Obituary: Morey Amsterdam

The versatile comedian Morey Amsterdam was a writer, lyricist, producer and supreme jokester, but he is best known for his creation of the character Buddy Sorrell in the fondly remembered television series The Dick Van Dyke Show.

It was one of the first television series to show its hero at his place of work, and many of its best scenes took place in the office where Van Dyke and his fellow writers Buddy and Sally (Rose Marie) drank coffee, ate doughnuts and, between wisecracks, hammered out scripts for the mythical Alan Brady Show. As the outwardly grouchy Buddy, Amsterdam would trade insults with Sally, utter regular deprecating remarks about his rarely- seen wife Pickles and make fun of the show's producer Mel.

Known as the "human joke machine" for his ability to produce a quip on any suggested subject, Amsterdam was born in San Francisco in 1912. His father was a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but though Morey studied both the cello and saxophone, he preferred comedy and as a teenager entered vaudeville, using the cello as a prop while telling jokes.

Moving into radio, which was in its heyday, Amsterdam became a star comic, featuring in several network series and starring in his own show partnered by his first wife, the actress-singer Mabel Todd. He also started song- writing, though numbers like "Why Did I Ever Leave Wyoming?" and "I Can't Get Offa My Horse" have not become standards.

When he had a major hit in 1944, it nearly ruined him. While on holiday in Trinidad, he heard a melody which he assumed was a folk tune and in the public domain. He revised the ribald calypso lyrics and had Paul Baron and Jeri Sullavan adapt the melody.

The result, "Rum and Coca-Cola", was recorded by the Andrews Sisters and sold over a million copies. A plagiarism suit was then brought by the publisher of a music folio, Calypso Songs of the West Indies, which included Lionel Belasco's "L'Annee Passee", written in 1906 (the melody Amsterdam had heard). The defendants had to make an enormous settlement to retain their rights to the song.

In 1948 Amsterdam moved into television and was an instant hit with his brash humour and one-liners. "TV," he said, "just stands for tired vaudeville." Set in a fictional night-club, his first series co-starred Art Carney and, as a cigarette girl, the future authoress Jacqueline Susann.

Amsterdam next successfully hosted his own variety show, then the late- night talk show Broadway Open House (fore-runner of the Tonight show) and was a prolific Master of Ceremonies on quiz and talent shows, but it was The Dick Van Dyke Show that made him a household name.

Conceived by Carl Reiner and based on his own experiences as a television script-writer, the show had originally been titled Head of the Family with the cast headed by Reiner himself and Sylvia Miles and Carl Brill in the roles of Sally and Buddy. The producer Sheldon Leonard liked the premise but on viewing the pilot programme was unhappy with the casting.

With a new cast headed by Van Dyke, it became The Dick Van Dyke Show and played on CBS from 1961 until 1966, its wit, warmth and believability making it popular the world over. When the show finished its six-year run, Amsterdam appeared in other television shows, including Hollywood Squares and Love Boat, and made some films, though he described Hollywood as "the kind of place where the skeletons in the closet are ashamed of the people in the house". His films included dramatic roles in Machine Gun Kelly (1958) and Murder Inc (1960), comedy roles in Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Disney's The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit (1968); he also provided one of the voices for the feature cartoon Gay Purr-ee (1963).

His attempts at film writing were less successful. In 1943 he scripted a haunted-house comedy The Ghost and the Guest and provided additional dialogue for an East Side Kids film, Kid Dynamite, both undistinguished "B" movies. In 1966 he produced, co-wrote and starred in Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title, which reunited him with Rose Marie and Richard Deacon, and featured Carl Reiner in a guest spot. One critic called it "abominable" and it received limited distribution. He continued to work as a stand-up comedian in nightclubs and charity shows, and had just finished a two- week cabaret tour when he suffered his fatal heart attack.

Tom Vallance

Morey Amsterdam, actor and comedian: born San Francisco 14 December 1912; married Mabel Todd (marriage dissolved), Kay Patrick (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 28 October 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence