I thought I'd throw out a few moments of wit and wisdom that I culled over the years, just to add to the tribute and to remind the world once again how much poorer the world of comedy writing--and the world writ large--had become with his passing last September. These aren't the usual, canned quotes and stock stories that you find in circulation; they're all personal and so are priceless to me (speaking as Larry's "official memory").
* When the agent and deal-maker (the diminutive) Irving Paul "Swifty" Lazar died, someone called Larry for a comment. He replied "Good things come in small packagers." The reporter, however, printed "Good things come in small packages," which is the cliché, a thing Larry never left unimproved in his lifetime of writing. When we discussed it, he seemed genuinely hurt that someone would accept a hackneyed expression from him.
* When I asked him (at his London apartment in 1994) about the experience of writing the disastrously unfunny film Neighbors (1980), he looked at me for a second, stood up, walked to a bookshelf, and removed a copy of Bob Woodward's Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi. He handed it to me and said simply, "Page 200." He was right about the page and he spoke nothing more of the project.
* Larry called me once--when I was living out in California, researching my dissertation and eventual book about him--to talk about the murder of the guy who ran the Silent Movies theatre on Fairfax the day before. We talked for about an hour about the good times we had each had there (separately) over the years. In fact, the cinema was just across the street from his old high school. I was so flattered that he considered me a worthwhile partner with whom to lament.
* Speaking of high school, when Larry was still a student at Fairfax during World War II, Larry would play music (clarinet and sax) at the Hollywood Canteen sometimes with his friend, (fellow high schooler) André Previn. Larry told me that he would go to Previn's house and practice, and that Previn politely hinted it was time to leave before Art Tatum would arrive to give Previn a lesson.
* The last meal I shared with Larry was at the legendary Musso & Frank's in Hollywood. I had been there before, but when we decided against his first choice (it was unexpectedly closed), I suggested Musso & Frank's and there we lunched. He showed me where to park--behind the place--and took me in the back entrance, careful to point out to me the cash register that the waiters use to pay for everything they take from the kitchen, then collect the money from the customers later (a protection for owners against "lost" food items). We sat and talked, Larry having the shrimp salad, I the trout filet, and went over comedy theory, his recent work, family, everything. Near the end of the meal, a gentleman came to the table and said, "Hey Larry! I was in the men's room peeing when some guy said to me, 'did you see Larry Gelbart is here talking to some college professor?'" Larry was known.
* When I handed him a copy of a screenplay I wrote (and with trepidation that it might finally be good enough to share with LARRY GELBART), he asked me to send it to him electronically to read because his eyes were still bad from a screwed up cataract surgery. When I pointed out that I still wanted to give him this copy because I had dedicated the work to him, he leaned over and gave me a hug and asked me to inscribe it to him, as he had done so many times with his works for me. I was thrilled beyond description, and when he called a few days later with notes for me about the script, telling me it had a Preston Sturges feel at times, well, that was about the best feeling I've ever had!
I could go on and on (and those who know me know that's true and usual), but if you really want more, read my biography of Larry, The Classically American Comedy of Larry Gelbart. Since I'm still overseas here in Zagreb, it took me a while to receive a card from Larry's widow (hate having to use that word), Pat Marshall. She told me she looked forward to my next visit and sharing what I could with her to help with her transition without Larry.
"Without Larry" . . . still so hard to grasp. Happy birthday, Larr!