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Larry Gelbart
Born Larry Simon Gelbart
February 25, 1928(1928-02-25)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died September 11, 2009 (aged 81)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Other name(s) Francis Burns, Elsig
Occupation Author, playwright
Years active 1944–2009
Spouse(s) Patricia Marshall

Larry Simon Gelbart (February 25, 1928 – September 11, 2009)[1] was an American television writer, playwright, screenwriter and author.




Early life

Gelbart was born in Chicago to Jewish immigrants Harry Gelbart ("a barber since his half of a childhood in Latvia")[2] and Frieda Sturner, who migrated to America from Dombrowa, Poland.


Gelbart began as a writer at the age of sixteen for Danny Thomas' radio show during the 1940s and also wrote for Jack Paar and Bob Hope. In the 1950s, his most important work in television involved writing for Red Buttons, Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour, in Celeste Holm's Honestly, Celeste!, as well as with writers Mel Tolkin, Michael Stewart, Selma Diamond, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and (on two Caesar specials) Woody Allen.[3]

In 1972, Gelbart was one of the main forces behind the creation of the television series M*A*S*H, writing the pilot (for which he received a "Developed for Television by..." credit) and then producing, often writing and occasionally directing the series for its first four seasons. M*A*S*H earned Gelbart a Peabody Award and an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and went on to considerable commercial and critical success.


Gelbart's best known screen work is perhaps the screenplay for 1982's Tootsie, which he co-wrote with Murray Schisgal. He was nominated for an Academy Award for that script, and also was Oscar-nominated for his original screenplay for 1977's Oh, God! starring George Burns.

He collaborated with Burt Shevelove on the screenplay for the 1966 British film The Wrong Box. Gelbart also co-wrote the golden-era film spoof Movie Movie (1978) starring George C. Scott in dual roles, the racy comedy Blame It on Rio (1984) starring Michael Caine and Demi Moore, and the 2000 remake of Bedazzled with Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser.

His script for 1980's Rough Cut, a caper film starring Burt Reynolds and David Niven, was credited under the pseudonym Francis Burns. He often said he wished he'd removed his name from Neighbors, the 1981 movie he wrote which starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

Gelbart-scripted films for television included Barbarians at the Gate (1993), a true story about the battle for control of the RJR Nabisco corporation starring James Garner that was based on the best-selling book of that name; Weapons of Mass Distraction (1997) starring Ben Kingsley and Gabriel Byrne as rival media moguls and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003) starring Antonio Banderas as the Mexican revolutionary leader.


Gelbart co-wrote the long-running Broadway musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim in 1962. The show was in trouble during its tryout performances in Washington, D.C., which is when Gelbart uttered the now-classic line, "If Hitler is alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical." Rewrites and restaging helped and when the show reached Broadway, it was a smash hit. The original production ran for 964 performances. Its book won a Tony Award. A film version starring Zero Mostel was released in 1966. Gelbart was extremely critical of the movie.

Gelbart's other Broadway credits include the musical City of Angels, which won him the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical and an Edgar Award. He also wrote the Iran-contra satire Mastergate, as well as Sly Fox.


In 1997, Gelbart published his memoir, Laughing Matters: On Writing M*A*S*H, Tootsie, Oh, God! and a Few Other Funny Things.[2]


Gelbart was a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post, and also was a regular participant on the Usenet newsgroup as "Elsig".


Gelbart was diagnosed with cancer in June and died at his Beverly Hills home on September 11, 2009. His wife of 53 years, Pat Gelbart, said that after being married for so long, "we finished each other's sentences." She declined to specify the type of cancer he had. [1][4]


  1. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (2009-09-11). "'MASH' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81". Los Angeles Times.,0,2812430.story. Retrieved 2009-09-11. 
  2. ^ a b Gelbart, Larry (1998). Laughing Matters: On Writing MASH, Tootsie, Oh, God!, and a Few Other Funny Things. New York: Random House. ISBN 067942945X. 
  3. ^ Malarcher, Jay (2003). The Classically American Comedy of Larry Gelbart. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN: 0810847728.
  4. ^ "'M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-09-11. 


  • Isenberg, Barbara. State of the Arts: California Artists Talk About Their Work. 2005

External links

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