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‘Bye Bye Birdie’ writer kept his ‘Wit’

The late Irving Brecher's memoir surfaces

Irving Brecher always had impeccable timing.

The late scribe, who wrote zingers for Groucho Marx, Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason and who resurfaced briefly during the writers strike, died a few days after galleys of his memoir, titled “The Wicked Wit of the West,” arrived on the desks of book critics.

And, sure enough, the L.A. Times slipped a mention of the book, recently published by Ben Yehuda Press, into its obit.

His widow, Norma, “thinks he did it to help the book,” says collaborator Hank Rosenfeld.

A fan of the Marx brothers and vaudeville, Rosenfeld, a former Spy mag scribe, couldn’t believe he had never heard of Brecher, who wrote “At the Races” and “Go West,” along with “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Life of Riley” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”

The book, based on a series of conversations between the two, is a tribute to Brecher’s earlier triumphs and a bittersweet chronicle of his final years.

Brecher, who died at 94, got his showbiz start after a Variety staffer encouraged the fledgling gagman to place an ad in the paper. The promo promised “positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them.”

Berle himself hired Brecher. Before long the funnyman was writing quips for the Marx brothers and punching up dialogue on “The Wizard of Oz.”

The book recounts various yuk-filled outings with famous funnyman — such as the time they dragged Groucho into his first fishing expedition and wound up at Bugsy Siegel’s newly opened Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas — as well as Brecher’s struggles with infirmities.

By the time he appeared in a widely circulated WGA video in 2007, he was blind. But he was still feisty — and angered by years of shabby scribe treatment.

According to Rosenfeld, Brecher wanted to do a series of online videos, “but he wasn’t well.”

The book dragged on, Rosenfeld says, as Brecher revised one portion after another.

“He was a real perfectionist,” Rosenfeld says. “A real wordsmith.”

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