Larry Gelbart

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A pre-eminent American screenwriter, librettist, director, and producer during the latter half of the 20th century.
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b. Larry Simon Gelbart, 25 February 1928, Chicago, Illinois, USA. A pre-eminent screenwriter, librettist, director, and producer, Gelbart moved as a child with his family to California. His father was a barber, and used to cut the famous comedian Danny Thomas’ hair. When Gelbart was 16, he went to work for Thomas, writing jokes, and then moved on to other top radio comics such as Bob Hope and Eddie Cantor. Hope took Gelbart into television, where he met Burt Shevelove, and in 1958 the two of them set about the task of working through all 21 of the surviving comedies by the Roman playwright, Plautus. Together with composer Stephen Sondheim, they took four years writing and re-writing what became A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. The show opened on Broadway in May 1962, and ran for 964 performances. Gelbart and Shevelove both won Tony Awards. Gelbart went to London in 1963 for the West End opening, and stayed for nine years. He wrote for Marty Feldman, and provided the screenplays for a number of movies, many of them uncredited.

Back in the USA, Gelbart started work on turning the 1970 film M*A*S*H into a television series. He won Emmys for his contributions - writing many of the almost 100 episodes 1972-83, as well as directing and serving as executive producer on the series. Gelbart made his stage debut as a director with a UK revival of ‘Forum ’, which transferred from the Chichester Festival to the West End in 1986. Three years later, City Of Angels, an ingenious and hilarious private eye spoof of a musical, for which Gelbart wrote the book (and won his third Tony), opened on Broadway. It was a stinging satire on Hollywood, and the indignities that screenwriters suffer in ‘the ego-fuelled jungle warfare that rages on the West Coast’, in particular, Gelbart’s experience on the film Tootsie, the story of a ‘resting’ actor who masquerades as a woman in order to get a job in a television soap opera. Of its star, Dustin Hoffman, Gelbart was quoted thus: ‘Never argue with a man who is shorter than his Oscar.’ A legend in the business, renowned for his skill and wit, apart from his two big hits, ‘Forum ’ and City Of Angels, Gelbart’s credits have included Sly Fox, Mastergate, Jump, and Power Failure. He has not emerged unscathed. In 1961, after experiencing immense difficulties getting The Conquering Hero, a show based on Preston Sturges’ sentimental comedy movie Hail The Conquering Hero, into New York for its eight-performance run, he is reported to have said somewhat wearily, ‘If Hitler is still alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.’