)
Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989)
Enter Laughing (1967)
The Comic (1969)
Where's Poppa? (1970)
Oh, God! (1977)
The One and Only (1978)
The Jerk (1979)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
The Man with Two Brains (1983)
All of Me (1984)
Summer Rental (1985)
Summer School (1987)
Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989)
Sibling Rivalry (1990)
Fatal Instinct (1993)
That Old Feeling (1997)
Something Different (1967)
Your Show of Shows (1950–54)
Caesar's Hour (1954–1957)
The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (1959–1960)
The Comedy Spot (1962)
The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–66, also creator)
The Judy Garland Show (1963)
The Celebrity Game (1964-1965)
The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971–1974)
Lotsa Luck (1973) (also creator)
The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited (2004)
The Cleveland Show (2010–2011)
Jake and the Never Land Pirates Captain Treasure Tooth (Voice)
A Touch of Grace (1973)
If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017)
Carl Reiner: An American Film Institute Seminar on His Work, Microfilming Corporation of America, (1977)*
Faerie Tale Theatre Pinocchio (1984) as Geppetto
Gerald McBoing Boing and Other Heroes (compact disc) The Musicians of Bremen (1991) as Narrator
World War Z (2007) as Max Brooks
1954: Best Series Supporting Actor for "Your Show of Shows" NBC – Nominee
1956: Best Actor in a Supporting Role for "Caesar's Hour" NBC – Nominee
1957: Best Supporting Performance by an Actor for Caesar's Hour NBC – Winner
1958: Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic or Comedy Series for Caesar's Hour NBC – Winner
1962: Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy for The Dick Van Dyke Show CBS – Winner
1963: Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy for The Dick Van Dyke Show CBS – Winner
1964: Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy or Variety for The Dick Van Dyke Show (Shared with Sam Denoff and Bill Persky)CBS – Winner
1965: Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment for The Dick Van Dyke Show CBS – Winner
1965: Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment for The Dick Van Dyke Show - Nominee
1966: Special Classifications of Individual Achievements for voices in "Linus The Lionhearted" CBS – Nominee
1966: Outstanding Comedy Series for The Dick Van Dyke Show CBS – Winner
1967: Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety for The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris Special (Shared with Mel Brooks, Sam Denoff, Bill Persky, and Mel Tolkin) CBS – Winner
1995: Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for Mad About You: "The Alan Brady Show" NBC – Winner
2000: Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series for Beggers And Choosers - Nominee
2004: Outstanding Special Class Program for The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited - Nominee
Grammy Award nomination, 1960, (2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks)
Grammy Award (The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000)
Elected to Emmy Award Hall of Fame
Elected to Television Hall of Fame in 1999
Grammy nomination for best spoken word album, 2001 (Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings from Mark Twain)
2017: Together with son Rob, footprints and handprints where added to concrete slab at Chinese Grauman's Theater, thus becoming the first father and son to be memorialized with a joint slab at the theater.