Emmy winner teamed to create 'The Odd Couple'

Jerry Belson, the funniest man in the world, has died.

That’s how his comedy peers referred to the 68-year-old Belson, who died of cancer Tuesday in Los Angeles.

A memorial service will be held Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. at the Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

Belson was known as the writer’s writer. He received 12 Emmy noms, winning three times for “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “Tracey Takes On …” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He also did regular punch-up on “Cheers” and was a producer on “The Drew Carey Show” and a producer-director on “The Odd Couple.”

He appeared in a command performance on an episode of “Laverne & Shirley,” in which he somehow played his eyeballs as a musical instrument to the tune of “If You Knew Susie.”

Belson and I were considered one of the top comedy writing teams of the ’60s and ’70s, creating memorable episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Lucy Show,” “The Danny Thomas Show,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” “The Joey Bishop Show” and “Hey Landlord.”

We went on to create TV specials for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, as well as a Danny Thomas special for which we won the Writers Guild Award.

Our crowning achievement in television was Emmy-nommed classic comedy “The Odd Couple.” Together we created a style that inspired generations of comedy writers.

Belson’s film credits include “Smile,” “The Grasshopper,” “The End” and “Fun With Dick and Jane.” He also wrote and directed “Surrender” and the cult pic “Jekyll and Hyde … Together Again.”

During his long association with directors Steven Spielberg and Michael Ritchie, he worked on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Always,” “Semi-Tough” and “Fletch.”

Belson’s fast-paced, savage and smart comedy somehow managed to celebrate the human condition while mocking the futility of life. He was always on the lookout for pretension, once commenting upon observing an insecure Hollywood hotshot, “He’s the only man I know who swaggers into a room on his knees.”

Born and raised in the border town of El Centro, his sole ambition was to leave town. Immediately after receiving his high school diploma, he dashed to his pre-packed car and drove directly to Hollywood.

After struggling for a few years as a magician, comicbook writer and drummer, he finally broke into writing with a Danny Thomas script at the age of 22.

He is survived by his wife, actress Jo Ann Belson; two daughters; a son; two grandchildren; a sister, screenwriter-novelist Monica Johnson; and a brother, radio personality Gordon Belson.

Donations may be made to Loving Paws Assistance Dogs, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs to assist children who are physically disabled.

(Garry Marshall was Jerry Belson’s writing partner and longtime friend.)

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