The comedy world lost a giant today, as Carl Reiner passed away at age 98. Known for creating The Dick Van Dyke Show and directing comedies including Oh God! and The Jerk, few know that Reiner also dabbled in singing, notably opera music, part of two television performances that bookend his career.
Born in The Bronx to Jewish immigrant parents in 1920, Carl Reiner would go on to serve in the Army Air Force in World War II, before performing in Broadway musicals Inside U.S.A. and Alive and Kicking, among others, as well as the lead role in Call Me Mister. In 1950, he joined the cast of Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, appearing on air in skits while also working alongside writers Mel Brooks and Neil Simon in the early years of their careers.
At 33 years of age, Reiner joined Caesar’s Hour in October 1955, Reiner would perform a selection from Pagliacci, with Sid Caesar in the role of Gallipacci (Canio in the original opera). Gallipacci and wife Rosa (Nedda), played by Nanette Fabray, are traveling in an art troupe, when Rosa falls in love with Emilio (Silvio), played by Reiner. The two make plans to elope, but a jealous Gallipacci discovers their plan. Watch below and listen for a young Don Pardo introducing the sketch.
Now compare a young Reiner, whose career was just getting started, to a 91 year old Reiner on Conan promoting his book “I Remember Me.” The two discussed how he was never able to perform opera for a career choice, and Conan offered him a chance to perform on the show that night. Reiner took the chance and sang from Pagliacci.
Rest in peace Carl Reiner, thanks for the laughs and for shining a light on your potential operatic career.