Larry Gelbart, the award-winning comedy writer best known for developing the landmark TV series “MASH,” co-writing the book for the hit Broadway musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and co-writing the classic movie comedy “Tootsie,” died this morning. He was 81.
Gelbart, who was diagnosed with cancer in June, died at his home in Beverly Hills, said his wife, Pat.
Jack Lemmon once described the genial, quick-witted Gelbart as “one of the greatest writers of comedy to have graced the arts in this century.”
Minor nitpick on the headline, which reads, “‘MASH’ writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81” — Richard Hooker, himself a former doctor at a M*A*S*H base in Korea, wrote the original M*A*S*H novel, and Ring Lardner Jr. the screenplay for Robert Altman’s movie version. But Gelbart certainly did an incredible effort in developing the TV series and shepherding it through its first four seasons, the most watchable years of the show, before its Strangelove-esque satire gave way to treacly sentimentality. His best scripts for the show remain its funniest and best-remembered episodes: M*A*S*H thought of itself as anti-war, but Gelbart’s M*A*S*H focused on anti-idiotarianism and anti-bureaucracy, both universal American traits.
Gelbart also wrote the screenplay for HBO’s version of Barbarians at the Gate, which remains a trenchant satire of high-finance in the 1980s, also equally watchable by audiences on both sides of the aisle.