Larry Gelbart
Larry Simon Gelbart

(1928-02-25)February 25, 1928
DiedSeptember 11, 2009(2009-09-11) (aged 81)
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City, California
Other namesFrancis Burns, Elsig
  • TV writer
  • author
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
  • director
Years active1944–2009
(m. 1956)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Sergeant
Unit Armed Forces Radio Service
Battles/warsWorld War II

Larry Simon Gelbart (February 25, 1928 – September 11, 2009)[1] was an American television writer, playwright, screenwriter, director and author, most famous as a creator and producer of the television series M*A*S*H, and as co-writer of the Broadway musicals A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and City of Angels.


Early life

Gelbart was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Jewish immigrants Harry Gelbart, "a barber since his half of a childhood in Latvia,"[2] and Frieda Sturner, from what is now Dąbrowa Górnicza (Poland), who migrated to the United States. Larry Gelbart had a sister, Marcia Gelbart Walkenstein.[citation needed]

His family later moved to Los Angeles and he attended Fairfax High School. Drafted into the United States Army shortly after World War II, Gelbart worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service in Los Angeles.[3] Attaining the rank of sergeant, Gelbart was honorably discharged after serving 1 year and 11 days. Those last 11 days prevented Gelbart from being drafted for service during the Korean War.[4]


Gelbart began as a writer at the age of sixteen for Danny Thomas's radio show after his father, who was Thomas's barber, showed Thomas some jokes Gelbart had written. During the 1940s Gelbart also wrote for Jack Paar and Bob Hope. In the 1950s, his most important work in television involved writing for Red Buttons, Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour, and in Celeste Holm's Honestly, Celeste!, as well as with writers Mel Tolkin, Michael Stewart, Selma Diamond, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Woody Allen on two Caesar specials.[5]

In 1972, Gelbart was one of the main forces behind the creation of the television series M*A*S*H, writing the pilot (for which he received a "Developed for Television by __" credit); then producing, often writing and occasionally directing the series for its first four seasons, from 1972 to 1976. M*A*S*H earned Gelbart a Peabody Award and an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and went on to considerable commercial and critical success.[citation needed]


Gelbart's best known screen work is perhaps the screenplay for 1982's Tootsie, which he co-wrote with Murray Schisgal. He was nominated for an Academy Award for that script,[6] and also was Oscar-nominated for his adapted screenplay for 1977's Oh, God! starring John Denver and George Burns. On his relationship with actor Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Gelbart is reported to have said, "Never work with an Oscar-winner who is shorter than the statue".[7] He later retracted this statement, saying it was just a joke.[citation needed]

He collaborated with Burt Shevelove on the screenplay for the 1966 British film The Wrong Box. Gelbart also co-wrote the golden-era film spoof Movie Movie (1978) starring George C. Scott in dual roles, the racy comedy Blame It on Rio (1984) starring Michael Caine and the 2000 remake of Bedazzled with Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser. His script for Rough Cut (1980), a caper film starring Burt Reynolds, Lesley-Anne Down and David Niven, was credited under the pseudonym Francis Burns.[citation needed]

Gelbart-scripted films for television included Barbarians at the Gate (1993), a true story about the battle for control of the RJR Nabisco corporation starring James Garner that was based on the best-selling book of that name; the original comedy Weapons of Mass Distraction (1997) starring Ben Kingsley and Gabriel Byrne as rival media moguls; and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003) starring Antonio Banderas as the Mexican revolutionary leader.[citation needed]


Gelbart co-wrote the long-running Broadway musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim in 1962. After the show received poor reviews and box-office returns during its previews in Washington, D.C., rewrites and restaging helped; it was a smash Broadway hit and ran for 964 performances. Its book won a Tony Award. In a 1991 published edition of the musical, Gelbart wrote "it remains for me the best piece of work I've been lucky enough to see my name on." A film version starring Zero Mostel and directed by Richard Lester, was released in 1966. Gelbart was critical of the movie, as most of his and Shevelove's libretto was largely rewritten.

Gelbart's other Broadway credits include the musical City of Angels, which won him the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, and an Edgar Award and an off-Broadway musical, In The Beginning, a satirical take on the Bible, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. He also wrote the Iran-Contra satire Mastergate, as well as Sly Fox and a musical adaptation of the Preston Sturges movie Hail the Conquering Hero, whose grueling development inspired Gelbart to utter what evolved into the classic quip, "If Hitler is alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical."[8]


In 1997, Gelbart published his memoir, Laughing Matters: On Writing M*A*S*H, Tootsie, Oh, God! and a Few Other Funny Things.[2]


Gelbart was a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post, and also was a regular participant on the Usenet newsgroup as "Elsig".


In 1995, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[9]

He won a Tony Award for the book of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum.

He won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1974 for M*A*S*H.

In 2002, Gelbart was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[10]

In 2008, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.[11]


Gelbart was diagnosed with cancer in June and died at his Beverly Hills home on September 11, 2009, aged 81. His wife of 53 years, Pat Gelbart, said that after being married for so long, "we finished each other's sentences." She declined to specify the type of cancer he had.[1][12] He was interred at the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.[13]

Writing credits

M*A*S*H episodes

The following is a list of M*A*S*H episodes (42 Total) written and/or directed by Gelbart.

Season one (9/17/72–3/25/73)

Season two (9/15/73–3/2/74)

Season three (9/10/74–3/18/75)

Season four (9/12/75–2/24/76)


  1. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (2009-09-11). "'MASH' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  2. ^ a b Gelbart, Larry (1998). Laughing Matters: On Writing MASH, Tootsie, Oh, God!, and a Few Other Funny Things. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-42945-X.
  3. ^ "Larry Gelbart dies at 81; 'MASH' writer - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. 1928-02-25. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  4. ^ "M.A.S.H" creator Larry Gelbart on his army days. Television Academy Foundation: The Interviews via YouTube. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  5. ^ Malarcher, Jay (2003). The Classically American Comedy of Larry Gelbart. Lanham, Md.: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4772-8.
  6. ^ "Tootsie", IMDb, retrieved 2021-03-08
  7. ^ Obituary, Accessed August 3, 2023.
  8. ^ See e.g. Barthel, Joan (February 25, 1968). "Life for Simon—-Not That Simple". The New York Times. p. D9., cited in Popik, Barry (September 11, 2009). "If Hitler's still alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical (Larry Gelbart)". The Big Apple. Retrieved March 8, 2016. and the Book for In The Beginning, a musical satire on the Bible with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. According to Martin Gottfried, when producer Robert Whitehead tried to divert Gelbart by musing about how the ongoing war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann might turn out, Gelbart shot back, "They ought to send him out of town with a musical." Gottfried, Martin (2003). All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse (2nd ed.). New York: Da Capo. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-306-81284-2.
  9. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars : Listed by Date Dedicated" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-13. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  10. ^ "32nd Annual Theatre Hall of Fame Inductees Announced; Mamet, Channing, Grimes Among Names –". Archived from the original on 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  11. ^ "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List". Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  12. ^ "'M-A-S-H' writer Larry Gelbart dies at 81". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  13. ^ Resting Places