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Larry Gelbart

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Larry Gelbart

Larry Gelbart
Born Lawrence Simon Gelbart
(1928-02-25)February 25, 1928
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died September 11, 2009(2009-09-11) (aged 81)
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Resting place
Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City, California
Other names Francis Burns, Elsig
Occupation Author, playwright
Years active 1944–2009
Spouse(s) Patricia Marshall
(1956–2009; his death; 2 children)

Lawrence Simon "Larry" Gelbart (February 25, 1928 – September 11, 2009)[1] was an American television writer, playwright, screenwriter and author, most famous as a creator and producer of the record-breaking hit TV show M*A*S*H.


Early life

Gelbart was born in 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. Marcia Gelbart Walkenstein was his sister.

His family later moved to Los Angeles and he attended Fairfax High School. Drafted shortly after World War Two, Gelbart worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service in Los Angeles.[3]


Gelbart began as a writer at the age of sixteen for Danny Thomas's radio show after his father, who was Thomas's barber, showed Thomas some jokes Gelbart had written. During the 1940s Gelbart also wrote for Jack Paar and Bob Hope. In the 1950s, his most important work in television involved writing for Red Buttons, for Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour, and in Celeste Holm's Honestly, Celeste!, as well as with writers Mel Tolkin, Michael Stewart, Selma Diamond, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Woody Allen on two Caesar specials.[4]

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); then producing, often writing and occasionally directing the series for its first four seasons, from 1972 to 1976. 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 George Burns.

He collaborated with Burt Shevelove on the screenplay for the 1966 British film Blame It on Rio (1984) starring Michael Caine and the 2000 remake of Bedazzled with Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser.

His script for Rough Cut (1980), a caper film starring Burt Reynolds, Lesley-Anne Down and David Niven, was credited under the pseudonym Francis Burns.

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; the original comedy 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. After the show received poor reviews and box-office returns during its previews in Washington, D.C., rewrites and restaging helped; it was a smash Broadway hit and ran for 964 performances. Its book won a Tony Award. A film version starring Zero Mostel, directed by Richard Lester, was released in 1966 with Gelbart and Shevelove's libretto largely rewritten. 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 and a musical adaptation of the Preston Sturges movie Hail the Conquering Hero; during that show's troubled development Gelbart uttered the now-classic line, "If Hitler is alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical."


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".


In 1995, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[5]

He won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1974 for M*A*S*H

In 2002, Gelbart was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[6]

In 2008, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.[7]


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][8] He was buried at the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.[9]

Writing credits

M*A*S*H episodes

The following is a list of M*A*S*H episodes (42 Total) written and/or directed by Gelbart.

Season one (9/17/72–3/25/73)

  • Episode 1: The Pilot (Written)
  • Episode 4: "Chief Surgeon Who?" (Written)
  • Episode 11: "Germ Warfare" (Written)
  • Episode 12: "Dear Dad" (Written)
  • Episode 18: "Dear Dad...Again" (Written with Sheldon Keller)
  • Episode 21: "Sticky Wicket" (Teleplay with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 23: "Ceasefire" (Teleplay with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 24: "Showtime" (Teleplay with Robert Klane; Story)

Season two (9/15/73–3/2/74)

  • Episode 1: "Divided We Stand" (Written)
  • Episode 2: "Five O'Clock Charlie" (Written with Laurence Marks & Keith Walker)
  • Episode 6: "Kim" (Written with Marc Mandel & Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 7: "L.I.P. (Local Indigenous Personnel)" (Written with Carl Kleinschmitt & Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 9: "Dear Dad...Three" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 11: "Carry On, Hawkeye" (Written with Bernard Dilbert & Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 12: "The Incubator" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 13: "Deal Me Out" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 16: "Henry in Love" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 19: "The Chosen People" (Written Laurence Marks & Sheldon Keller)
  • Episode 20: "As You Were" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 21: "Crisis" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 23: "Mail Call" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 24: "A Smattering of Intelligence" (Written with Laurence Marks; Directed)

Season three (9/10/74–3/18/75)

  • Episode 1: "The General Flipped at Dawn" (Directed)
  • Episode 2: "Rainbow Bridge" (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 4: "Iron Guts Kelly" (Written with Sid Dorfman)
  • Episode 5: "O.R." (Written with Laurence Marks)
  • Episode 10: "There's Nothing Like a Nurse" (Written)
  • Episode 16: "Bulletin Board" (Written with Simon Muntner)
  • Episode 17: "The Consultant" (Story)
  • Episode 19: "Aid Station" (Written with Simon Muntner)
  • Episode 23: "White Gold" (Written with Simon Muntner)
  • Episode 24: "Abyssinia, Henry" (Directed)

Season four (9/12/75–2/24/76)

  • Episode 1: "Welcome to Korea" (Written with Everett Greenbaum & Jim Fritzell)
  • Episode 3: "It Happened One Night" (Teleplay with Simon Muntner)
  • Episode 9: "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?" (Directed)
  • Episode 13: "The Gun" (Written with Gene Reynolds)
  • Episode 15: "The Price of Tomato Juice" (Written with Gene Reynolds)
  • Episode 18: "Hawkeye" (Written with Simon Muntner; Directed)
  • Episode 21: "Smilin' Jack" (Written with Simon Muntner)
  • Episode 22: "The More I See You" (Written with Gene Reynolds)
  • Episode 23: "Deluge" (Written with Simon Muntner)
  • Episode 24: "The Interview" (Written and Directed)


  1. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (2009-09-11). MASH' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81"'".  
  2. ^ a b Gelbart, Larry (1998). Laughing Matters: On Writing MASH, Tootsie, Oh, God!, and a Few Other Funny Things. New York: Random House.  
  3. ^ "Larry Gelbart dies at 81; 'MASH' writer - Los Angeles Times". 1928-02-25. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  4. ^ Malarcher, Jay (2003). The Classically American Comedy of Larry Gelbart. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4772-8.
  5. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars : Listed by Date Dedicated". Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  6. ^ "32nd Annual Theatre Hall of Fame Inductees Announced; Mamet, Channing, Grimes Among Names –". Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  7. ^ "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List". Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  8. ^ M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81"'". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-09-11. 
  9. ^ Larry Gelbart at Find a Grave


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

External links

  • Larry Gelbart at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Larry Gelbart at the Internet Movie Database
  • Larry Gelbart – Daily Telegraph obituary
  • – Larry Gelbart play, online @ BBC Radio 4Abrogate
  • Old Time Radio Researchers Database of People and Programs
  • Larry Gelbart Archive of American Television Interview
  • Nonstop Laughs Larry Gelbart, TIME Magazine
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