After five decades in the funny business, Larry Gelbart has done it all. And what he hasn't done, he's obviously avoiding. You probably know him as the man who developed the television series M*A*S*H; it's his crowning achievement, but hardly his only claim to fame. Gelbart also wrote Oh, God!, Tootsie, City of Angels, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, along with innumerable gags for Bob Hope, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, and a pantheon of others. But he hasn't written anything specifically for print--until now.
Laughing Matters is a look back, sometimes in anger, but mostly in appreciation, at Gelbart's spectacular career. The book is not an autobiography nor is it a collection of fugitive pieces. It also doesn't qualify as a selection of greatest hits from radio, stage, and screen. There just isn't a proper descriptor for what Laughing Matters is, except entertaining. Gelbart comes off as the witty, caustic, intelligent fellow everyone says he is. The Hollywood system, however, does not fare so well, and neither do meddling TV executives and certain actors and other associates, both nameless and named.
Because M*A*S*H will likely be what Gelbart is most remembered for--and according to the book, appears to be the experience of his that most nearly approached creative perfection--an extract dealing with that show seems most appropriate:
It is estimated that the vast store of M*A*S*H episodes to be rerun in syndication will keep the series around well into the twenty-first century, long after I am gone. A nice compilation, to be sure, but I'd give anything to have it the other way around. Thinking of the possibility of M*A*S*H playing so far into the future leads me to hope, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, that if America and its television audience should last a thousand years, people will say this was their finest half hour. Laughing Matters provides many fine half hours, too.