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Prolific Comedy Writer Jerry Belson


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Prolific Comedy Writer Jerry Belson

by Dennis McLellan

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Jerry Belson co-wrote for 'The Dick Van Dyke

Show' starring (top row, L-R) Dick Van Dyke,

Morey Amsterdam; (bottom row, L-R) Rose

Marie and Mary Tyler Moore

LOS ANGELES, California -- Prolific Comedy Writer Jerry Belson, a three-time Emmy Award-winning writer, died of prostate cancer on Tuesday, October 10 at his home in Los Angeles, said his daughter, Kristine Belson. He was 68.

When writer-director Garry Marshall was serving as an Army private in South Korea in the late 1950s, fellow soldier Gordon Belson would tell him, "You've got to meet my brother; he's a funny guy." Marshall finally met Belson in 1962, teaming up with him a year later. "He was truly one of the funniest persons I ever met," Marshall said.

Belson and Marshall become what many peers consider to be the preeminent television comedy-writing team of the 1960s and early '70s. During his four-decade career, Belson received 12 Emmy nominations, winning awards for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "Tracey Takes On."

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Jerry Belson co-wrote for 'The Odd Couple'

starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman

Belson was partnered with Marshall full time from 1963 to 1973, and the duo wrote for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Lucy Show," "The Danny Thomas Show," "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "The Joey Bishop Show" and "Hey Landlord," which they created. In one year in the '60s, Marshall recalled, they freelanced 32 half-hour scripts for different shows.

"He was a brave and risky writer; he tried everything," Marshall said. "I remember he'd write some far-out stuff and I'd say, 'Jerry, four people are going to get this joke.' He'd always say, 'More than enough.' And that was my mantra; he taught me how to do that."

The Belson-Marshall team also created TV specials for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, and "The Danny Thomas Special: It's Greek To Me," which earned them the Writers Guild Award. But they may have been best-known for developing "The Odd Couple" for television, serving as executive producers for the 1970-75 sitcom, which starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

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Jerry Belson wrote for 'Tracey Takes On' starring Tracey Ullman

"They were the dazzling team, the ones you wanted to emulate," said writer-director-producer James L. Brooks, who worked with Belson on "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "Tracey Takes On." Brooks said, "Jerry was a very important figure in the way comedy evolved here in Hollywood. He was a mentor to a lot of people, myself among them."

Among Belson's film credits as a writer are "The Grasshopper," "Smile," "The End," "Fun with Dick and Jane" and "Always." He also wrote and directed "Surrender," co-wrote and directed the cult classic "Jekyll and Hyde . . . Together Again" and did uncredited writing on films including "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Belson's comedy-writer friends say he was known for his dark and cynical writing style. "Almost every time he was in a room pitching something, people would be on the floor laughing and saying, 'I wish we could use that,' it was so dark," Brooks said. "Well, they could have; people do it now."

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Jerry Belson wrote 'The End' starring Dom Deluise

and Burt Reynolds

Brooks said Belson's script for "The End," the 1978 film starring Burt Reynolds as a terminally ill man who repeatedly tries to commit suicide, was "one of the great black comedies ever written. We passed it around like religious papers. It was so funny and hard-hitting."

Belson's dark comedy came naturally. Marshall recalled that when comedian-actor Wally Cox, a permanent fixture on "The Hollywood Squares," died, someone asked, "How?" Belson replied, "He fell out of his box."

Brooks recalled that Belson "would go to a party for 10 minutes

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