Oral Histories

Interview of Larry Gelbart

Television writer, playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and radio show host. Known for the TV show, M*A*S*H.
An Oral History: Larry Gelbart
Z: Orphan Interviews after 1999
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Television writer, playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and radio show host. Known for the TV show, M*A*S*H.
Collings, Jane
Gelbart, Larry
Persons Present:
Gelbart and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Gelbart's home in Beverly Hills, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, Senior Editor and Series Coordinator, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A. Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies in Film and Television, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing scripts, correspondence and production notes in the Larry Gelbart collection at the UCLA Arts Library Department of Special Collections. She also listened to and viewed material written by Gelbart for radio, television, film and the theater.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Gelbart was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
10 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Gelbart's family background—Growing up in Chicago—Going to the movies—Taking music lessons—More on Gelbart's family background—Playing the clarinet—More on music lessons—Playing the saxophone—Performance in school—More on family background—Gelbart's father's life as a barber—Gelbart's father's celebrity clients—Gelbart's experience in Hebrew school.
Gelbart's Bar Mitzvah—More on Gelbart's father's celebrity clients—Gelbart's memories of World War II—Ethnic makeup of high school classmates—More on memories of World War II—Works for Danny Thomas—Skill as a writer—Gelbart's band Larry Gelbart and his Esquires—More on working for Danny Thomas—Signed by George Gruskin to William Morris Agency—Works on radio shows Duffy's Tavern and Fred Allen Show—Experience working on Duffy's Tavern and Fred Allen Show—Drafted into military—Stationed at Camp Polk, Louisana—Returns to Los Angeles to work for Armed Forces Radio Service—Co-writes Command Performance—Discharged from military—Gelbart begins thinking of himself as a writer—Finishes Command Performance and returns to Duffy's Tavern—Negotiates salary—Writes for Joan Davis—Works for Jack Parr and Bob Hope—Works for Caesar's Hour—Works for Red Buttons, Pat Boone, and Patrice Munsel—More on Caesar's Hour—More on working for Bob Hope—Experiences working on M*A*S*H.
Gelbart's Bar Mitzvah—More on working for Bob Hope—More on family background.
More on working on Duffy's Tavern—Characters from Duffy's Tavern—Writers on Duffy's Tavern—Radio Writers Guild— More on working on Duffy's Tavern—Working on Duffy's First Reader— More on working on Duffy's Tavern—Going to high school—Gelbart's creative process—Current projects—Writing with Larry Marks.
More on Bob Hope—More on Gelbart's creative process—More on working with Larry Marks—Ends partnership with Larry Marks—Works with Red Buttons—More on Caesar's Hour—Red Buttons fires Gelbart—Works with Patrice Mansel— More on Caesar's Hour—Psychological aspects of writers of Caesar's Hour.
More on Caesar's Hour—Writing process for Caesar's Hour—Sid Caesar— More on Caesar's Hour— Caesar's Hour writing team—More on writing process for Caesar's Hour—Sid Caesar's writing style—Bob Hope's telegram to Sid Caesar—Current projects of Caesar's Hour writing team—Blacklisted comedians—Live commercials during Caesar's Hour.
Working with Bob Hope on Queen Mary—Travels with family to California and England—Wins Christopher Award with Burt Shevelove—Writes A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Burt Shevelove—Works with Stephen Sondheim—More on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum —Importance of writing room to Gelbart—Works on The Wrong Box with John Fernley—Ends partnership with Burt Shevelove—Living in England—Marty Feldman—Works with Orson Welles—English comedy.
More on Marty Feldman—Writing physical comedy—Writing with Marty Feldman—More on English comedy—Spike Mulligan—Stays in England during Vietnam War draft—Writes Jump—Rewrites Magic Christian—Writes Not With My Wife You Don't—Opportunity to write M*A*S*H—Process of writing M*A*S*H—CBS picks up M*A*S*H—Gelbart moves to California—Gelbart's feelings on the Korean War and Vietnam War— M*A*S*H theme song and title sequence—Relationship between Gelbart's writing on Korean War and thoughts on Vietnam War—Original M*A*S*H movie writer Ring Lardner, Jr. blacklisted—Walter Cronkite's attacks on United States role in Vietnam War—Gelbart's research for M*A*S*H.
More on Gelbart's research for M*A*S*H —Universality of M*A*S*H—Public reaction to M*A*S*H—Inspiration for M*A*S*H characters—If M*A*S*H were set in today's realities.
More on M*A*S*H—Balancing tragedy and comedy in M*A*S*H—Gelbart's M*A*S*H's rewritings—Gelbart as Hawkeye—Creating M*A*S*H character Klinger and attacking the establishment—M*A*S*H's as political commentary—Public reaction to the death M*A*S*H character Henry Blake—Father Mulcahy's speech about the open wound—Popularity of reruns—AfterM*A*S*H—Works with Karen Valentine—Writes Karen—Writes Sly Fox—Inspirations for Sly Fox.
More on family background—More on Sly Fox—Works on Oh, God! with David Susskind —Gelbart as a director—More on M*A*S*H—Co-writes Movie, Movie with Sheldon Keller while co-writing Volpone with Ben Johnson—Similarities between Movie, Movie, Sly Fox, M*A*S*H, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—More on Movie, Movie—Gelbart's nostalgia in City of Angels—Gelbart's thoughts on his career—More on Caesar's Hour—More on Gelbart's thoughts on his career—Gelbart's thoughts on comedy today—Gelbart's thoughts on his comedy.
Writing for United States and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd—More on Volpone—Working for BBC on Abrogate—Working on trilogy for Abrogate—Gelbart's feelings on making radio shows, plays, and motion pictures—Working on Blame it on Rio—Public reaction to Blame it on Rio—Gelbart's favorite pieces—Humor style of M*A*S*H—Gelbart's son.
Growing up a second-generation immigrant—More on Caesar's Hour—Jewish humor—More on Caesar's Hour—Women in the writing room—Gelbart's reportage trilogy: Barbarians at the Gate, And Starring Pancho Villa, and Weapons of Mass Distraction—Inspiration for making Mastergate—Mastergate's run at the American Repertory Theatre and on Broadway—Gelbart's relationships with actors working on his plays—Gelbart's relationship with the audience—Gelbart's preference for making plays over movies—Gelbart's thoughts on political hearings—Gelbart's current projects, Floodgate and Abrogate—The darkness of Weapons of Mass Distraction and Barbarians at the Gate—The story of Weapons of Mass Distraction.
More on the story of Weapons of Mass Distraction—The influence of Hollywood social problem films—Meeting President John F. Kennedy, Jr. —Gelbart's Congressional testimony on sex and violence in TV—Censorship during primetime TV and on M*A*S*H—Religion in Oh, God!—George Burns—Working with Dustin Hoffman on Tootsie—Development of Tootsie script—Tensions between Sidney Pollack and Dustin Hoffman—The story of Tootsie—More on the development of Tootsie script—More on Dustin Hoffman—More on the story of Tootsie—Gelbart's adaptation of Lysistrata—More on Dustin Hoffman.
Gelbart's firing from Tootsie—More on the story of Tootsie—Tootsie's relevance today—Autobiographical nature of Gelbart's characters—Gelbart's other possible career paths—Gelbart's writing process—Gelbart's thoughts on death—Gelbart's hobbies—Gelbart's children and grandchildren.
Development of storyline of And Starring Pancho Villa—Challenges of making And Starring Pancho Villa—Hollywood's version of And Starring Pancho Villa—Historical accuracy of And Starring Pancho Villa—Casting a Spaniard as a Mexican—Making of Barbarians at the Gate—Characters of Barbarians at the Gate—More on Mastergate—Non-political nature of Caesar's Hour.
Inspiration for Mastergate and Abrogate—Making of The Candidate—Themes of The View from Last Thursday—Gelbart's involvement in current events—More on Abrogate—Liberal sitcoms—Filling a vacuum for drama on television—Pre-conglomerate television networks.