The L.A. Times is reporting that Larry Gelbart, the iconic comedy writer responsible for the TV series “MASH,” co-writing the book “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and the movie “Tootsie,” died this morning at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 81.
Gelbart was diagnosed with cancer in June.
Gelbart was born in Chicago, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. His illustrious career included success in movies, television and on the Broadway stage.
Gelbart received two Oscar nominations, one in 1977 for the comedy “Oh, God” starring George Burns and John Denver and another in 1982 for co-writing the film “Tootsie” starring Dustin Hoffman. He won a Tony Award for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the Broadway musical based on a book he co-authored with Burt Shevelove. “Forum” opened as a Stephen Sondheim musical in 1962 starring Zero Mostel and won a Tony for best musical. But Gelbart’s greatest achievement was developing the hit TV series “M.A.S.H,” a comedy with serious undertones about a group of Army doctors working a field hospital during the Korean War. According to CNN.com, the show “was seen as a commentary on American involvement in the Vietnam War.”
Jack Lemmon once described the genial, quick-witted Gelbart as “one of the greatest writers of comedy to have graced the arts in this century.”
Gelbart’s more than 60-year career began in radio during World War II when he was a 16-year-old student at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. He wrote for “Duffy’s Tavern” and radio shows starring Eddie Cantor, Joan Davis, Jack Paar, Jack Carson and Bob Hope, with whom he traveled overseas when Hope entertained the troops.
In writing the pilot [for “MASH”], Gelbart recalled in his 1998 memoir “Laughing Matters,” he knew that it “was going to have to be a whole lot more than funny. Funny was easy. How not to trivialize human suffering by trying to be comic about it, that was the challenge.”