(The following obituary by Dennis McLellan appeared in the Los Angeles Times, September 11.)
Larry Gelbart, the award-winning comedy writer best known for developing the landmark TV series "MASH," co-writing the book for the hit Broadway musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and co-writing the classic movie comedy "Tootsie," died this morning. He was 81.
Gelbart, who was diagnosed with cancer in June, died at his home in Beverly Hills, said his wife, Pat.
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.
He moved into television with Hope in 1950 and spent the next few years writing for the comedian as well as for Red Buttons' comedy-variety series.
In 1955, Gelbart joined the fabled writing staff of "Caesar's Hour," Sid Caesar's post-"Your Show of Shows" TV comedy-variety series. Among his fellow writers were Neil Simon and Mel Brooks.
In the writers' room, as colleague Carl Reiner later told Time magazine, Gelbart "popped jokes like popcorn."
Indeed, after Gelbart went to work for "Caesar's Hour," Hope contacted Caesar to say, "I'll trade you two oil wells for one Gelbart."
During his time on Caesar's show, Gelbart shared three Emmy nominations for comedy writing — in 1956, '57 and '58 — and earned the admiration of Brooks, who once described him as "the fastest of the fast, the wittiest man in the business."
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