Irving Brecher, who wrote vaudeville one-liners for Milton Berle and scripted Marx Brothers movies, the TV and radio hit “The Life of Riley” and the Oscar-nominated musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” died Nov. 17 in Los Angeles. He was 94.
Brecher was a teenager in New York when he got his first comedy writing credits as columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan named him when they used jokes he sent them on postcards.
At 19, he and a friend began a comedy-writing service for entertainers, promising jokes so bad even notorious gag-stealer Milton Berle wouldn’t use them.
Berle was their first customer, then took Brecher along when he moved into radio and the movies and went to Hollywood, where Brecher got a contract with Mervyn LeRoy, head of production at MGM.
He was an uncredited script doctor on “The Wizard of Oz” and wrote screenplays for the Marx Brothers movies “At the Circus” and “Go West.”
“If I were any drier, I’d be drowning,” Groucho Marx says while caught in the rain in 1939’s “At the Circus,” which was filled with puns and other wordplay.
In another scene, Marx exclaims: “I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.”
He and Fred F. Finklehoffe were nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of the 1944 Judy Garland picture “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Brecher created the long-running radio series “The Life of Riley,” about a common man whose missteps cause endless trouble. Chester Riley, voiced by William Bendix, frequently used the tag line “What a revoltin’ development this is!” He directed the film version of “The Life of Riley” and co-wrote the film with Marx.
He made a video in 2007 during the writers’ strike.
“Since 1938, when I joined what was then the Radio Writers Guild, I have been waiting for the writers to get a fair deal; I’m still waiting,” he said in the video. “As Chester A. Riley would have said: ‘What a revoltin’ development this is.’ But he only said it because I wrote it.”
Brecher also had a hand in the movie and television versions of “Life of Riley.”
Among his other writing credits are the 1941 feature “Shadow of the Thin Man,” the 1961 satire “Cry for Happy” and 1963’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” He also directed features “Somebody Loves Me” and “Sail a Crooked Ship.”
In addition to his wife Norma, Brecher is survived by three stepchildren and eight grandchildren.
— Associated Press