Avery Schreiber

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The Independent Online

Avery Schreiber, actor, writer and comedian: born Chicago 9 April 1935; married (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 7 January 2002.

The moustachioed Avery Schreiber first came to the attention of the American public in the 1960s as the rotund half of the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber. He and the lean, fast-talking Jack Burns clowned their way through such television shows as The Hollywood Palace, The Ed Sullivan Show and their own starring series, Our Place (1963).

In 1965, while Burns was appearing in CBS-TV's long-running Andy Griffith Show, Schreiber was seen in one of the most bizarre programmes in television history. My Mother the Car was a sitcom in which a young lawyer, Dave Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke), bought a 37-year-old used car that proved to be the reincarnation of his mother. Schreiber played the ruthless Captain Mancini, a collector of vintage cars, obsessed with owning Crabtree's haunted vehicle. Ann Sothern was more fortunate than Van Dyke and Schreiber: as the voice of the car, she didn't have to show her face in this short-lived embarrassment.

After recording the comedy album The Watergate Comedy Hour and starring in the unsuccessful Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour (1973), the team broke up. On his own, Schreiber appeared in such television series as Ben Vereen . . . Comin' at Ya (1975), the Sammy Davis Jnr talkshow Sammy and Company (1975-77) and The Comedy Factory (1985). He also made a popular series of commercials in which he played a disparate series of characters with but one thing in common: they were all driven to distraction by people deafeningly crunching on Doritos crisps.

Passionate about the theatre, Schreiber appeared in productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Show Boat, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Hamlet. In 1989 he was offered a plum role in Welcome to the Club, a Broadway show with music by the composer Cy Coleman and a book by the Hemingway biographer A.E. Hotchner. The two men collaborated on the lyrics for the musical, which ran for a mere 12 performances. Originally titled Let 'Em Rot, it was set in a prison ward reserved for divorced men who refused to pay alimony. In Not Since Carrie (1991), his book on musical flops, Ken Mandelbaum wrote, "The show's hideous logo, with a man's legs dangling half-devoured from a pair of rouged lips, said it all."

"He was a very good and gentle man," said Schreiber's widow, "but politics got him." Her husband's gentleness would vanish during his stand-up routine, in which he mocked politicians savagely and hilariously. As his health deteriorated, he worked on Julius and Ethel, a screenplay about the controversial trial and execution of the atom spies the Rosenbergs.

Dick Vosburgh