Radio, TV Writer
Prolific comedy writer Charles Isaacs, who headed the laff teams for such personalities as Bing Crosby, Milton Berle, Red Skelton and Bob Hope died Dec. 13 of cancer in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 88.
Winnipeg native grew up in Minneapolis, where his father ran a branch of the family’s grain business. He wrote one-liners and funny items for local columnists, which were picked up by radio celebs. The Depression interrupted his journalism studies at the U. of Minnesota, so he found work writing ads shown in local moviehouses and served as a correspondent for Radio Guide magazine, which led to work in Hollywood. There a bit he wrote for Jack Benny landed him a job as a writer on radio’s “The Jack Haley Show.” He then wrote monologues for “Al Pearce and His Gang” plus sketches for Charlie Ruggles, Adolphe Menjou, John Barrymore and others on “The Texaco Star Theater.”
That led to such gigs as “The Chase and Sanborn Hour” with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his pal Charlie McCarthy, for whom he wrote famous routines involving W.C. Fields.
Additional credits include “The Kraft Music Hall” with Crosby, “The Rudy Vallee Show” and finally head writer of “The Milton Berle Show.” World War II arrived, and Isaacs enlisted in the Coast Guard, where Vallee was chief bandmaster; Isaacs wrote for Coast Guard Band shows, including recruiting pitches, then got sea duty as a gunner. He finished out the war in Hollywood writing for “Command Performance” and other Armed Forces Radio shows.
After the war, Isaacs continued to amass credits, including writing for Fanny Brice’s “The Baby Snooks Show” and “Amos and Andy” as well as writing for Al Jolson and Oscar Levant on “The Kraft Music Hall.”
After a stint writing radio and nightclub material for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, in 1950 he made the leap to television, becoming head writer for Jimmy Durante on the “All Star Revue,” a comedy-variety show. He was later head writer for Durante on “The Colgate Comedy Hour.” He spent four years writing for Durante.
Isaacs went on to write for many of the biggest TV stars of the ’50s and ’60s. He was head writer for Johnny Carson’s CBS variety show and later wrote for Carson on “The Tonight Show.” He was also head writer for two years of “The Red Skelton Show,” and three years of Dinah Shore. Additionally he wrote for Dean Martin and Bobby Darin NBC variety shows and specials for Jonathan Winters, Bob Hope, Roy Rogers and Victor Borge.
He was creator, writer and producer of sitcoms “The Duke,” “Hey Jeannie” and “The Tycoon,” and producer and head writer on “The Real McCoys.”
In the 1970s and ’80s, Isaacs was a writer on the sitcoms “Alice” and “Harper Valley P.T.A.” He also wrote the 1970 feature “Squeeze a Flower” and penned the story for “Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World.” Long before that he even adapted “Pippi Longstocking” for Shirley Temple’s TV skein and early on created visual gags for Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, actress Doris Singleton; and a brother.