Michael Elias
Elias in 2018
Michael Herman Elias

(1940-09-20) September 20, 1940 (age 83)
Occupation(s)Writer, producer, director
Years active1965–present
Known forThe Jerk, Lush Life, Head of the Class
Spouse(s)Caroline Bielefelt (m. 1963 div. 1973), Laraine Mestman (m. 1991 div. 2001),
Bianca Roberts
(m. 2013)

Michael Herman Elias (born September 20, 1940) is an American writer, film director and producer.

Early and private life

Elias was born in upstate New York. He inherited his left-wing politics from his parents. His father was a doctor, the son of immigrants to the US from Hungary who spent some time in Spain in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. His mother was a librarian and trade union activist, whose parents came to the US from Russia. The family moved to Woodstock in the early 1960s. Elias attended Woodbourne Elementary School, Fallsburg High Central Junior and Senior High School. From there he went to St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, graduating in 1962 with a degree in mathematics and philosophy. He was President of The Rogers Albritton Film Club and acted in The King William Players productions of Shakespeare, Brecht, and Beckett. Elias is the brother of Ruth Rogers[1] (Lady Rogers) who is married to British born architect Richard Rogers[2] (Lord Rogers) and Susan Elias,[3] an artist living in Berlin who is married to artist Reinhard Voigt.[4][5]

Elias has been married three times: Caroline Bielefelt 1963–1974, Laraine Mestman 1991–2001, and Bianca Roberts[6] former executive director of the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris. Elias has one son with Laraine Mestman, Frederick Mestman, and three step-sons: Ernie Klein, Siggy Bodolai, and James Bulliard.

Acting career

After college Elias went to New York, studied with Bill Hickey, Uta Hagen at HB Studio and Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio. At the same time Elias joined The Living Theatre where he appeared on stage in Kenneth Brown's The Brig 1963 as well as the 1964 film by Jonas Mekas. Elias traveled to London with The Living Theatre for a production of The Brig at the Mermaid Theatre, then returned to New York where he appeared in plays at the Judson Poets Theatre by Al Carmines, Rochelle Owens, and Maria Irene Fornes. In 1963, Elias, along with other members of the cast were arrested when Federal Marshals seized the theatre.[7]

In the late 1960s, Elias joined Frank Shaw[8] and formed the comedy team of Elias and Shaw.[9] They made their first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1967, then played New York nightclubs The Bitter End, Upstairs at the Downstairs, Bon Soir, The Village Gate. After another appearance on The Tonight Show they were seen by Ernest Chambers,[10] a television producer who hired them to come to Hollywood as writers. They gave up the act and wrote for Leslie Uggams, Glen Campbell, and Bill Cosby. They also wrote the screenplay for the film The Frisco Kid which starred Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford.

Film and television

In 1971, Elias and Steve Martin were both staff writers on The Pat Paulsen Half A Comedy Show. When Martin decided to devote himself to stand-up he invited Elias to write material for him. This began a long collaboration that also included Martin's comedy albums and two of his network TV specials, A Wild and Crazy Guy (1978) and Comedy Is Not Pretty! (1980), and the screenplay for The Jerk (1979).[11]

In 1978, Elias partnered with Rich Eustis and began a 20-year collaboration in which they created and produced the hit sitcom Head of the Class starring Howard Hesseman about gifted but socially inept high school students. It ran for five seasons on ABC. In the last year Howard Hesseman was replaced by the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed in 2019 that a reboot is planned for HBO Max.[12] Two of the 115 episodes of Head of The Class were filmed in the USSR ("Mission to Moscow Pts. 1 & 2").[13] It was the first American television show to be shot in Moscow. In addition, Elias and Eustis wrote screenplays for Young Doctors in Love, Serial, North Dallas, Back to School and other television series including Eye to Eye, Tall Hopes, and numerous pilots for Warner Brothers.

In 1992, Elias and Eustis amicably dissolved their partnership. Elias went on to write and direct the award-winning Showtime movie Lush Life[14][15] with Forest Whitaker and Jeff Goldblum. He was nominated for best director at the CableACE Awards.

In 2007, Paul Mazursky directed Elias's semi-autobiographical play The Catskill Sonata.[16][17][18][19] The LA Weekly named it one of the best ten plays of the year.[20]


Elias' novels include The Last Conquistador[21] published in 2013 by Open Road Media.[22] In 2020, Michael released his latest novel You Can Go Home Now published by HarperCollins.[23][24][25]


In July 2011, Michael Elias and Rich Eustis filed a lawsuit against Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the talent agency which had represented them from the 1970s until 1995. The suit claimed that in addition to the agency's package fee of US$3.2 million for Head of the Class, the agency had an undisclosed "side deal" with Warner Bros. for 10% of profits which was paid before and cut into the creators' profits. According to the suit, CAA allegedly received US$9 million from this deal. CAA denied the allegations.[26][27]


Year Film Credit Notes
1970 Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour Writer, Story Editor
1969–1971 The Bill Cosby Show Writer
1970–1971 The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour Writer
1972 All's Fair Writer, Co-producer
1973–1974 The New Dick Van Dyke Show Writer, producer
1975 Black Bart based on Blazing Saddles Writer, producer Developed for television, Co- written with Frank Shaw
1978 Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy Writer Co-written with Jack Handey, Steve Martin and Alan Metter
1979 Co-Ed Fever Created by
1980 Comedy is Not Pretty Writer Co-written with Jack Handey, Steve Martin, Carmen Finestra, Robert Garland and Connie Turner
1986–1991 Head of the Class Written by, Co-Creator, Executive Producer with Rich Eustis
1992 Billy Written by, Co-Creator, Executive Producer with Rich Eustis
1993 Tall Hopes Written by, Co-Creator, Executive Producer with Rich Eustis
2010 The Best Friend Executive producer


Year Film Credit Notes
1972 Trick Baby Writer Written as A. Neuberg, with T. Raewin (Uncredited)
1979 The Jerk Screenplay Screenplay co-written with Steve Martin and Carl Gottlieb
1979 The Frisco Kid Writer Co-written with Frank Shaw
1980 Serial Writer Co-written with Rich Eustis
1982 Young Doctors in Love Writer Co-written with Rich Eustis
1988 Envoyez Les Violons Story Written with Ève Babitz Screenplay co-written with Roger Andrieux
1993 Lush Life Writer, director Nominated CableACE Award
1998 No Laughing Matter Writer, director


Year Play Credit Notes
2007 Catskill Sonata (2007) Playwright Directed by Paul Mazursky


  1. ^ "Ruth Elias, Lady Rogers - Person - National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved 2019-01-09.
  2. ^ en:Richard_Rogers, oldid 859989337[circular reference]
  3. ^ "Susan Elias • Painter". susaneliasart.com. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  4. ^ "Reinhard Voigt | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  5. ^ "Reinhard Voigt". FELD+HAUS. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  6. ^ "Bianca Roberts : « L'amour des Américains pour la France ne se dément pas » - 10 mars 2015 - Le Journal des Arts - n° 431". Le Journal Des Arts (in French). Retrieved 2019-08-17.
  7. ^ "the-living-theatre | Detailed History". the-living-theatre. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  8. ^ "Frank Shaw". Variety. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  9. ^ MicheleMidnight (2016-10-24), Frank Shaw & Michael Elias, Playboy After Dark with Hugh Hefner, retrieved 2019-05-28
  10. ^ "Ernest Chambers". Television Academy. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  11. ^ "The Jerk (1979)". www.wga.org. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  12. ^ Petski, Denise (2021-01-19). "'Head Of The Class': Jorge Diaz, Christa Miller Among 5 Cast In HBO Max Reboot Pilot". Deadline. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  13. ^ Mission to Moscow: Part 1, retrieved 2019-01-09
  14. ^ "Life's Riffs : SHOWTIME'S 'LUSH LIFE' EXPLORES A RELATIONSHIP BASED ON MUSIC, FRIENDSHIP AND FATE". Los Angeles Times. 1994-05-15. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  15. ^ Elley, Derek (1993-12-08). "Lush Life". Variety. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  16. ^ "The Catskill Sonata - Theater Review | Splash Magazines | Los Angeles". www.lasplash.com. Retrieved 2019-04-06.
  17. ^ "A taste for borscht". Los Angeles Times. 2007-03-10. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  18. ^ Candice Courtney McFadyen (2007-07-09). "The Theatre Highlight of the Summer: Paul Mazursky's "The Catskill Sonata"". LA's The Place | Los Angeles, Magazine. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  19. ^ Morgan, Terry (2007-03-20). "The Catskill Sonata". Variety. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  20. ^ Mikulan, Steven (2008-04-02). "An L.A. Playwright's Struggle to Go East". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  21. ^ "Michael Elias - The Last Conquistador". Book Passage. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  22. ^ Elias, Michael. "New Novel The Last Conquistador by Veteran Screenwriter Michael Elias Available Today from Open Road Integrated Media". www.prnewswire.com. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
  23. ^ Rose, Joel. "Scrupulously Woven: On Michael Elias's "You Can Go Home Now"". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  24. ^ "La Marseillaise BDR Marseille : De flic interlope à Madone des femmes battues". articles.cafeyn.co. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  25. ^ "You Can Go Home Now". HarperCollins. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  26. ^ ""Class" creators sue CAA for cutting into profits". Reuters. 2011-07-12. Retrieved 2019-01-09.
  27. ^ "Lawsuit Claims CAA Cheated TV Creators Out of Millions in Profits (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-01-09.