How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Storiesby Carl Reiner
Carl Reiner has been making people laugh since the days of The Dick Van Dyke Show. His showbiz bits with Mel Brooks about the 2000 Year Old Man have become the stuff of comedy legend. Jerry Seinfeld, Alan Alda, Neil Simon, Steve Allen, and Richard Lewis were all bowled over by the comic genius of The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000: The Book./em>/em>… See more details below
Carl Reiner has been making people laugh since the days of The Dick Van Dyke Show. His showbiz bits with Mel Brooks about the 2000 Year Old Man have become the stuff of comedy legend. Jerry Seinfeld, Alan Alda, Neil Simon, Steve Allen, and Richard Lewis were all bowled over by the comic genius of The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000: The Book. Now, in his wonderful new book, Carl Reiner shows off the talent and humor that have made him a comedic superstar.
Filled with rich, multidimensional tales, this collection of short stories from one of America's truly great comedic minds is at once poignant, nostalgic, and laugh-out-loud funny. "How Paul Robeson Saved My Life." the story of Reiner's experiences in the army during World War II, is a darkly funny look at racism. "Lance and Gwendolyn" is a modern-day fairy tale with some surprising twists. "Dial 411 for Legal Smut" is a tongue-in-cheek look at phone sex. Whatever topic he tackles, Reiner always manages to capture the highs and lows, the follies and foibles of everyday life.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt
Every Sunday from the age of one, Corey Hammersberg-Carter and his parents drove from their modest home in Larchmont, New York, to Grandfather Charles Hammersberg's rolling, green estate in Holly Hill, Connecticut. At the weekly family dinner, Corey, starting at age two, addressed his maternal grandfather Hammersberg as "Hampa Ham." The old man found it terribly amusing and laughed uproariously every time Corey referred to him as Hampa Ham. He enjoyed it so much that he insisted all his grandchildren address him that way. The older ones balked, complaining that it was babyish. They were quickly reminded by their parents that Grandpa was very old and very wealthy and it was in their best interests to call their grandfather whatever he wished to be called.
Corey recalled few things about these Sunday rituals except that he didn't like the food, his cousins, or sitting at the dinner table and listening to the same inspirational speech his grandfather insisted on delivering before dessert was served. It seemed like the chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream were given as payment for sitting through the tedious, seven-and-one-half-minute lecture.
When he was eight, to fight boredom, Corey started timing the speech with the stopwatch his grandfather had given him for Christmas. The speech at its shortest was seven minutes and thirty seconds. Each week, Corey would try to guess just how many seconds under or over it would be. As the years went on, the speech took longer and longer to deliver. By the time Corey was fifteen, the speech ran close to nine minutes. Corey knew the speech backward and forward and had once recited it backward to his shocked and furious parents. Theywithheld his allowance for two weeks and forbade him to do it again. "Ever! Anywhere!"
Corey had learned early on that his grandfather was a multi-multimillionaire and that all his relatives, including his father, were after his money. On the Sundays when they visited the old man, his father would insist that his mother wear her most attractive clothes.
"Cynthia, darling," he remembered his father saying, "why don't you wear your darker lipstick, it enhances your smile."
When Paul Carter had asked Mr. Hammersberg for the hand of his youngest daughter, Cynthia, he had received permission and an admonition. "I will know by the bloom on my daughter's cheeks and the smile on her lips just how loving and caring a husband you are."
From that day forward, Paul was careful not to do anything that would keep his wife's lips from smiling or her cheeks from blooming. It was fortunate he liked her well enough so that being a good and thoughtful husband was not too much of a burden.
At his eighty-fifth birthday party, Hampa Ham, who had not delivered his famed "Hammersberg Address" for five years, decided once again to bore his loyal family, but with a slower, muted version.
Corey, who could still recite it backward, found himself paying rapt attention. The speech, because of the old man's infirmities, timed out at nineteen minutes, but the salient points were all there.
"Know what you want and go after it!"
"Timidity will get you nowhere."
"People who are afraid to ask questions are people who live in the dark."
"If there is someone who has something you want, ask him how he got it . . . and then go out and do what he did!"
When the old man promised that it was the last time he would make his Sunday speech, he was met by a chorus of insincere voices urging him to reconsider and assuring him that he would live forever. While the sycophantic din was at its apex, Corey asked his Hampa Ham if he might have a few moments alone with him.
His parents and relatives watched Corey and his grandfather sitting out on the veranda. The two seemed to be having a good visit. No one could hear what was being said, but the amount of laughter Corey provoked and the manner in which the two shook hands and embraced was quite disturbing to all the heirs and heiresses.
Hampa Ham passed away the following Sunday.
The reading of the will was held in the library of the Holly Hills mansion. Most of Charles Hammersberg's blood relatives were openly angry at what they learned. One nephew's face turned beet-red as he sounded off at the grievous injustice he had been done by that "selfish old bastard who bored us to shit every Sunday preaching that damned sermon."
Cynthia Carter was saddened by her father's death, but quite pleased at her son's extreme good fortune. She did wonder why her father had chosen to award Corey ten million dollars when she was bequeathed but five million and her husband only a hundred thousand and an old Packard touring car. In the quiet of their bedroom, Paul insisted that it was they who were responsible for their son's windfall inheritance. It was they who had taught him his good manners and courteous behavior. Cynthia suggested that perhaps Corey himself had played a part in winning the huge inheritance. She reminded Paul of how their son had utterly endeared himself to her father when he had mangled the pronunciation of his name.
"Nobody in the history of the universe ever gave a person ten million dollars for accidentally inventing a silly nickname like Hampa Ham," Paul argued. "It was the upbringing that did it!"
In fact, it was neither the painstaking parenting nor the cute baby talk that had tilted the scales in Corey's favor. It was the admissions he had made to his grandfather on that fateful last Sunday. He had admitted to his Hampa Ham how, when he was young, he had dreaded coming to the Sunday dinners knowing that he would have to suffer through a boring lecture before getting his cake and ice cream.
Meet the Author
Carl Reiner created and costarred as Alan Brady in the classic, multiple EmmyAward-winning The Dick Van Dyke Show and later began directing major feature film comedies, including The Jerk, Oh, God?, AII of Me, Where's Poppa, and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. He recently was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and, with Mel Brooks, won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album of the Year for The 2000 Year OId Man in the Year 2000. He lives in Los Angeles.
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