May 04, 1989 12:00 PM

When Mike Stewart, who later wrote Hello, Dolly! left the show, we got Woody Allen (second from left, with Brooks on desk, Mel Tolkin and Caesar, right) as a writer. He was hardly a person. He looked like one of the seven dwarfs with red hair and glasses, but we allowed him to sit at the typewriter. I took a liking to him, and he often walked home with me because I like to walk. I lived all the way uptown on Fifth Avenue. I can’t say I knew there was all this talent, but there was certainly this very bright and very aware young man, and I was one of his champions. He was only there for a year or two, but we had very fine writers you might not know. There was Mel Tolkin, the head writer, who was my mentor and looked like a Jewish Abe Lincoln, and Aaron Ruben, who did The Andy Griffith Show, and Joe Stein, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof for Broadway. I think the most talented of them all—I’m excluding myself even though that makes me sound too generous—was Larry Gelbart, who is best known for creating the television show M *A *S *H. We also had the funniest comic I ever worked with by far. Sid Caesar could do anything. Charlie Chaplin could not have done what Sid did. Chaplin could not have done 40 shows a year, each an hour-and-a-half, five comedy sketches in each show. Sid did it, and it cost him a lot. It may have cost him himself.

Me, I would get on people’s nerves. I must have been a rotten kid. I was only 24 or 25. I was aggressive. I was a terrier, a pit bullterrier. I was unstoppable. I would keep going until my joke or my sketch was in the show. I didn’t care if anybody else’s was in or out. All of us writers were like a litter of pups, and we all fought for our little tit and struggled and screamed. Sid was God, and if we could get his ear and he would smile on us and say, “Good,” that was important. After the writers all did their part, we would all get together, listen to it and punch it up. They’d punch up my stuff. I’d punch up their stuff. We nearly got to punching each other. You’d hear, “Don’t change that,” and “How dare you!” There were mighty big egos in a little room.

Sometime before the third year I said to Sid, “You’re the actor. I’m the writer. Let’s quit and go to Hollywood. We’ll make those pictures like Danny Kaye is making.” But then Your Show of Shows offered him a lot more money, something like $40,000 a week when most people were making $75. He couldn’t resist. I don’t frown on TV. It’s probably the world’s most powerful, important medium, but a film is there forever. Also, The Producers took me two years to write. Show of Shows I had four days at most. It’s nicer to have two years.

Even though there was all that anxiety, writing Show of Shows was fun too. During rehearsals, I would pretend I was sliding into second base. I just did it because I loved the floor. Sid would cover me and say “Safe!” and then [producer] Max Liebman would take a lit cigar out of his mouth and hurl it at me. He only hit me one out of 10, so it was okay. He didn’t have such good aim. Sid, Carl Reiner and Tolkin smoked cigars too. Big cigars. To this day I can’t stand cigar smoke. It reminds me of the tension and flop sweat I’d feel under my arms when I was trying to sell a joke to Sid and it wasn’t working. Cigar smoke brings it all back to me.

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