Mel Tolkin

Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his four-hour Archive interview, Mel Tolkin (1913-2007) talks about his early years writing for Camp Tamiment, where he was discovered by producer Max Liebman, and his writing partnership with Lucille Kallen. He discusses writing for such shows as Admiral Broadway Revue, Your Show of Shows, Caesar's Hour and The Danny Kaye Show. He describes writing for All in the Family as well, where he penned the controversial episode "Edith's 50th Birthday," and later for Archie Bunker's Place. He recalls shorter writing jobs on The Danny Thomas Show, Joe's World, and Love, Sidney. He also recalls working with Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. Bob Claster conducted the interview on November 4, 1997 in Beverly Hills, CA. 

"When you began in television, you didn't have a television set. It's an actual fact. And that's one of the biggest lessons in show business: too many people learned to write television from watching television, which is the reason so many of them are all alike. In fact, somebody once said that before you sit down to write, stand up and live. You have to learn from life, not from television."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Mel Tolkin on his first impressions of Sid Caesar and on their relationship
Mel Tolkin on his mother visiting him on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on how Your Show of Shows was different from Admiral Broadway Revue, and on discovering Sid Caesar's talents
Mel Tolkin on the end of Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the challenges of writing for the "Archie Bunker" character on All in the Family, and on story ideas he had for the show
Mel Tolkin on writing the controversial All in the Family episode "Edith's 50th Birthday"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on his hobbies as a kid; on radio he listened to growing up and movies he enjoyed
On realizing he wanted to be a writer; on his accent, and on his earliest experiences with television
On life in New York City in 1945, and on Camp Tamiment; on meeting Max Liebman and Lucille Kallen

Chapter 2

On Admiral Broadway Revue and later Your Show of Shows producer Max Liebman; on what Liebman saw in Tolkin's talents when he worked at the Poconos resort Camp Tamiment; on his first impressions of Sid Caesar, whom he met on Admiral Broadway Revue, and on their relationship
On the talents of Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue and later on Your Show of Shows; on the format of Admiral Broadway Revue, and the use of previously written material from when he and co-writer Lucille Kallen worked at Camp Tamiment; on writing for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue
On the creation of Your Show of Shows; on how Your Show of Shows was different from Admiral Broadway Revue and on discovering Sid Caesar's talents; on writers Carl Reiner and Howard Morris

Chapter 3

On his mother visiting him on Your Show of Shows; on his writing partner Lucille Kallen working on Your Show of Shows; on working with Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows
On working with Tony Webster and Joe Stein on Your Show of Shows; on Danny and Neil Simon writing for Your Show of Shows; on the most memorable sketches on Your Show of Shows and the types of sketches they did
On how much of Your Show of Shows was improvised on-camera, and on the "This is Your Story" sketch; on the pantomime segments of Your Shows of Shows

Chapter 4

On Your Show of Shows being sued over their satire of "From Here to Eternity"; on the pressure of working on Your Show of Shows; on the end of Your Show of Shows
On the Hollywood Blacklist; on splitting up with Lucille Kallen when she went to write for The Imogene Coca Show and he went to write for Caesar's Hour; on the writing staff of Caesar's Hour, and on being the show's head writer
On Mel Brooks writing for Caesar's Hour; on the Caesar's Hour writers Sheldon Keller, Selma Diamond, Gary Belkin, and Mike Stewart; on Caesar's Hour writers Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen

Chapter 5

On the talent of the writing staff of Caesar's Hour, and on comparing it to Your Show of Shows; on writing for Nanette Fabray on Caesar's Hour, and comparing her to Imogene Coca; on classic sketches from Caesar's Hour, and on the end of the show
On how television changed and evolved from the 1950s to the 1980s; on writing for The Danny Thomas Show, and on working with producer Sheldon Leonard; on how writing sketches differed from writing a sitcom like The Danny Thomas Show

Chapter 6

On writing specific episodes of The Danny Thomas Show; on writing for I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster and for The Danny Kaye Show with Larry Gelbart; on writing The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special and on his deal with Universal Television
On writing The Good Guys, starring Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr.; on writing for Bob Hope
On writing for All in the Family with writing partner Larry Rhine and on working with Norman Lear; on the challenges of writing for the "Archie Bunker" character on All in the Family, and on story ideas he had for the show; on Norman Lear's day-to-day involvement with All in the Family, and on the shooting schedule of the show

Chapter 7

On writing the controversial All in the Family episode "Edith's 50th Birthday"; on how All in the Family changed over the years, and on dealing with cast members leaving; on writing for Archie Bunker's Place, starring Carroll O'Connor
On writing Joe's World with Norman Lear; on writing for Love, Sidney, starring Tony Randall in which the lead character was homosexual; on teaching comedy writing at UCLA and on the then-current state of television comedy
On his desire to continue working, and on then-current projects; on his accomplishments and his regrets; on the benefits of writing with a partner, and on the best of television
On attending a reunion of the writers of Your Show of Shows; on how he'd like to be remembered; on various people he's worked with in his career

Chapter 8

On various people with whom he's worked in his career; on his sons and wife
On b-roll pictures from his career- with a nightclub band; with a marching band; Tamiment Playhouse program; with Lucille Kallen; headshot of Sid Caesar; with Sid Caesar on the set of Your Show of Shows; the entire creative team of Your Show of Shows; the writing team of Caesar's Hour; reunion of Sid Caesar's writers; with Neil Simon, Nathan Lane, Sid Caesar, and Carl Reiner; on the set of The Danny Kaye Show; with Jerry Lewis; Bob Hope writers; posing with his awards; bit of wisdom
Shows

Admiral Broadway Revue

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Mel Tolkin on Admiral Broadway Revue and later Your Show of Shows producer Max Liebman
Mel Tolkin on what Admiral Broadway Revue producer Max Liebman saw in Tolkin's talents when he worked at the Poconos resort Camp Tamiment
Mel Tolkin on getting into television with the short-lived Admiral Broadway Revue
Mel Tolkin on the talents of Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue and later on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the format of Admiral Broadway Revue and the use of previously written material from when he and co-writer Lucille Kallen worked at the Poconos resort Camp Tamiment
Mel Tolkin on writing for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue
Mel Tolkin on how Your Show of Shows was different from Admiral Broadway Revue, and on discovering Sid Caesar's talents

All in the Family

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Mel Tolkin on writing for All in the Family with writing partner Larry Rhine, and on working with Norman Lear
Mel Tolkin on the challenges of writing for the "Archie Bunker" character on All in the Family, and on story ideas he had for the show
Mel Tolkin on Norman Lear's day-to-day involvement with All in the Family, and on the shooting schedule of the show
Mel Tolkin on writing the controversial All in the Family episode "Edith's 50th Birthday"
Mel Tolkin on how All in the Family changed over the years, and on dealing with cast members leaving

Archie Bunker's Place

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Archie Bunker's Place, starring Carroll O'Connor

Bob Hope Specials

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Bob Hope

Caesar's Hour

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Mel Tolkin on splitting up with Lucille Kallen when she went to write for The Imogene Coca Show and he went to write for Caesar's Hour
Mel Tolkin on the writing staff of Caesar's Hour, and on being the show's head writer
Mel Tolkin on Mel Brooks writing for Caesar's Hour
Mel Tolkin on the Caesar's Hour writers Sheldon Keller, Selma Diamond, Gary Belkin, and Mike Stewart
Mel Tolkin on Caesar's Hour writers Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen
Mel Tolkin on the talent of the writing staff of Caesar's Hour, and on comparing it to Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on writing for Nanette Fabray on Caesar's Hour, and comparing her to Imogene Coca
Mel Tolkin on classic sketches from Caesar's Hour featuring Sid Caesar
Mel Tolkin on the end of Caesar's Hour

Danny Thomas Hour, The

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Mel Tolkin on how writing sketches differed from writing a sitcom like The Danny Thomas Show

Danny Thomas Show, The aka Make Room for Daddy

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Mel Tolkin on writing for The Danny Thomas Show, and on working with producer Sheldon Leonard
Mel Tolkin on writing specific episodes of The Danny Thomas Show

Good Guys, The

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Mel Tolkin on writing The Good Guys, starring Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr.

I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster

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Mel Tolkin on writing for I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster and for The Danny Kaye Show with Larry Gelbart

Love, Sidney

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Love, Sidney, starring Tony Randall in which the lead character was homosexual

Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, The

View Show Page
Mel Tolkin on writing The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, and on his deal with Universal Television

Your Show of Shows

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Mel Tolkin on Admiral Broadway Revue and later Your Show of Shows producer Max Liebman
Mel Tolkin on his first impressions of Sid Caesar, who he met on Admiral Broadway Revue, and on their relationship
Mel Tolkin on the talents of Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue and later on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the talents of performer/writer Carl Reiner on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the talents and temperament of performer Howard Morris on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the creation of Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on his mother visiting him on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on his writing partner Lucille Kallen working on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on working with Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on working with Tony Webster and Joe Stein on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on Danny and Neil Simon writing for Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the most memorable sketches on Your Show of Shows and the types of sketches they did
Mel Tolkin on how much of Your Show of Shows was improvised on-camera, and on the "This is Your Story" sketch
Mel Tolkin on the pantomime segments of Your Shows of Shows, and on where he was when the show was airing
Mel Tolkin on Your Show of Shows being sued over their satire of "From Here to Eternity"
Mel Tolkin on the pressure of working on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the end of Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on the talent of the writing staff of Caesar's Hour, and on comparing it to Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on attending a reunion of the writers of Your Show of Shows
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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Mel Tolkin on the challenges of writing for the "Archie Bunker" character on All in the Family, and on story ideas he had for the show

Comedy-Variety

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on classic sketches from Caesar's Hour featuring Sid Caesar

Hollywood Blacklist

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Mel Tolkin on the Hollywood Blacklist

Industry Crossroads

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Mel Tolkin on the Hollywood Blacklist

Pop Culture

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Mel Tolkin on the challenges of writing for the "Archie Bunker" character on All in the Family, and on story ideas he had for the show

TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s)

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on classic sketches from Caesar's Hour featuring Sid Caesar

Television Industry

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Mel Tolkin on the Hollywood Blacklist
Mel Tolkin on how television changed and evolved from the 1950s to the 1980s
Mel Tolkin on the benefits of writing with a partner, and on the best of television
Professions

Writers

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Mel Tolkin on how writing sketches differed from writing a sitcom like The Danny Thomas Show
Mel Tolkin on teaching comedy writing at UCLA, and on the then-current state of television comedy
Mel Tolkin on the benefits of writing with a partner, and on the best of television
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Mel Tolkin on writing for The Danny Thomas Show
Mel Tolkin on writing for I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster and for The Danny Kaye Show with Larry Gelbart
Mel Tolkin on writing The Good Guys, starring Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr.
Mel Tolkin on writing for All in the Family
Mel Tolkin on writing for All in the Family and Archie Bunker's Place
Mel Tolkin on writing for Joe's World
Mel Tolkin on writing for Love, Sidney

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Mel Tolkin on writing for Admiral Broadway Revue
Mel Tolkin on writing for Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on writing for Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on writing for Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on writing for Caesar's Hour
Mel Tolkin on writing for Caesar's Hour
Mel Tolkin on writing for The Danny Thomas Show
Mel Tolkin on writing for I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster and for The Danny Kaye Show with Larry Gelbart
Mel Tolkin on writing The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, and on his deal with Universal Television
People

Woody Allen

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Mel Tolkin on Caesar's Hour writers Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen

Mel Brooks

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Mel Tolkin on working with Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on Mel Brooks writing for Caesar's Hour

Sid Caesar

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Mel Tolkin on his first impressions of Sid Caesar and on their relationship
Mel Tolkin on writing for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue
Mel Tolkin on how Your Show of Shows was different from Admiral Broadway Revue, and on discovering Sid Caesar's talents
Mel Tolkin on classic sketches from Caesar's Hour featuring Sid Caesar

Dave Caesar

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Mel Tolkin on Dave Caesar

Imogene Coca

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Admiral Broadway Revue
Mel Tolkin on splitting up with Lucille Kallen when she went to write for The Imogene Coca Show and he went to write for Caesar's Hour
Mel Tolkin on writing for Nanette Fabray on Caesar's Hour, and comparing her to Imogene Coca

Bob Denver

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Mel Tolkin on writing The Good Guys, starring Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr.

Selma Diamond

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Mel Tolkin on the Caesar's Hour writers Sheldon Keller, Selma Diamond, Gary Belkin, and Mike Stewart

Jimmy Durante

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Mel Tolkin on Jimmy Durante

Nanette Fabray

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Nanette Fabray on Caesar's Hour, and comparing her to Imogene Coca

Larry Gelbart

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Mel Tolkin on Caesar's Hour writers Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen
Mel Tolkin on writing for I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster and for The Danny Kaye Show with Larry Gelbart

Alan Hale, Jr.

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Mel Tolkin on writing The Good Guys, starring Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr.

Bob Hope

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Mel Tolkin on writing for Bob Hope
Mel Tolkin on Bob Hope

Milt Josefsberg

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Mel Tolkin on Milt Josefsberg

Lucille Kallen

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Mel Tolkin on meeting Max Liebman and Lucille Kallen
Mel Tolkin on his writing partner Lucille Kallen working on Your Show of Shows
Mel Tolkin on splitting up with Lucille Kallen when she went to write for The Imogene Coca Show and he went to write for Caesar's Hour

Danny Kaye

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Mel Tolkin on writing for I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster and for The Danny Kaye Show with Larry Gelbart
Mel Tolkin on Danny Kaye

Norman Lear

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Mel Tolkin on writing for All in the Family with writing partner Larry Rhine, and on working with Norman Lear
Mel Tolkin on Norman Lear's day-to-day involvement with All in the Family, and on the shooting schedule of the show
Mel Tolkin on writing Joe's World with Norman Lear

Sheldon Leonard

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Mel Tolkin on writing for The Danny Thomas Show, and on working with producer Sheldon Leonard

Max Liebman

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Mel Tolkin on meeting Max Liebman and Lucille Kallen
Mel Tolkin on Your Show of Shows and Admiral Broadway Revue producer Max Liebman

Howard Morris

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Mel Tolkin on the talents and temperament of performer Howard Morris on Your Show of Shows

Carroll O'Connor

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Mel Tolkin on Carroll O'Connor

Tony Randall

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Mel Tolkin on Tony Randall

Carl Reiner

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Mel Tolikn on the talents of performer/writer Carl Reiner on Your Show of Shows

Rob Reiner

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Mel Tolkin on Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers

Larry Rhine

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Mel Tolkin on writing for All in the Family with writing partner Larry Rhine, and on working with Norman Lear

Neil Simon

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Mel Tolkin on Danny and Neil Simon writing for Your Show of Shows

Jean Stapleton

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Mel Tolkin on Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers

Sally Struthers

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Mel Tolkin on Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers

Danny Thomas

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Mel Tolkin on writing for The Danny Thomas Show, and on working with producer Sheldon Leonard
Mel Tolkin on writing specific episodes of The Danny Thomas Show

Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver

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Mel Tolkin on Sylvester L. Weaver

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