Berman in the 1960s
||Sheldon Leonard Berman
February 3, 1925
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
||September 1, 2017
Bell Canyon, California, U.S.
|Cause of death
||Complications from Alzheimer's disease
||Comedian, actor, writer, teacher, lecturer, poet
||Stand-up, film, television
Sheldon Leonard Berman (February 3, 1925 - September 1, 2017) was an American comedian, actor, writer, teacher, lecturer and poet.
In his comedic career, Berman was awarded three gold records and he won the first Grammy Award for a spoken comedy recording in 1959. He was perhaps most notable for his role as Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm, a role for which he received a 2008 Emmy Award nomination.
He taught humor writing at the University of Southern California for more than 20 years.
Early life and education
Berman was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Irene (née Marks) and Nathan Berman. He was Jewish.
He served in the Navy during World War II. He then enrolled in Chicago's Goodman Theatre as a drama student. There he met fellow student Sarah Herman; they married in 1947. His acting career began with an acting company in Woodstock, Illinois. Leaving Woodstock in 1949, Shelley and his wife Sarah made their way to New York City. To make ends meet, Berman found employment as a social director, cab driver, speech teacher, assistant manager of a drug store, and a dance instructor at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.
Eventually, Berman found work as a sketch writer for The Steve Allen Plymouth Show.
Berman began as a straight actor, receiving his training at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, honing his acting skills in stock companies in and around Chicago and New York City.
In the mid-1950s, he became a member of Chicago's Compass Players, which later evolved into The Second City. While performing improvised sketches with Compass, Berman began to develop solo pieces, often employing an imaginary telephone to take the place of an onstage partner.
Nightclubs and live performances
In 1957, Berman was hired as a comedian at Mister Kelly's in Chicago, which led to other nightclub bookings, and a recording contract with Verve Records. His comedy albums earned him three gold records and he won the first Grammy Award for a spoken comedy recording. Berman appeared on numerous television specials and all of the major variety shows of the day.
He starred on Broadway in A Family Affair and continued with stage work in The Odd Couple, Damn Yankees, Where's Charley?, Fiddler on the Roof, Two by Two, I'm Not Rappaport, La Cage aux Folles, The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Guys & Dolls.
Berman's voice was used as the inspiration for the voice of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Fibber Fox, as performed by Daws Butler.
Berman portrayed the role of Mendel Sorkin in an episode of CBS's Rawhide ("The Peddler", 1962).
Berman performed both comedic and dramatic roles on television, including appearances on episodes of The Twilight Zone (both radio and TV versions), Bewitched, Peter Gunn, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Adam-12, Emergency!, Brothers, Night Court, MacGyver, L.A. Law, Friends, Walker, Texas Ranger, The King of Queens, Grey's Anatomy, Boston Legal, Hannah Montana, CSI: NY and the revived Hawaii Five-0. He also had a recurring role on the short-lived sitcom Walter & Emily.
From 2002 to 2009, Berman appeared as Larry David's aged father on Curb Your Enthusiasm, a role for which he received a 2008 Emmy Award nomination.
Among Berman's film credits are Dementia (1955, with Shorty Rogers), The Best Man (1964, with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson), Divorce American Style (1967, with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds), Every Home Should Have One (1970, with Marty Feldman), Beware! The Blob (1972, with Robert Walker Jr.), Rented Lips (1988, with Martin Mull and Robert Downey Jr.), Teen Witch (1989, with Robyn Lively and Zelda Rubinstein), The Last Producer (2000, with Burt Reynolds), Meet the Fockers (2004, with Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller), The Holiday (2006, with Cameron Diaz), and You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008, with Adam Sandler).
Writing and teaching
Berman authored three books, two plays, several television pilot scripts, and numerous poems. For over twenty years, Berman was a lecturer (later lecturer emeritus) in humor writing in the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California. He was also a teacher for the Improv Olympics program.
Berman was married to Sarah from April 19, 1947, until his death 70 years later on September 1, 2017. The two met while they were studying acting at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
In the mid-1960s, Berman and wife Sarah adopted two children, son Joshua and daughter Rachel. The Bermans were planning Joshua's bar mitzvah when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Joshua died on October 29, 1977, at age 12.
Berman and his wife were both enthusiastic supporters of the Motion Picture and Television Fund (located in Woodland Hills, California), a charitable organization that offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries with limited or no resources, and contribute their time and resources to the benefit of the facilities and the residents.
In the 1980s, the Chamber of Commerce in Canoga Park, California, selected Berman to be one of the celebrities to serve a term as Honorary Mayor of Canoga Park.
Accusation of plagiarism
In a 2012 podcast interview with Marc Maron, 87-year-old Berman accused comedian Bob Newhart of plagiarizing his improvisational telephone routine style, describing its genesis and saying it was a "very special technique that couldn't really be imitated. It could be stolen. And it was." He continued, "I was coming to work at night and a guy stopped his car, passed me by, and said 'Hey, Shelley! There's a guy [who] stole your act!'" When asked by Maron if it was done maliciously, Berman replied, "Maliciously? He wouldn't do it maliciously. Nobody does that. But he did it to make a living. And he became a star."
Berman later added, "I thought it was a rotten thing to do. I thought the agents who sold him -- I thought they were just as guilty as everybody else. But, my God, to go into a town and do my show, and the critics saying that I borrowed some stuff from Newhart..."
When asked in interviews about the telephone issue, Bob Newhart noted that:
- "Shelley Berman did it before I did it. Mike (Nichols) and Elaine (May) did a version of it. There was a thing called 'Cohen on the Telephone,' which was a very, very early recording by Edison [Records] of a guy on the phone.....George Jessel had a radio show...At the end, he would call up his mother and tell her how the show had gone. As a kid growing up, I remember listening to him and he would call his mother up and say, 'Mama, this is Georgie'" - he paused, skillfully - "'from the money.'"
On his website, comedy writer Mark Rothman discussed the history of comic "telephone" monologists:
- As far back as the 1920s George Jessel was doing phone conversations with his mother in vaudeville, with the opening line "Hello Mama? This is Georgie." In the 30's and 40's there was this radio comedienne named Arlene Harris, often referred to as Arlene "Chatterbox" Harris, who did telephone monologues to one of her "friends." The only reason I know about this is that she was featured doing one of them on an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that featured many old radio entertainers. And she performed one of them. Brilliantly. Then, in the 50's, a great comedienne, Betty Walker, made about a zillion appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, doing essentially the same kind of act as Arlene Harris, talking to her friend Ceil. Only it was intensively Yiddishified. They talked about marriage and children, and how impossible it was to maintain both. Whereas Arlene Harris was white bread, Betty Walker was challah. Betty Walker's catchphrase was "Ceil....Ceil....Ceeeee--ullll!!!! Really, really funny. Also brilliant. All of this pre-dated Shelley Berman. Even Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who were contemporaries of Berman's at Second City, engaged in telephone dialogues, with very similar styled material. And who's more brilliant than them?
Berman died from Alzheimer's disease-related complications at his home in Bell Canyon, California, in the early morning of September 1, 2017. He was 92 years old.
Comedian Steve Martin praised Berman on Twitter, thanking him for "changing modern stand-up [comedy]."
- Inside Shelley Berman (1959) (Grammy Award winner for "Best Comedy Performance, Spoken Word")
- Outside Shelley Berman (1959)
- The Edge of Shelley Berman (1960)
- A Personal Appearance (1961)
- New Sides (1963)
- The Sex Life of The Primate (And Other Bits of Gossip) (1964) (with Stiller and Meara and Lovelady Powell)
- Let Me Tell You a Funny Story (1968)
- Live Again! Recorded at the Improv (1995)
- To Laughter with Questions (2013)
- When Jews Were Funny (2013)
- ^ "Shelley Berman, Famed 'Sit-Down' Comedian, Dies at 92". hollywoodreporter.com. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b c d "Grammy Winner Shelley Berman Dies". Grammy. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b c "Shelley Berman, Stand-Up Comic and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Actor, Dies at 92". NBC News. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b c "Shelley Berman". University of Southern California. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b Interfaith Celebrities: Dancing with the Stars of David - InterfaithFamily.com
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- ^ a b "Shelley Berman, angst-filled comedian who pioneered standup (or sit-down) comedy, dies at 92". Los Angeles Times. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Vintage Television". Kine Video. Retrieved 2017.
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- ^ a b "The Second City Mourns the Loss of Shelley Berman". Broadway World. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b c "Comedian Shelley Berman, who got his start in Chicago, dies at 92". The Chicago Sun-Times. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Yakky Doddle in Foxy Duck". Yowp. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Rawhide "The Peddler"". TV Guide. Retrieved 2017.
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- ^ a b "'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Star Shelley Berman Has Passed Away". Observer. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b "Shelley Berman dead: Curb Your Enthusiasm alum dies at 92". Entertainment News. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Shelley Berman, Famed Comedian and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Actor, Dead at 92". The Rolling Stone. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b "Shelley Berman, comedian-bard of everyday life, has died". The Washington Post. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 270". The Los Angeles Times. September 9, 1991. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b c "Episode 332 - Shelley Berman". wtfpod.com. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b Martel, Ned (April 12, 2005). "For Bob Newhart, Dean of Deadpan, the Laughs Go On". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ Thorn, Jesse (May 16, 2012). "Bob Newhart talks about stand-up, sitcoms, and why he stays busy | Comedy | Interview". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2013.
- ^ Rothman, Mark (March 28, 2013). "The Telephone Hour.". Retrieved 2016.
- ^ "Steve Martin on Twitter". Twitter. September 1, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i "Shelley Berman Discography". All Music. Retrieved 2017.