All in the Family
Annie Reiner is more than just Rob's sister
By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer
Author Annie Reiner is tall, elegant, poised -- and politelyexasperated when you ask about her famous father and brother.
You can hardly blame her: It's the umpteenth time she's beenasked.
Father, of course, is the celebrated comedian and filmmaker CarlReiner. Brother is Rob Reiner, director of "The Princess Bride,""Misery," "A Few Good Men" and "When Harry Met Sally..."
But Annie is not in the family business. Rather, she is apsychotherapist, painter, poet and author whose play, "Mirageá Trois," is now at the Santa Monica Playhouse. It's about aplaywright's conflict with his unconscious, which is not surprisingfrom an author who also practices psychoanalytic therapy. Thecomedy-drama is more surreal and dreamlike than NewYork-Jewish-neurotic.
Reiner, 48, says "Mirage á Trois" is her first producedplay. Her first two books (a poetry volume, a children's story) werepublished when she was 41. What took her so long? "Things simplyhappen to me when I am ready," she says.
Annie andfather Carl, "a powerful force." Below, the Reiner clan in the1950s.
Reiner's childhood was hardly typical. She spent her earliestyears on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and later moved fromWestchester County to Beverly Hills when Dad created "The Dick VanDyke Show." After school, Annie and shy, sensitive Rob often visitedthe set, where she played with little Ritchie between takes. At home,she helped her older brother prepare for his bar mitzvah at TempleBeth Zion.
Dinner guests included comic luminaries from the writer's room on"Your Show of Shows": Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon, Norman Lear andDad's best friend, Mel Brooks. Dad and Brooks practiced their2,000-year-old man shtick at parties. Annie's best friend was SidCaesar's daughter. Rob's very funny best friend was Albert Brooks.
All the while, Annie was aware of her brother's teenage angst. Ininterviews, Rob Reiner has often said that he was awed by hisfather's celebrity and by the comedy icons who filled the house. Hedesperately longed to be part of the group, to be deemed funny, butwas convinced Carl felt he lacked talent. "My father is a powerfulforce," Annie says, "so Rob felt he had to compete with that. It wasa lot of talking -- what comedians do is try to grab the floor -- soit got pretty loud."
If home life could be loud and funny, Annie was a quiet observer.She enjoyed frequenting museums with her mother, Estelle, a painter,and volunteering at a school for disturbed children. She was the onepeople turned to for advice: "My father used to say I had perfectpitch when it came to emotions," Annie says. Dad may have indirectlyaffected her career choice because "everyone on 'Your Show of Shows'was in analysis."
If she rebelled at all, it was that she was drawn to the innerworkings of the mind rather than the exhibitionist world of comedy.When Lear cast Rob as "Meathead" in "All in the Family," Annie wasworking toward her licensed clinical social worker degree, which sheearned from USC in 1975.
During those years and beyond, Rob often spoke to his sister abouthis feelings of love for and rivalry with his father. The angstdiminished with his own success, and, some interviewers havesuggested, because he has become a better filmmaker than his father.
Annie, however, speaks with equal admiration of "Your Show ofShows" and "When Harry Met Sally...," her favorite of Rob's films."When Sally orders everything on the side," she says, "that is me."
In her own therapy practice, Reiner utilizes much dream work, andall her artwork, she says, "is a dream." She suddenly began paintingwhen she was 30, when she spontaneously picked up a brush at herparents' house. Since then, she has had a number of one-woman shows,and her paintings now hang all over her sunny, Spanish-style Westsidehome. One of them, an abstract figure confronting an open door, was"another boyfriend receiving his walking papers," she quips.
Reiner also began writing in earnest around 1980, eventuallycreating a poetry volume, "Mind Your Head," and a book of shortstories, "This Nervous Breakdown Is Driving Me Crazy."
"Breakdown" is dedicated to her parents, for all their love,support and "for driving me crazy." Dad and Mom have read earlydrafts of everything she has written, she says, and her parentsattended the opening night of her play with Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroftand Steve Allen. Rob was there, and so was their much-youngerbrother, Lucas, 37, an artist. Brooks and Neil Simon providedlaudatory press quotes about "Mirage á Trois."
But, no, neither Carl nor Rob have been able to help Annie sellher screenplay, an unusual children's tale. That's because the pieceis "different from the mainstream and from the kind of work they do."Nevertheless, the creativity of each relative has helped feed Annieas an artist. "We all have a respect and a capacity for the truth,"she says.
For tickets and information about "Mirage á Trois," call(310) 394-9779, ext. 1.