Comedy writer Sheldon Keller, who collaborated with Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner on the 1950s sketch comedy show “Caesar’s Hour” and wrote variety shows for Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren and other stars, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease Monday in Valencia, Calif. He was 85.
A son of Polish immigrants, Keller met comedian Allen Sherman at the U. of Illinois, where they performed in college shows. During WWII, he teamed with Carl Reiner to entertain troops in an act called Au Claire de Lunatics.
He moved from Chicago to New York in the early 1950s to pursue a career in comedy, starting out performing in the Catskills. He found success in 1955 when he joined the writing staff that worked on Sid Caesar’s television show, a spinoff of the popular program “Your Show of Shows.”
Keller was the inspiration for the character Milton in the Broadway play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” based on Simon”s time working on the shows, according to his son Casey.
He also wrote variety shows for such stars as Sinatra, Loren, Dick Van Dyke, Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore. He won an Emmy for a show he wrote for Carol Channing. He also wrote episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Make Room For Daddy,” “Ensign O’Toole” and “M*A*S*H.” He co-wrote the film “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” with Mel Frank and Dennis Norden.
In the ’70s, Keller and Larry Gelbart won the Writers Guild Award for best original screenplay for “Movie Movie.”
As his writing career slowed , Keller, along with actors George Segal and Conrad Janis, formed the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band. What began as a weekly jam session in Keller’s house became a successful band that played Carnegie Hall and “The Tonight Show.”
He is survived by a daughter, Jamie Keller; a son, comedy writer Casey Keller and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Friday at 12 noon at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles.
Donations may be made to charities supporting Alzheimer’s research.