LOS ANGELES (October 13, 2006) — Jerry Belson, an Emmy-winning comedy writer for “The Tracey Ullman Show” whose wit graced numerous other films and TV shows, including “The Odd Couple” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” has died. He was 68.
Belson died of cancer at his Los Angeles home on Tuesday, said friend and writing partner Garry Marshall.
A “writer’s writer,” Belson inserted into his scripts what was funny to him, even if he thought only four others in his television audience would join him in laughter, said Marshall, who directed “Pretty Women” and “The Princess Diaries.”
“He added dark, wild thoughts and lines,” Marshall said.
Belson and Marshall worked together on some of the most celebrated sitcoms of the 1960s and 70s, including “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Odd Couple.” A signature scene that Belson wrote into “The Odd Couple” involved the character Felix Unger describing the funeral of a dog named “Spot Moskowitz,” attended by dogs wearing yarmulkes.
After teaming with comedic actor Tracey Ullman, Belson won three Emmy awards in 1989 and 1990, for his work on her Fox comedy, and in 1997, for writing on the HBO show “Tracey Takes On…”. He was nominated for 17 Emmys in his career, which primarily focused on targeting the cocky and pretentious.
“He was so bright and so witty with not a very erudite background,” Marshall said. “In one of our first meetings, I said to him, ‘Write it like you would a play.’ He said, ‘I never saw a play.’ He wasn’t from Harvard. He was from El Centro.”
Belson left his home in southeastern California for Hollywood after graduating high school and, following a struggle as a magician, comic book writer and drummer, finally sold a script he wrote to “The Danny Thomas Show” at the age of 22.
One of his most famous stories, among friends, was how he finally married his wife, actress and artist Jo Ann Belson, 30 years ago. She had given him an ultimatum: Marry me or I’m flying to Europe. As he waited with her at the airport, she repeated the demand, Marshall said.
“What do you want? Should I take off or stay?” she said.
Belson quickly responded: “Can you take off and circle?”
The couple raised three children: Kristine, Julie and Willi.
He is survived by his wife; his children; a sister, screenwriter-novelist Monica Johnson; a brother, radio personality Gordon Belson; and two grandchildren.
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