Jerry Belson, 68, an Emmy-winning comedy writer whose wit graced television shows from "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Odd Couple" through "The Tracey Ullman Show," died of cancer Tuesday, October 10, at his Los Angeles home.
On Monday, October 23, Belson’s friends and family …and Burl Barer….gathered for a memorial tribute at the Falcon Theater in Burbank, California, owned by Belson’s long time friend and collaborator Gary Marshall.
Among the comedy series on which Belson and Marshall worked together were "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Love, American Style" and "The Odd Couple."
"Gary has mixed emotions today," quipped comedian Albert Brooks, one of Belson’s close associates, "He’s sad that Jerry passed away, but he’s delighted the theater is full."
Marshall, acting as master of ceremonies, held back tears as he regaled the audience with amusing stories about Belson’s incredibly successful career."He was so bright and so witty with not a very erudite background," Marshall said. "In one of our first meetings, I said to him, ‘Write it like you would a play.’ He said, ‘I never saw a play.’ He wasn’t from Harvard. He was from El Centro."
Humor outweighed tears as comedy writers and comedic performers took to the stage, paying tribute to a man who’s wit and wisdom won him numerous industry accolades, including 17 Emmy nominations. Actress Tracey Ullman, praising him while doing an impersonation of his distinctive voice and delivery, reminded the audience that Belson won three Emmy Awards: in 1989 and 1990 for his work on her Fox comedy series, and in 1997 for his writing on the HBO show "Tracey Takes On…"
Others rising to speak of Jerry Belson included Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Penny Marshall, several famed comedy writers, and members of Belson’s family. Mr. Belson is survived by his wife; his children, Kristine, Julie and Willi; a sister, Monica Johnson, a screenwriter and novelist; a brother, Gordon Belson, a radio personality; and two grandchildren.
Yes, I was there….and everybody thought I was somebody. It was a bit embarrassing. Belson’s daughter looked thrilled and delighted to see me, grabbed my hand and said "HI! Oh, it is so wonderful to see you! How have you been?"
I didn’t dare ask whom she thought I was, instead I simply offered my condolences and asked if she could direct me to Monica Johnson, Jerry’s sister. Monica, writing partner of Albert Brooks, once launched a valiant effort to get Sony Entertainment to produce a motion picture based on my book MAN OVERBOARD. Sadly, it didn’t happen, but I wanted to meet her anyway, shake her hand, and introduce myself and offer my condolences on the loss of her brother.