Why All TV Writers Should Honor Harry Crane

Because he created THE HONEYMOONERS? He did, and that should be enough. Because he’s the stepfather of LB’s buddy, comedy writer Ed Scharlach, who once was a writer-producer on the hilarious MORK & MINDY?

Those would be reasons enough, but look out, world, here’s another one:

The Head Writer at the End of an Era
by Michael Barrie

Harry Crane

It was the summer of Watergate. The Senate panel held forth from every television. Sam Ervin: “That’s not executive privilege, that’s executive poppycock!” Howard Baker: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” But for me, it was the summer of that other dais, the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.

On the air since ’64 and heading into its ninth season, Dean’s one-hour variety show was fraying — and not just at the edges. At 58, Dino was no longer sliding down a fireman’s pole or hopping onto a piano. Rat Pack era jokes about booze & broads were past their shelf life. The only thing sliding down a slick pole was the Nielsen rating.

At the first production meeting in June, a new format was revealed.

Make that a few new ones. Half the show will now be a Friars Club-style celebrity roast. The other half, called Dean’s Music Country, will have the singer in blue jeans, crooning country hits amid bales of hay. Or sometimes, half the show will be a roast, and the other half will be the old variety show, with guest stars and comedy sketches. Or the roast will take up a whole hour. Or ninety minutes if you’re roasting Don Rickles.

But week after week, for the next six months, there’s going to be a roast.

When you have to pay tribute to a new person each week, for 25 weeks — everyone from Aaron (Hank) to Zsa Zsa — things get a little desperate. You honor anyone available: Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall, TV’s Cannon William Conrad, and consumer-advocate Ralph Nader. You even honor the unavailable: President George Washington, with an actor playing him.

What did we know?

Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, 1973. Jim Mulholland and I are piloting an Avis rental car through the San Fernando Valley. Jet-lagged and squinting, we’d just flown in from New York on three days notice. To hell with physics, the heat wasn’t rising in Burbank on this day. We parked in front of a structure more suited to a discount dentist than a glamorous TV show.

Dean’s producer proffered a hand the size of a mature flounder. He nodded at a couch: “Sit.” Dragging a chair deep into our personal space, he straddled it backwards, and seemed to pick up an argument at midpoint. “Harry Crane is here for one reason and one reason only. To get Dean up. If there is any conflict, whatsoever, between you and Crane, you go, Harry stays. Got it?” We nodded. “Now get outta here, I’ll see you after the holiday.”

Harry Crane was the show’s head writer and responsible for us being there. We’d worked with him on the 1971 Emmy Awards telecast hosted by Johnny Carson, for whom we had been writing. Harry had written for Jackie Gleason on the DuMont Network’s Cavalcade of Stars, Martin & Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, Abbott & Costello, and even Laurel & Hardy. He seemed then, to a writer in his twenties, to have been around since the dawn of comedy.

Read it all at Splitsider