January 10, 2011

Primetime Emmy Winner Coleman Jacoby, Major Comedy Writer, Dies at 95

In addition to writing for Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers and other pioneering television comedians, Jacoby was the first to pair Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, a partnership that eventually led to the classic series The Honeymooners.

Coleman Jacoby, a multiple Primetime Emmy winner and one of the pivotal comedy writers of television’s golden age, died due to pancreatic cancer on October 20, 2010, in East Meadow, New York. He was 95 and lived in Manhattan.

Early in his career, Jacoby worked in radio, and wrote for such comedians as Bob Hope and Fred Allen. As television grew in popularity he made the transition to the fledgling medium and wrote for such stars as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. He also contributed to the feature film The Joker Is Wild, which starred Frank Sinatra as nightclub performer Joe E. Lewis.

With writing partner Arnie Rosen, Jacoby created many of the most memorable characters performed by Jackie Gleason, including Reginald Van Gleason III, the Poor Soul, Joe the Bartender, Charlie Bratton, Rudy the Repairman and Fenwick Babbitt.

The partners are also noteworthy for the first pairing of Gleason with Art Carney — who they had known since their radio days — a combination that reached its apogee with the classic series The Honeymooners. On the show, which has remained in syndication for more than half a century, Gleason starred as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Carney as his friend and neighbor Ed Norton.

In 1956 Jacoby and Mr. Rosen were hired to write for You’ll Never Get Rich, the military comedy starring Phil Silvers as Sergeant Ernie Bilko. Over the next four years they wrote more than 50 episodes for the series, which was later known as The Phil Silvers Show.

He was born Coleman Jacobs on April 16, 1915, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At seven years old, after his mother died and his father abandoned the family, he was placed in the city’s Jewish Home for Babies and Children.

He studied art at a settlement house near Pittsburgh and at 16 left for New York City, where he painted murals on the walls of nightclubs and began writing jokes for standup comedians and Broadway press agents seeking to get their clients into Walter Winchell’s column with a joke or witty anecdote.

At the suggestion of the gossip columnist Earl Wilson, he changed his last name to Jacoby, which Wilson felt had a pleasing ring to it.

He and Rosen wrote for the television series Your Show of Shows, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. After writing for Gleason and Silvers, they spent five years writing for The Garry Moore Show. The partnership dissolved in 1967, when Rosen left for California to produce The Carol Burnett Show.

Jacoby’s other TV credits include The Buick-Berle Show for Milton Berle, The Alan King Show and Jackie Gleason and His American Magazine.

Coleman was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards and won three years in a row — in 1956, 1957 and 1958 — all for The Phil Silvers Show.

In 1940 he married Violeta Velero, one half of the Velero Sisters singing combo, who appeared with Latin bands. The marriage ended in divorce. He later married the dancer Gaby Monet, who died in 2009.

With his second wife, Jacoby formed Jacoby-Monet Productions, which produced television specials, many of them for children. In his later years he worked on a memoir, unfinished at his death, titled Nobody Likes an Arrogant Orphan.

He is survived by his daughter, Catherine Loria Parker, of Mineola, New York.

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