Jerry Belson

Screen comedy writer


Jerry Belson, television writer and producer: born El Centro, California 8 July 1938; married (one son, two daughters); died Los Angeles 10 October 2006.

Slapstick and physical humour were the trademarks of Jerry Belson, the screen comedy writer who also enjoyed attacking pomposity and pretension. He achieved some of his greatest television sitcom successes in partnership with Garry Marshall, writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show and producing The Odd Couple, before creating The Tracey Ullman Show, which gave the British comedy actress the breakthrough she had been looking for after moving to Hollywood.

With another American producer, James L. Brooks - who had worked on Taxi and Cheers - Belson devised a winning format by showcasing Ullman's talents for characterisation and dialects. Each week, she performed a string of comedy playlets, split up with animated sequences drawn by Matt Groening, but his cartoons of a dysfunctional American family called the Simpsons were actually omitted from the BBC's screenings in Britain, perhaps considered too weird for domestic audiences - before they later achieved global success in their own right.

In fact, The Tracey Ullman Show (1987-90) was a flop in Britain while becoming a huge hit in the United States for the newly launched Fox channel - winning four Emmy Awards, including the network's first.

Belson was also one of the writers - and credited as consulting producer - when Ullman and her husband, the producer Allan McKeown, launched their own American television production, Tracey Takes On . . . (1996-99), featuring the comedienne tackling a different topic each week with a wardrobe of characterisations. Filmed on location, it won eight Emmy Awards and many other honours.

Born in El Centro, California, in 1938, Jerry Belson set off for Hollywood as soon as he could leave high school. He earned a living as a magician, comic-book writer and drummer before, at the age of 22, he sold a script to the long-running sitcom Make Room for Daddy (also titled The Danny Thomas Show, 1953-65).

Also on the programme's scriptwriting team was Garry Marshall and, together, they went on to write episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show and Love, American Style. They also had success with the film comedy How Sweet It Is! (based on Muriel Resnik's 1961 novel The Girl in the Turquoise Bikini and starring James Garner and Debbie Reynolds, 1968).

Then, they produced the landmark television sitcom The Odd Couple (1970-75), based on Neil Simon's Broadway play and the subsequent film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. On the small screen, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman took over the roles of the fastidious Felix Unger and his lazy childhood friend Oscar Madison, who shared a Park Avenue apartment in New York, and the series ran for five years and 114 episodes.

With David Giler and Mordecai Richler, Belson scripted the film comedy Fun with Dick and Jane (starring George Segal and Jane Fonda as a once well-off couple turning to crime when they fall into debt, 1977) and, with Brock Yates, he wrote the action comedy sequel Smokey and the Bandit II (starring Burt Reynolds, 1980).

Alone, Belson wrote and directed the film Surrender (1987), starring Michael Caine as a novelist who has been through two divorces and one palimony settlement, and keeps his wealth a secret from a new girlfriend (Sally Field) to test whether she wants him for himself or his money. In a memorable early scene, when robbers break into a charity benefit and force everyone to strip before making off with the women's jewellery, Caine and Field are tied together naked, face to face.

As well as contributing, uncredited, to the screenplay of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Belson scripted Steven Spielberg's romantic fantasy Always (starring Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, 1989).

He wrote two Broadway plays, Smile (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 1986-87), a musical based on his 1976 film, and - in partnership with Garry Marshall - the short-lived The Roast (starring Doug McClure, Winter Garden Theatre, 1980), which closed after just five performances.

Anthony Hayward

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?