Yet Jerry Belson worked with them all and it was many of his lines that made you laugh as you watched them on TV.
Belson was a well respected comedy writer whose name was on the credits of literally dozens of shows and movies. The Emmy winner died this week of cancer. He was just 68 years old.
Belson’s credits read like the history of TV. He wrote scripts for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Odd Couple, I Spy, The Danny Thomas Show, Love American Style, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and most recently, Tracey Ullman’s small screen efforts.
But he was equally at home in the movies, having a hand in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Smokey and the Bandit II”, and his last effort, a 2005 remake of his own 1977 script called “Fun With Dick and Jane”, starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni.
Veteran producer and director Garry Marshall, the man behind Happy Days and Mork and Mindy, calls his old writing partner a genius who put whatever he thought was funny into his scripts even if he thought only four people would get the joke.
“He added dark, wild thoughts and lines,” he remembers. “He was so bright and so witty with not a very erudite background. In one of our first meetings, I said to him, ‘Write it like you would a play.’ He said, ‘I never saw a play.’ He wasn’t from Harvard. He was from El Centro.”
But his most famous line may be one that was never actually spoken on screen. It centres on the way Belson wound up getting married to his wife of 30 years.
It happened when the soon-to-be Jo Ann Belson gave the comedy scribe an ultimatum at an airport.
“Marry me or I’m getting on a plane to Europe,” she demanded. “What do you want? Should I take off or stay?”
His reply is now legendary. “Can you take off and circle?” he asked.
Belson leave his wife, three children and a lot of classic TV memories.