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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor