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
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
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: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?