Carl Reiner is 95. I’m 51.
I forget everything, including most appointments, where I put my purse and how to brush my teeth. Reiner — the Bronx-born comedy legend responsible for a lifetime of laughs, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Jerk and, well, his comic-genius son Rob — remembers everything.
As we chat about If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, HBO’s delicious homage to aging with grace and a large dose of humor, Reiner treats me to a bit from his and longtime bestie Mel Brooks’ iconic 2000 Year Old Man, then the theme song to Yenemvelt — the name Reiner, Brooks, Lear, Dom DeLuise and their spouses gave to a retreat the couples regularly enjoyed — and a host of charming tales about his storied career and the friends, famous and otherwise, who have kept his days so colorful.
Crafted by Reiner’s beloved nephew George Shapiro from the pair’s conversations about why some folks seem ageless, and titled for Reiner’s tongue-in-cheek morning ritual, the film features advice from longevity expert Dan Buettner, and Jerry Seinfeld offering the “younger” crowd’s perspective. But its liveliest, loveliest moments come via the seniors, including Reiner’s pals and other long-lifers — artists, athletes, musicians — who are guaranteed to make you rethink your notion of 90.
“The way I keep myself going is writing,” says Reiner, also an avid tweeter about politics and the young comic pundits he loves. “Just now, I’m doing a book that I can’t wait to finish. It’s every movie that has influenced me from when I was 6 up to the present. It’s going to be a table-sized book! I’m also putting the finishing touches on one called You Say God Bless You for Sneezing & Farting! That’s gonna be a best-seller! Fart books always sell. Mine is based on my granddaughter when she was four years old. She passed wind, she said, ‘Leo, don’t you say God bless you?’ They were going to kindergarten, she and her little friend. He said, ‘You only say it for sneezing,’ and she said, ‘No! “God bless you” is for sneezing and farting.’
“And by the way, I’m not the first person to write a book on farting,” Reiner points out. “The first was written by Benjamin Franklin, called Fart Proudly. I got it online for 15 bucks!”
Reiner shares his thoughts on some famous friends.
Mel Brooks, 90
Best Advice: Always Find The Funny
“We met in 1950. It’s 67 years since, and he still visits me every night,” Reiner says. “One of the reasons that we remained such good friends is not only do we get along, but our wives were very close, too.” The simpatico wits, who met on the set of Your Show of Shows, soon created 2000 Year Old Man, bits of which serve as Obit’s spine. Brooks hangs out with Reiner and Lear throughout Obit, each cracking the others up. Brooks and Reiner recall the Reiner kids’ reaction to finding Brooks asleep in their home (there was poking involved). Brooks bursts into song to prove one note in the 1931 Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz standard “Dancing in the Dark” is a literal killer. “You can’t laugh that hard without it adding time,” Lear says of their friendship. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
Dick Van Dyke, 91
Best Advice: Never Lose The Wonder
Between endearing scenes of Van Dyke interacting with young Mary Poppins fans and crooning with his 40-something wife Arlene Silver, the perpetually smiling star explains his motto, which he also titled his 2015 tome on staying youthful: Keep Moving. “New experiences are the only thing you can collect in life that end up being worth it,” Van Dyke muses. “I love having somewhere to go.” But his best advice? Indulge your inner child. “‘When you grow up, set aside the things of childhood,’” Van Dyke recites. “Well, it doesn’t mean imagination and creativity and dreaming. In my business, imagination is everything.” For Reiner, Van Dyke is everything, too. “Fans often ask what I’m most proud of,” he tells me. “I wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show for myself originally. When it didn’t sell, somebody said, ‘Let [sitcom producer] Sheldon Leonard read it.’ I didn’t want to fail twice with the same material, and he said, ‘You won’t fail. We’ll just get a better actor to play you.’ [Laughs] He was Dick Van Dyke — and the rest was history.”
Norman Lear, 94
Best Advice: Live In The Moment
The sitcom guru’s secret to vitality: “I like living in the moment. There are two words we don’t understand the importance of — ‘over’ and ‘next.’ If there was a hammock in the middle of over and next, that’s what they’d mean by living in the moment.” Not to mention blooming where you’re planted. “In a way, I’m the peer of whomever I’m talking to,” he adds. “If I’m talking to a 50-year-old, I’m 50. When I talk to a 12-year-old, I’m 12.” For Reiner, Lear will always be King of Yenemvelt. “Norman Lear did something that gave five couples the best times of their lives,” he says. “He was given free rein of a house that had five bedrooms, and he invited us all for the weekend. We laughed from the moment we stepped into that place, through lunch, dinner, nighttime soirees, singalongs. Games we played, like ‘pass the orange’ and ‘celebrity grapefruit.’ There wasn’t a moment that wasn’t full of laughs.”
Betty White, 95
Best Advice: Keep A Twinkle In Your Eye
Reiner met White when he played her suitor on Hot in Cleveland. As the pair discusses the perks of pressure-free work and lifelong good health, Reiner tells her how much he values his singing strolls. White’s response is pure gold: “If you couldn’t walk, you’d be a burden to people. I don’t want to be a burden to anybody … except possibly Robert Redford.” “Betty White is a force of nature,” Reiner tells me. “The Guinness Book of Records put her down as having television’s longest-running career. She had a show on the West Coast that played every day [1952’s Life With Elizabeth]; she produced it and everything. What’s funny is I call her my captain-in-law, because during the war, I was in the entertainment section and the captain in charge of the day’s work was Capt. Allen Ludden — the fellow Betty married.”
Kirk Douglas, 100
Best Advice: Don’t Let Bad Days Win
Reiner visits the screen legend at his home, where the pair discusses the impact of Douglas’ 1996 stroke, and how love and creativity saw him through. “I did the show to prove I could still function,” Douglas tells Reiner of 2009’s Kirk Douglas: Before I Forget (“What does an actor do who can’t talk? Wait for silent pictures to come back!” he cracks in a snippet). “I met Kirk on his 99th birthday and he’s an amazing man,” Reiner tells me. “He just wrote a book with his wife [Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood] and he has wonderful thoughts about life. Besides being a great actor, Douglas was a great activist at the time when left-wingers were considered social outcasts.” “You’re not Kirk Douglas to me,” Reiner tells Douglas. “You’re Spartacus. You are Van Gogh!”
If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast premieres June 5 at 8/7c on HBO