“If You’re not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” a documentary narrated by the comedy legend, two years ago made him the oldest person ever to be nominated for an Emmy. I was his secretary for five years and friend for decades. He hired me in 1968, when he was best known as partner to Mel Brooks in “The 2,000-Year-Old Man” routines and for creating “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” but I’d been aware of him since he’d been a sidekick to the comedian Sid Caesar. The job interview opened by him saying, “My secretaries stay a long time, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to ask you.”
Though he was a celebrity and twenty years older than I was, he treated me like a friend, not an underling. That gave me the confidence I sorely lacked. My first day on the job, he was appearing on The Carol Burnett Show, so came in after I did. Seeing what I’d placed on his desk, he called out, “You typed up my phone messages?”
“I did it out of habit,” I explained. My previous boss had insisted on it.
“Don’t you think it’s a waste of time?” he asked. He was as down to earth as I’d hoped.
He was an attentive listener, whether it was another star or a cab driver talking. I enjoyed his stories and was flattered when he repeated lines I’d said he’d found amusing to his colleagues. After 5 ½ fun-filled years, I assumed I’d work for Carl forever, but the Women’s Movement came along, insisting I have the same job as a man. Propped up by Carl’s validation, I wrote a script for a sitcom and Carl gave me an assignment on “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” the series he was then producing with Hope Lange as Dick’s wife. I was shocked. That launched my career as a TV writer.
His daughter Annie and I became friends. Two days after she sent me a picture of her, Carl and Mel Brooks in Black Lives Matter t-shirts, she emailed to say her father had died.
Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. The really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Carl did that for me. It’s not why he was awarded The Mark Twain Prize, but the reason I am eternally grateful to him.