Irving Brecher’s career stretched from vaudeville through radio to motion pictures and the emerging medium of television, along the way gaining a reputation of one of the quickest and wittiest comedy writers in show business. No less a comic than Groucho Marx dubbed him “The Wicked Wit Of The West.”
That wit was silenced Monday when Brecher passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 94.
A Bronx native born January 17, 1914, Brecher grew up in Yonkers. While working as an usher and ticket taker at a Manhattan movie theater, he was tipped off by a Variety film critic that there was money to be had in writing material for Vaudeville comedians. Playing on Milton Berle’s already growing reputation as a joke thief, Brecher placed an ad in the trades reading “Positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them.” The ad caught Berle’s eye, who hired Brecher himself.
He moved to Hollywood in 1937, landing a job at MGM Studios. One of his first jobs was working on the numerous rewrites for The Wizard Of Oz. It was Oz‘s producer Mervyn LeRoy who tapped Brecher to write for the Marx Brothers, first with 1939’s At The Circus and then 1940’s Go West.He would be the only screenwriter to receive a solo writing credit for any of the Brothers’ films.
Brecher formed a fast friendship with Groucho, the two sharing very similar outlooks on life and humor. Once, the two went on vacation to White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia. While the pair were trying to check in to the Greenbrier Hotel, Groucho quipped “Is it true you run a chain of brothels coast-to-coast?” Suddenly, the management couldn’t seem to find their reservations. ironically, the Hotel was screening the recently released At The Circus to its guests that evening. “They let the movie in, but they wouldn’t let in the jews who made it,” Brecher would later comment.
Other notable screen credits include Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941) with William Powell and Myrna Loy, Du Barry Was A Lady (1942) with Gene Kelly, Red Skelton and Lucille Ball, Yolanda And The Thief (1945) with Fred Astaire and Bye Bye Birdie (1963).
Brecher was nominated for his screenplay for Meet Me In St. Louis, a film that almost didn’t get made because star Judy Garland felt that co-star Margaret O’Brien would upstage her. To convince her to take the role, Brecher read the screenplay to Garland, making sure to downplay O’Brien’s role and emphasizing Garland’s.
Movies and vaudeville weren’t the only mediums that Brecher worked in. He created the long-running radio series The Life Of Riley. The series would help launch the career of William Bendix and be spun off into both a film starring Bendix in 1949 and a short-lived television series starring Jackie Gleason a year later.
Via The New York Times.