November 26, 2008
Irving Brecher, Radio, Stage, Screen Comedy Writer, 94
Irving Brecher, a comedy writer whose career in radio, television and film included writing two Marx Brothers comedies and co-writing the Judy Garland musical, "Meet Me in St. Louis," has died. He was 94.
Brecher died of age-related causes on Nov. 17 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his wife, Norma.
Born Jan. 17, 1914, in Bronx, N.Y., Brecher was 19 years old when he sold his first joke to Milton Berle. Brecher is the only writer to have gotten solo credit on two Marx Brothers movies, "At the Circus" and "Go West."
In a 2005 interview with Hank Rosenfeld for The Journal, Brecher talked about how he first saw Groucho Marx -- on screen and then later in person:
"I had been a passionate Groucho Marx worshipper since I was a kid," he recalled. "When I was a teenager [in 1930], the night editor of the Yonkers Herald-Statesman, where I worked, gave me a movie pass -- worth 25 cents! -- to see 'Animal Crackers,' and I was on the floor. I stayed in the theater and watched it a second time. I couldn't get it out of my head. I started doing my own version of Groucho Marx."
In 1937, Brecher was working at MGM, he recalled, "helping spike, or punch-up, 'The Wizard of Oz.' The great Oz producer, Mervyn Leroy, told me I was going to write a Marx Brothers picture. I couldn't believe it. I was excited, but scared, and when he introduced me to Groucho, I'm sure that my knees were shaking and my voice, too. 'Hello Mister Marx,' I said, extending my hand. Groucho says, 'Hello?' This is the writer you're gonna put on the picture, a guy who ad-libs hello? That's some ad-lib.' Groucho took me to lunch, and from then on, we became friends."
After his two features for the Marx Brothers, Brecher co-wrote "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He wrote seven other musicals at MGM, including the 1963 hit, "Bye Bye Birdie."
Brecher wrote and produced the long-running radio show, "The Life of Riley." He wrote the film of the same name, which starred William Bendix and was released in 1949 -- the same year "Riley" debuted as what is widely considered to have been the first sitcom on American television.
In addition to his screen and TV work, Brecher wrote vaudeville and radio shows for Milton Berle. He also wrote for and forged friendships with Hollywood funnymen Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Ernie Kovacs and George Burns.
Groucho Marx dubbed Brecher "The Wicked Wit of the West," a moniker Brecher later used as the title of his autobiography, due to be published in February by Ben Yehuda Press.
Brecher is survived by his wife of 25 years, Norma; stepson, Michael Waxenberg; and stepdaughters, Jane Ulman and Ellen Zoschak. Services were held Nov. 20 at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
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Harold Barnett died Nov. 14 at 90. He is survived by his son, Stuart; daughters, Robin Waller and Leslie; and sister, Sylvia Taylor. Hillside
Leonard Beller died Nov. 15 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Sheila; son, Mark (Rachel); daughters, Marla (Jim) Gilb and Ylana (Carmine); eight grandchildren; sister, Enid (Seymour) Zimbler; and brother, Gary (Carole). Mount Sinai
Rene Brand died Nov. 11 at 79. She is survived by her daughter, Ellen; and son-in-law, Arnold Levitt. Hillside
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Jane Chevron died Nov. 9 at 82. She is survived by her husband, Dan; daughter, Debra Peters; and sisters, Ilene Peters and Ann Phillips. Hillside
Charles Chuckrow died Nov. 10 at 82. He is survived by his daughters, Peggy Shepard and Carol Shepard; son, George (Loretta); and one grandchild. Malinow and Silverman
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Doris Sally Fradkin died Nov. 11 at 82. She is survived by her daughter, Marla (Dale) Stuntz; and sons, Alan and Neil (Judy). Hillside
Donald Friedman died Nov. 16 at 87. He is survived by his daughter, Hannah Gold; sons, Michael and Brian; sister, Margaret Preiser; niece, Adeline (Mark) Preiser; nephews, Randall (Sheris) Preiser and Douglas (Babs) Presier; and two great-nephews. Mount Sinai
Lorraine Hudson died Nov. 13 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Sandra Drummond and Roberta Dunlop; and son, Larry. Hillside
Sidney William Kash died Nov. 14 at 86. He is survived by his sons, Jeffrey and Richard; and daughters, Judith Dinges and Paula Mendel. Hillside
Sue Lee Leff died Nov. 5 at 75. She is survived by her sons, Fred and Daniel; and sister, Marilyn (Sam) Benton. Hillside
Robert Lench died Nov. 7 at 84. He is survived by his brother, Jerome; sister, Freda Laine; and niece, Lisa. Hillside
Max Linson died Sept. 16 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughters, Denise Renee (Henry) Grodzienski and Sherry Jo (Larry) Lerner; and two grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Jamie Pitkovski died Nov. 16 at 83. He is survived by his sister, Elena (Arthur) Magat; nephew, David (Rhonda) Magat; and nieces, Elizabeth (David) Gaynes and Michelle (Wayne) Levin. Mount Sinai
Majer Pulvermacher died Nov. 19 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Estera; daughter, Corrine (Lenny) Sands; son, Gerald (Mary-Belle); six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Pauline Saslow died Nov. 11 at 87. She is survived by her sons, Eric and Warren (Rebecca); sister, Regina Cheshes; and five grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
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Helen Silverman died Nov. 9 at 83. She is survived by her sister, Emily Masters; niece, Barbara Masters; and nephew, Matthew Masters. Hillside
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