- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2000

Rob Reiner knows funny. The director of "The Princess Bride" and "The American President" grew up around such comic virtuosos as Sid Caesar, Norman Lear and Mel Brooks, legends who swapped shtick in the Reiner living room while the impressionable boy giggled off to the side.

So when Mr. Reiner says the latest recipient of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American humor is deserving, you believe him.

Even if the winner happens to be his father, comic auteur Carl Reiner.

The younger Reiner will be among the stars on hand Tuesday as his father becomes the third person to receive the Kennedy Center's comedy icon, a bust of Twain. Previously, Richard Pryor and Jonathan Winters took home the award.

Joining the director of "This is Spinal Tap" to fete his father will be Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, Richard Belzer and the stars of the elder Mr. Reiner's most famous creation, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Mary Tyler Moore and Mr. Van Dyke.

The award is fitting for reasons beyond his father's lifetime devotion to comedy, Mr. Reiner says.

"Mark Twain is his idol," he says, "the person he admired [the most]."

One of his father's most cherished possessions is a bound and signed collection of Twain's works, a gift from the "This is Your Life" program from 1960, his son says.

Starting with "Your Show of Shows" and running through "The 2,000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000," Mr. Reiner's comedy production line has rarely ebbed for more than 50 years.

The Bronx-born Mr. Reiner began entertaining GIs as part of a touring troupe in the South Pacific during the 1940s. Since then, he has directed Steve Martin in his funniest features ("The Jerk," "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"), co-starred in numerous films (1998's "The Slums of Beverly Hills") and written novels ("Enter Laughing").

In a career chockablock with highlights, the 78-year-old's crowning achievement remains "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Mr. Reiner created and co-wrote the show and also co-starred in it. The sitcom spit-polished Mr. Van Dyke's star while introducing us to the woman who could turn the world on with her smile, Miss Moore, in the role of Laura Petrie.

Rob Reiner says that growing up with Mr. Reiner, not to mention his father's famous friends, gave him an education in comedy any director would envy.

"They were in and out of the house all the time," he says of his dad's pals. "That had a tremendous effect on me. They would interview each other and do shtick. I was like the kid with his face pressed against the window. I always wanted to be a part of it."

Mr. Reiner, 55, says his father never drilled into him the essence of comedy, or whispered in his ear when he took his first turns behind the camera.

He didn't have to. The older Reiner led by example, and as the son's impressive comic resume proves, it was more than sufficient.

"Everything I've done, I've had his voice in the back of my head, guiding me, [saying] what's good, what's not good," he says. "It wasn't to gain his approval, but like a creative Jiminy Cricket who's always there."

Carl Reiner's benevolent behavior wasn't confined to show business.

"He didn't make a big deal about [his fame]," says Rob Reiner, who has spent time recently as chairman of California Children & Families Commission. "It was just the way he was. He cooks his own food, there's no [putting on airs]."

His father's many comic projects reflected that humanity.

"Everything he did came out of a human organic space," he says. "It was always trying to find the things that were the most honest."

"['The Dick Van Dyke Show'] was the only show that really showed what went on with men and women," he says.

That show, in fact, proves the closest to being an extension of who his father is, he says.

Mr. Van Dyke, for his part, says he can't think of anybody "who's more like Mark Twain than Carl."

"I'd like to plumb his brain and find out where the genius comes from," says Mr. Van Dyke, 74. "His insight into human behavior always amazes me."

When Mr. Van Dyke was approached to star in the show, he was coming off a Tony win for "Bye Bye Birdie" and had a pilot of his own to mull over.

Good thing Mr. Reiner made his next career choice easy for him.

"Carl sent me eight scripts, and I just threw mine out the window," he says. "He somehow grabbed all of our cadences, and he just wrote the way we talked normally."

Shooting "The Dick Van Dyke Show," turned out to be "the greatest five years of my life," he says, in part because of Mr. Reiner's nuanced pen.

"The humor came out of the relationships," he continues. "The marriage [to Miss Moore] was so believable to me. I identified with it, as did the audience."

Mr. Reiner also helped broaden his craft.

"Carl taught me how to be believable," he says, skills which served him well in some of his more dramatic work, such as the underrated feature, "The Comic" (1969).

Mr. Reiner also possesses the kind of foresight that would make a bookie blush.

"This show could be in reruns for a long time," he recalls Mr. Reiner saying at the time. So the writers avoided slang dialogue, political commentary or trends that would render the plots stale.

"That's why the show has held up," he says.

Mr. Van Dyke's current gig, starring in the eighth season of CBS' "Diagnosis Murder," might mark the end of his illustrious career.

That would suit Mr. Van Dyke just fine.

"My only ambition is to retire. I wanna put my feet up," he says.

But he would chip in with whatever future project Mr. Reiner might suggest.

"I would do anything with Carl," he says.



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