Mike Marmer

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The Independent Online

Merrill D. (Mike) Marmer, writer, lyricist and producer: born Lowell, Massachusetts 1925; three times married (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 12 January 2002.

During a long career, the award-winning comedy writer Mike Marmer provided one-liners, sketches, lyrics and sitcoms for such performers as Steve Allen, Milton Berle, Carol Burnett, Ernie Kovaks, Dean Martin, Bob Newhart, Jack Paar, the Smothers Brothers and Flip Wilson.

Born in Massachusetts, Marmer served in the US Marine Corps during the Second World War, mainly stationed on Okinawa. After his release from the service, he returned to New England to study under the GI Bill at Suffolk University in Boston. College dramatics gave him a taste for acting, and he appeared in various stock company productions before deciding on writing as a career.

Marmer wrote on his own for various comedians before teaming up with the comedy writer Stan Burns. One of their many television collaborations was for Get Smart (1965-69), the successful series featuring the eager but incompetent secret agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams). In 1970 Marmer and Burns committed what can best be called comedic incest, when they created, produced and wrote Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, a children's Saturday-morning series that has been called "Get Smart with animals and psychedelic music". Whereas Maxwell Smart was a spy working for the secret government agency CONTROL, and fighting the league of evildoers known as KAOS, Link was a simian spy working for the secret government agency APE and fighting the league of evildoers known as CHUMP. The series ran for two years and even boasted its own rock band, for which Marmer and Burns wrote the songs.

They also graced the writing staff of the long-running Carol Burnett Show. During its 1971-72 season, each edition ended with a song-and-sketch tribute to a different Hollywood film studio. Its salute to Paramount Pictures included a parody of Sunset Boulevard, in which Burnett was so funny as the washed-up silent star Norma Desmond that she repeated the character in other editions.

The salute to MGM inspired Burnett's best-remembered sketch, "Went With the Wind", in which she played the headstrong southern belle Scarlett O'Fever. Reduced to working in the cotton fields on her ravaged plantation, Scarlett has been invited to a ball, but has nothing to wear but rags. As she turns to the green velvet curtains, her face lights up. The scene changes to the ball, where the merry banter of the stylish guests suddenly ceases as Scarlett makes her Grand Entrance. Her gown has been fashioned from the curtains, but its most striking feature is the curtain rail that stretches across her back. This sketch helped to earn Marmer and his fellow scriptwriters an Emmy award for "Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety or Music Programmes".

Marmer also won four Writers Guild awards, and wrote for such popular series as Three's Company, Gilligan's Island, F Troop and the Dean Martin Roasts. After decades spent enduring the prudish restrictions of American network television, he moved to the greater freedom of cable TV with the no-holds-barred revue series Bizarre (1982-85).

Dick Vosburgh