Al Gordon, in rear with glasses, with Jack Benny, center, and the writers Sam Perrin, left, Hal Goldman and George Balzer.
May 26, 2012
Al Gordon, an Emmy Award-winning comedy writer whose fast-paced material helped Jack Benny make the transition from radio to television in the 1950s and was later a staple of the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson and Carol Burnett comedy shows in the 1960s and ’70s, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 89. His death was confirmed by a spokesman for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Mr. Gordon, a high-strung, fast-talking gag writer from the Bronx who never finished high school, teamed up for many years with Hal Goldman, a comedy writer from Minnesota whose urbane, reserved style served as ballast to Mr. Gordon’s spritz.
“Al came up with very good jokes,” Mr. Goldman told The Los Angeles Times in 1996, “but I had better judgment.”
The pair joined “The Jack Benny Program” in 1950, one year after Benny, a long-established comedy star on the radio, started a television version of his show. The leisurely pace of radio comedy, Benny’s producers decided, had to be sped up if the show was to hold the attention of the new, eyeball-driven audience.
Mr. Gordon and Mr. Goldman joined two other writers already on the show’s staff, Sam Perrin and George Balzer. Together, the four were credited on 222 episodes before the show ended in 1965. The Gordon-Goldman team became renowned in the business not only for writing quick-moving material, but also for writing fast — sometimes developing skits for guest stars overnight. With the three others, Mr. Gordon received two Emmys and a total of six nominations for work on the Benny show.
In one classic 1964 sketch playing on Benny’s cheapskate persona, Mr. Gordon and Mr. Goldman had two I.R.S. agents visit Benny carrying restaurant receipts and demanding to know how he had entertained four people at Chasen’s, the Hollywood stars’ hangout, for $3.90. The answer unfolds in the next 30 minutes.
Mr. Gordon “was a quick little fellow,” said Irving Fein, Benny’s manager, in a 1998 interview for the Archive of American Television. “A very good one-liner man.”
Until his death in 1974, Benny always referred to Mr. Gordon and Mr. Goldman as “the new writers.”
In the archive interview, Mr. Fein described the difficulty Mr. Gordon faced finding work in later years. “They call writers over 40 in Hollywood ‘grays’ now,” Mr. Fein said. “And Al — who worked for the Benny show, and went to the Carol Burnett show, the Smothers Brothers — goes to interview with a producer. And the guy likes him. But he says, ‘Gee, Al, I’d like to hire you, but I’ve got one gray on the staff already.’ Can you believe it? A guy with all these great credits.”
When the Benny show ended, Mr. Gordon shared an Emmy in 1966 with Mr. Goldman and Sheldon Keller for their writing for the variety special “An Evening With Carol Channing.” In addition to “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Flip Wilson Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show,” he wrote for comedy shows hosted by the Mandrell Sisters and Tony Orlando and Dawn, as well as several sitcoms, including “That’s My Mama,” “Carter Country” and “Three’s Company.”
Mr. Gordon’s comedy career happened accidentally, he told his family: While he was serving with the Army Air Forces on the Azores during World War II, a plane carrying an entertainment troupe made an unscheduled landing because of engine trouble. Mr. Gordon wandered by and saw a group of comedy writers sitting around developing ideas while waiting for their plane to be repaired. He began helping them out. One member of the group remembered Mr. Gordon after the war, tracked him down and offered him a job in Hollywood.
Born on April 21, 1923, Mr. Gordon lived his first seven years on a small farm outside Akron, Ohio. At the beginning of the Great Depression, his parents moved the family to the Bronx, where Mr. Gordon lived a peripatetic life, moving six times and attending five elementary schools. He joined the military while still a student at Theodore Roosevelt High School and never graduated.
His survivors include a son, Neil; a daughter, Jill; and four grandchildren. His wife, Charlotte, died in 2008.
In 1996, Mr. Gordon told an interviewer that Benny respected his comedy writers. “Hal and I had the best jobs in Hollywood,” he said, referring to Mr. Goldman. “We worked for a man who was truly a prince in this business. There’s no way we could do that work today.”
Al Gordon was born on April 21, 1923
April 21, 1923
4 + 21 +1+9+2+3 = 40 = his life lesson = Doing his part. How can I help?
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