June 10, 2011

Prolific Comedy Writer-Producer-Director Leonard Stern Passes

In addition to working on such series as The Honeymooners, Get Smart and McMillan and Wife, Stern co-created the enduring word game Mad Libs.

Leonard Stern, a longtime writer, producer and director whose television credits included The Honeymooners, Get Smart, and McMillan and Wife, died June 8, 2011, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87.

According to news reports, the cause was heart failure.

Born December 23, 1923, in New York City, Stern began his career in radio, writing comedy material for Milton Berle and Abbott and Costello.

Radio led to work as a screenwriter of such feature films as Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion and The Jazz Singer.

He moved into television in the 1950s as a writer for Jackie Gleason on The Jackie Gleason Show and the classic comedy The Honeymooners, as well as The Phil Silvers Show and The Steve Allen Show.

The following decade, he produced the espionage farce Get Smart, starring Don Adams as bumbling spy Maxwell Smart. In the 1970s wrote, directed and produced the detective drama McMillan and Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James.

His numerous other television credits included such series as I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, The Snoop Sisters, Holmes & Yo-Yo, He & She, The Governor & J.J. and Operation Petticoat.

Later film credits included the 1979 release Just You and Me, Kid, with George Burns and Brooke Shields, which he wrote and directed. In 1985, he wrote the script for Target, starring Gene Hackman and directed by Arthur Penn.

Stern was also co-creator of the popular word game Mad Libs.

During his career he won two Primetime Emmy awards one for his work on The Phil Silvers Show and another for Get Smart. He also won two Golden Globes and a Peabody award.

Stern is survived by his wife, a son, a daughter, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Leonard Stern had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. He was interviewed for five hours in two sessions — on July 13, 2000, by Gary Rutkowski, and on August 20, 2008, by Jenni Matz.

He began Part I by discussing his introduction to show business, writing jokes for Milton Berle. He described his work in network radio, notably his work on The Abbott and Costello Show, which led to writing in feature films for the duo. He described his first writing work for The Jackie Gleason Show, particularly The Honeymooners sketches.

He went on to describe his work as a writer with Sydney Zelinka on many of the classic Honeymooners episodes during its one-year run as a series (1955-56), including “The $99,000 Answer,” “Alice and the Blonde,” and “The Babysitter.”

Stern then talked about his Emmy-winning work as a writer on The Phil Silvers Show. He also talked about his work as a writer on The Steve Allen Show in the 1960s and his later work that decade as a writer-producer on such series as I’m Dickens He’s Fenster and Get Smart.

Stern gave a complete account of his tenure as the executive-producer for Get Smart during its full run from 1965-70.

He also described his work as creator-writer-producer of such series as The Hero (1966-67), He & She (1967-70), and The Governor and J.J. (1969-72).

Finally, he talked about his work as writer-producer-director of McMillan and Wife (1971-76) and Lanigan’s Rabbi (1967-77) and his later work on Partners in Crime (as creator and director, 1984), and Murphy’s Law (as co-executive producer, 1988-89).

Stern then described his ventures in publishing, including his co-creation with Roger Price of Mad Libs.

In Part II of his interview, Stern talked about his friendship with Academy of Television Arts & Sciences founder Syd Cassyd and commented on the early years of the Academy and the Emmy Awards; he also talked about his participation in the 2008 feature film version of Get Smart, starring Steve Carell.

The entire interview is available online here.

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