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Obituaries

November 26, 2008 | 5:47 pm

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.



Stanley Abrams died Nov. 14 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Vera; daughters, Anne (David) Steirman and Linda Feinholz; sons, Gene (Michele), Paul (Debbie Lauterbach) and Steven (Lori) Feinholz; and nine grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Rose Aminoff died Nov. 9 at 82. She is survived by her brother, Lee Mael; and sister, Hilda Jepsen. Hillside

Charles Barenfeld died Nov. 18 at 92. He is survived by his sons, Marc and Michael. Hillside

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

Moriyah Singh Chahal died Nov. 17 at 60. She is survived by her husband, Jasbir. Hillside

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

David Comsky died Nov. 12 at 80. He is survived by his wife, Cynthia; and daughters, Beth Raanan and Jill. Hillside

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

Irwin Schwartz died Nov.17 at 80. He is survived by his wife, Rita; daughters, Francine (James) Travers and Lauu (Larry) Turkheimer; son, Richard (Robin); and ten grandchildren. Mount Sinai.

Bruce Michael Shapiro died Nov. 14 at 68. He is survived by his sons, Marc and Brad (Tricia); daughter-in-law, Susan; and sister, Leslie Wybinow. Hillside

Helen Silverman died Nov. 9 at 83. She is survived by her sister, Emily Masters; niece, Barbara Masters; and nephew, Matthew Masters. Hillside

Minnie Spezman died Nov. 19 at 90. She is survived by her nieces, Joyce Margolin and Sharon Croskery. Mount Sinai

Frances Weiss died Nov. 18 at 99. She is survived by her niece, Marjorie Brachman; nephew, Bennet Brachman; and sister, Isabelle Gordon. Hillside

Rudolf Winkler died Nov. 15 at 92. He is survived by his wife, Carmel; son, Jonathan; and daughters, Sharon Bruce and Susan Schiff. Hillside

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