December 03, 2007

Comedy Icon Mel Tolkin Passes

Show of Shows Writer

Mel Tolkin, a comedy pioneer who served as head writer for the classic 1950s’ series Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour, died of natural causes on November 26 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.

Over the course of a half-century in show business, Tolkin, who got his start in the 1930s, wrote for some of the biggest names in comedy. In addition to Sid Caesar, he collaborated with Danny Kaye, Danny Thomas, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. He was also a member of the staff of the iconic television series All in the Family.

As head writer for Your Show of Shows, Tolkin oversaw the creation of ninety minutes of original sketches a week—a grueling feat that created as one of the most admired programs in television history. His staff during its 1950-54 run included Neil Simon, Danny Simon and Mel Brooks; in addition to Caesar, the cast included Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.

Born Samuel Tolchinsky in Odessa, Ukraine, on Aug. 3, 1913, Tolkin moved with his family to the small Ukrainian town of Gaisin following the Russian Revolution, and in 1926 settled in Montreal, Canada.

After high school, while pursuing accounting studies, he began writing musical revues under the name Mel Tolkin to conceal his show business work from his parents.

Following World War II, during which he played the glockenspiel in the Canadian Army Band, he moved to New York City to pursue his creative ambitions.

Tolkin and writing partner Lucille Kallen, who eventually joined him on Your Show of Shows, drew the attention of the TV show’s producer, Max Liebman, when Liebman saw a revue the duo had written at Camp Tamiment, a summer resort for socialists and their families in the Pocono Mountains.

The recipient of four Writers Guild Awards, Tolkin shared a Primetime Emmy Award for 1967’s The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, and earned six additional Emmy nominations. He also shared a Humanitas Prize for an episode of All in the Family with writer Larry Rhine.

Tolkin also wrote for such series as The Danny Kaye Show, Archie Bunker’s Place and Love, Sidney.

He is survived by his wife of sixty-three years, Edith; two sons, Michael and Stephen, both of whom are writers and directors; and four grandchildren.

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