The legendary father and son directors discuss their latest projects and the current state of U.S. politics.
Filmmakers Carl and Rob Reiner
Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
Never before have a father and son been jointly honored with a hand and footprint ceremony outside Hollywood’s iconic and famed Chinese Theater. Next week, Carl and Rob Reiner will be the first.
But before they do, the three of us will talk about their long and successful careers, as well as their latest projects. Carl has two new books coming out, including one for kids, while Rob has a pair of new films, both starring Woody Harrelson, one on LBJ, the other about the Iraq War, called “Shock and Awe”.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. I think you’re in for a treat tonight because Carl and Rob Reiner are coming up right now.
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Tavis: How fortunate am I and pleased to welcome two comedy legends to this program. Carl Reiner, of course, created “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, starred in the “Oceans” trilogy, and directed classic films like “The Jerk” with Steve Martin. But arguably, one of the best productions is sitting right next to him.
Rob Reiner became a household name as Meathead in “All in the Family”, but went on to direct films like “This is Spinal Tap”, “Stand by Me”, “When Harry Met Sally”, the list goes on and on and on. As I said at the top, next week they will be honored with a hand and footprint ceremony at the world-famous Chinese Theater during TCM’s Annual Film Festival. Mr. Reiner and Mr. Reiner, an honor to have you both on.
Rob Reiner: It’s great to be here. You had mentioned, you know, that we’re actually the first father and son who…
Rob: Together, yes. Because, you know, Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas have been, but they were separated.
Tavis: How cool is that?
Rob: It’s ridiculously cool [laugh]!
Carl Reiner: All I keep thinking is the people who are not knowing it, like my wife who made this person, and my father and parents. I said they were so show business, in love with show business. That’s the only sad thing.
Rob: If you go on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we both have those stars, and they’re right next to each other.
Carl: They’re right next to each other [laugh].
Rob: So that’s it. With the handprints and footprints, we’re always together.
Carl: And my father did go to Hollywood and stand on the one that when I got before, he took a picture of it.
Tavis: How cool is that? What do you — I mean, to your father’s point, you had no control over being born in this family. You were just fortunate…
Rob: None whatsoever.
Tavis: Not at all. You were fortunate…
Rob: None whatsoever.
Tavis: You were fortunate. You were blessed to come into this union. But what do you make of just the good fortune of being born into this family, Rob?
Rob: Well, lots of laughs. It’s like, you know, the great thing is that the funniest people in the world — and if you look at anything you laughed at in the second half of the 20th century, you can look to the group of people that my dad was a part of
It was Mel Brooks, it was Sid Caesar, it was Neil Simon, it was Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Joe Stein, Aaron Woodall. All, you know, greatest funniest people, and they all were people that were in the house. You know, people ask, “Well, what’s it like growing up?” I said, “Well, it’s not as funny at other peoples’ houses.” [laugh]
Carl: By the way, the fact that Robbie has a photographic memory, he remembers ever since he’s been this big. But the amazing thing is when we were doing — the “2000 Year Old Man” was born in the living room. We just did it for fun for years. Never put it on. He was this big and he used to sit there and laugh and we didn’t understand how he understood what we were doing, but he did.
Tavis: But he got it.
Carl: And as a matter of fact, at one point he actually gave us a joke. He was 16 at the time. He said, “I have a joke for you.” We said, “Sure.” He came — do it for him.
Rob: Well, I mean, it was a crazy thing because, you know, to me I idolized my father and Mel Brooks. The idea that they would even listen to me for a second, I walk into the room and they were actually working out a routine. It was either for the “Sullivan Show” or for “Hollywood Palace”. It was one of the performers there.
I said, “I got an idea for a joke. It’s the derivation of applause.” They said, “Well, what is it?” I said, “Well, you know, thousands of years ago, if you like something, the way you showed your appreciation is you’d go, oh, is that good! Wow! Wow!”
I said, “But if you really love something, you could kill yourself. So the first guy, Bernie, looked around. Nobody was looking, he pulled his head up and he went like that, and then they brought it down here and that was the applause.” So they actually used that joke and that was the greatest thrill for me.
Tavis: You were writing jokes at 16?
Rob: Well, you know, I wrote that joke. Anything.
Carl: No. When he was very young, he worked on the “Smothers Brothers” show as a writer with Steve Martin.
Rob: Steve Martin, yeah, when I was 21.
Tavis: So I was about to ask you, Rob, how you never got intimidated by all this greatness around you. But if you were starting that early, clearly you were never intimidated. You never had to fight that bad.
Rob: I was completely intimidated. I was intimidated all the time. I remember — I mean, he was very nice to me. When I was a teenager, he would let me come down during the summers when I was off to go and watch them do “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, you know, when I was 14, 15, 16. I would sit there and watch them create the shows and it’s brilliance. I mean, it was cutting edge television at that time.
I would go up to his office sometimes. I don’t even know if you knew this, but he would be on the stage working out with the actors or making changes in the script and I’d sit up there and I’d sit behind his desk. I’d go, “There no way. How do I ever — I can’t compete with this.”
You know, this is a guy who won 12 Emmys, he wrote in the first few seasons. He’d write 20 to 25 scripts a year just by himself. I mean, the one thing that I love about this Hollywood hand, I’m literally following in his footsteps [laugh].
Carl: But wait a second. Wait a second…
Tavis: Literally [laugh].
Carl: He’s doing much more than following in footsteps. My favorite pictures of all time, I have them in my head. I watch them often. When somebody hasn’t seen them, I will say, “You gotta see this.” “The Count of Monte Cristo” with Robert Donat, great comeuppance movie, worst villains.
And in that top five, “Random Harvest” with Greer Garson and Ronald Coleman, “The Princess Bride”. Any time you’re depressed, just put them on.
Tavis: Watch that, yeah.
Carl: “When Harry Met Sally”, two things…
Tavis: I knew you were going to say that, yeah.
Carl: You’ll never forget that, and he made an actor out of his mother.
Tavis: Great line, great line. “I’ll have what she’s having.” [laugh]
Rob: It’s one of the top five lines of all time in movies!
Tavis: “I’ll have what she’s having.” [laugh]
Carl: I wrote about that. She’s one better than Humphrey Bogart, Estelle Reiner. One better than Humphrey Bogart. But because of that, she started getting acting jobs. She says, “If I’m going to be in that act…: She went to the Actors Studio at 60 years old.
Tavis: 60 years old, yeah. The flip side, Rob, of being intimidated is how you have responded — you’ve had to — to persons who say you have gotten all the access. You got all this because you’re Carl Reiner’s son.
Rob: Well, you do get asked. There’s no question about it. You got access. I mean, if you have that name, but it’s also, like they say, the door opens, you know, but the door can close real quick and real hard if you don’t have something to deliver. You know, speaking of Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas, I’ve had conversations with Michael. You know, we’re friends and we’ve done a couple of movies together.
You can count on one hand the people whose parents achieved at a very high level, whose children also achieved. You know, Kirk and Michael, I mean, the Fondas. You know, it’s not that many, you know. It’s a very small club. So it’s tremendously difficult to maintain or to be able to achieve.
Carl: You know, I feel very lucky because I have three children. I said my wife raised three great children and one great husband, and it’s true [laugh]. Because she was eight years older than I and, when I was 20, she was 28. They said it’s not going to work. It only worked for 65 years.
But the three children, him being one of them, Lucas Reiner is a world-renowned painter. My daughter, who’s a doctor of philosophy, a doctor of psychiatry, written books on analysis that is worldwide. She just went through the world giving lectures.
That’s the only thing that matters in this world, what you send out to the world and children. And by the way, when I talk about what he’s done, I went to his office one time. I saw these posters. Out of 12 or 15 — how many pictures have you…
Rob: 20 now.
Carl: 20 now. There’s two duds…
Rob: More than two duds [laugh].
Carl: No. There may be some people that didn’t make it, but they were all valid, sensational movies.
Tavis: I’ve been fortunate to have you guys here a couple of times on this show together, more times separately. But the thing I always take away, when you guys leave here, I could fly from here to New York unaided.
Rob: Really [laugh]?
Tavis: I could just levitate.
Rob: Maybe we should do more of that. It’ll cut down on carbon emissions [laugh] and we can save the planet!
Tavis: I walked into that chin up, booty out [laugh]. The reason why I say that, though, is because it is such a beautiful thing to see how much your father — I mean, we know you love your dad — how much your father loves you and is proud of you.
Because every one of us — I don’t want to get emotional here — but every one of us wants to make our mom and daddy proud. And it must like be something special for you to see your dad live this long. 95 years young…
Rob: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Tavis: And to know that your dad is just as proud of you as he could be.
Rob: Well, he’s the greatest, you know, role model you could possibly have. I mean, he has this — you know, not only talented and a great work ethic and all this, but there’s a humility there. I mean, he never would, you know, push his fame out there or anything like that.
I saw how he handled that, so that’s the best thing I got from him is just a great role model and the fact that, at 95, he still gets up every day. Look, you’re sitting there with a book in your hand…
Tavis: Bam! [laugh]
Rob: And he writes every day. See the segue? I didn’t mean to, though.
Tavis: No, your dad taught you well, man [laugh]. I love this book. I just mentioned at the top of the show you have not one, but two more books coming out.
Carl: This is a public service I want to do now.
Tavis: Please, take it away.
Carl: I was on the “Conan O’Brien Show” a few weeks ago. I was coming down the stairs and I fell down a flight of stairs.
Tavis: It’s a true story?
Carl: Yeah, true story. And as I fell, I said, “Conan, I’m not coming on!” I scream Conan’s name. I didn’t hurt myself. I got right up and this is a public service. I’m not kidding. When I was about 25 years old, I slipped on an icy stairway. I hurt my back. Went to a therapist and he said to me, “For the rest of your life, do not get out of bed until you do the following stretches.”
And he gave me stretches to do and I swear this is a public service. I’m giving it to you now too. Do not get out of bed until you do these stretches in case you fall down a flight of stairs. Okay, here it is. This is a graphic diary, by the way. I asked Mel. I said, “Would anybody be interested in the graphic diary which means every mundane thing I did from the morning when I wake up…”
Tavis: There’s Mel, yeah.
Carl: Here’s Mel. I said, “Anybody interested in the mundane things”? He said, “Samuel Pyps did a diary in 1600”, so I added 900 pictures. That’s the only difference. But here it is, here it is.
Tavis: Here are the stretches.
Carl: Here it is, here it is.
Tavis: These are the stretches.
Carl: These are the exercises I do and I did these this morning.
Tavis: Before you get out of bed.
Carl: Before I get out of bed. You do them on both sides and you twist. When you put your legs up, you do this and this and this.
Rob: Look how limber he is.
Tavis: I see this.
Carl: There they are.
Tavis: I’m watching this because I want to get to 95 too.
Carl: Now I’m not kidding.
Tavis: I’m watching, I’m watching, man.
Carl: These are all stretches I do to this day and a couple of them here like one of these was on a billboard.
Tavis: That’s limber right here. Good Lord!
Carl: Well, you want to talk limber? Look at this. I can still put my legs and bend all the way over. Anyway, that’s…
Carl: Public service [laugh].
Rob: If you do those, you’ll live to 95.
Carl: And the other public service, you call randomcontent.com. I’ll personally autograph a book to you.
Tavis: I love this. So this is the trick to making it to 95 doing these stretches every morning?
Carl: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, the new book which has just been sent out, Mel Brooks gives me titles. I told him when I finish this, I said, “What do I do now?” He says, “Write a book called Too Busy to Die.” [laugh].
Tavis: And you did!
Carl: I just finished it. It’s out to the publishers now.
Tavis: And you have a children’s book coming out? Did I read that?
Carl: A children’s book, yeah, which I wrote a while back. But I held it back for a while. It’s called, “You Say God Bless You for Sneezing and Farting” [laugh]. And my little granddaughter, Lucas’s daughter, when she was four years old, she passed wind. She said to her little friend, Leo, they’re going to kindergarten, “Don’t you say God bless you?”
He says, “No, you only say God bless you if you sneeze.” “No, she says, it’s for sneezing and farting. We’ll ask the teacher.” They asked the teacher. I wrote a book about that. It’s illustrated by a guy named…
Tavis: I get how limber you are because of the stretches, but what do you do for your mind? This is for your body. What do you do for your mind to stay this sharp?
Carl: I don’t know. You keep thinking. I wake up with thoughts. I wake up with thoughts. Now I’m waking up with tweets about anti-Trump tweets.
Tavis: Oh, yeah.
Rob: He tweets every day.
Tavis: I know. I follow him. I follow him, absolutely.
Carl: Oh, you do?
Carl: Today’s tweet was about he was talking about win, win, win. We’re gonna win, we’re gonna win so much…
Rob: I’m sick of winning.
Carl: Yeah. I said with him talking about win, win, win made me feel I wouldn’t mind that, but we’re losing, losing, losing. While he’s winning, winning, winning…
Tavis: We’re losing, losing, losing, yeah.
Rob: He’s not winning at all.
Tavis: Speaking of Trump, Rob, I read this story — and you have to explain this to me. Steve Bannon gets a check — you know where I’m going with this, right? This is a true story? This is a true story?
Rob: I know exactly where you’re going. This is true.
Tavis: So Steve Bannon, who we all know from Mr. Trump’s White House, gets a check every year, every month, however these checks go out, every quarter, for “Seinfeld”. Steve Bannon gets a check for the TV series “Seinfeld”. Here now, Rob Reiner to tell us how and why that happens.
Rob: And it is so humiliating and so upsetting to me. I had no idea. One of the investors in our company, Castle Rock, was Westinghouse. They put like $50 million in a loan to us and, when we were owned by Ted Turner and he sold his whole company to Warners, Westinghouse was thinking, well, we’ll call in the debt and that’ll be that and we’ll be done.
Bannon was advising Westinghouse and he said, “No, no, stay in there. You know, it might…” Because at that point, “Seinfeld” was worth nothing. It was not a hit at all. And he said stay in. So they said, “Well, if you think it’s so good, why don’t you forego your fee, your consulting fee, and you keep a piece of “Seinfeld” too?”, and he did, so that’s what happened.
And I’ve never met the guy and I don’t know it. So he did that and then my wife took the picture on the cover of “The Art of the Deal”. She’s a photographer [laugh. So we both feel in some way responsible for this man! I mean, it’s horrible!
Tavis: So your wife took the photo and, had you not sold Castle Rock, Steve Bannon wouldn’t be…
Rob: Yeah, terrible.
Tavis: Now what scares you about this is the number of people who may stop watching “Seinfeld” reruns.
Rob: Oh, no, please. Because otherwise…
Tavis: Because Steve Bannon — you can go and check Steve Bannon.
Rob: I know.
Tavis: How did your wife end up taking the picture?
Rob: Well, this is years ago. This is before I even met her. She was a photographer. I mean, she took covers of magazines and things and she was hired to take a picture of Donald Trump.
Tavis: So what do you make of “The Art of the Deal” that he did last week on healthcare?
Rob: Beautiful, huh? [laugh] Smooth as glass! Just worked out perfectly, didn’t it?
Carl: He’s working very hard now to take away everything from poor people.
Tavis: Oh, yeah.
Carl: So that rich people can get a tax break. That’s very good.
Rob: This is the most scary time in our country in terms of leadership We have a person who is clearly mentally unstable, who has no understanding of government or policy, has no desire to know about it. He’s an egomaniac and is a pathological liar. I mean, it’s really scary to what’s happening in the country.
Carl: And to go from having the smartest president we’ve had since way back to this guy is like it’s crazy.
Rob: It is crazy.
Carl: It’s nuts. I mean, I feel so sorry. Obama, I can’t believe how he must feel today.
Tavis: What kind of arguments would Archie and Meathead be having in this era of Trump?
Rob: Well, you know, here’s an interesting thing. All during the campaign, right up to the election, people asked me that question. You know, what would be going on? I said we’d be arguing the same thing. Archie is a patriot. He would not like the fact that an enemy power was invading our country and trying to take things over. He would diverge from Trump on that.
So the fact that there aren’t more Republicans that are outraged about the fact that the Russians have come in here and done this and that Trump is not saying anything about it, it’s not only suspicious, but it’s bad for the country.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that because I want to ask what you make of that. You just answered it to some degree. But it just seems to me that Washington is engaged in business as usual, whatever that is, while this dark cloud of this foreign entity and whatever impact it might have had on our election is either going to get off the ground, the investigation will happen or won’t happen.
Who’s going to run it, I do not know. But it just seems to me there’s something wrong, Rob, with the notion of business being had as usual with this cloud hanging over our country.
Rob: Yes. It’s very scary and two things. One is clearly the Republicans only care about holding onto their seats. At a certain point, if that cloud starts causing rain to happen, they’ll run indoors. They’ll run for the hills because their seats will be in jeopardy. That said, that we have to wait that long for that to happen.
But the other thing is when you have a potentially illegitimate president making decisions like on Judge Gorsuch which will have maybe 30-year ramifications, there’s something wrong with that.
I mean, it’s one thing to fool around with policy and, you know, they can’t get healthcare off the ground or tax reform or infrastructure. But the minute they start, you know, putting somebody like Judge Gorsuch — I’m not saying he’s not qualified. I’m not saying he’s not a great jurist or whatever.
I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but that’s not right that a president should have that right who could be illegitimate and also could be doing or have done things that are illegal.
Tavis: And that on top of a Congress who wouldn’t give the last guy a hearing.
Rob: Well, that’s…
Tavis: That’s a whole other conversation, yeah, yeah.
Rob: That’s another conversation altogether, and that to me is all about — I hate to say it. It’s all about Obama, not wanting to give him anything. And we were talking about this before we came on the air.
This is like all of these feelings that have been submerged for such a long time in this country have been unleashed in terms of racism and all of the feelings that they had about not feeling Obama was legitimate because he wasn’t born in America.
All of that is about delegitimizing an African American person and everything that’s followed from that. We’re not gonna let him have anything. We won’t let him have — he’s not a legitimate president. So that’s what they’ve done and, unfortunately, they’re continuing to do it.
Tavis: Mr. Reiner, they say that…
Carl: You know what I was thinking about? One of the saddest things I’m thinking about, you hear my son talk? A long time ago, somebody –he’s been very understanding of what’s going on politically in the world always. They asked him to run for officer of governor and we all thought it was great because he could run the country. There’s no question about it. I’m listening to…
Tavis: Schwarzenegger did it. Rob Reiner could have done it.
Carl: And he decided…
Rob: Meathead versus the Terminator [laugh].
Carl: Tell him why you decided not to run.
Rob: Well, we had a serious discussion in our house to talk about it. Michelle and I have three kids and we talked about it. You know, I make a joke, but it was true. I polled 40% in my own family [laugh]. I figured if I couldn’t carry my family, I probably shouldn’t do it.
Tavis: They say the more things change, the more things stay the same. When you’ve lived 95 years, you’ve seen so much of what is good and bad about America. Like how do you process this moment after all that you’ve seen and gone through?
Carl: It’s scary because this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this in the White House. We’ve had people we didn’t agree with, Nixon and the Bushes, but we lived with it. This, we cannot live with. Alan Alda’s grandson wrote a little film where people wake up in the morning. On the back of everybody’s head, you go about your business.
But this kid woke up and he started to scream “Aaa!” because he’s realized that Trump is his president. He goes about his business. He brushes his teeth, goes to the toilet, “Aaa!”. We all have that. I wake up, turn on MSNBC…
Tavis: You start screaming, yeah.
Carl: “Aaa! He’s still there!” People walking the street very nicely doing their things, whatever they’re doing. Two people meet in the market. “Aaa!” They’re all screaming. In the back of your head, no matter what you do, you go about your business. But in the back of your head, “Trump!”
Tavis: I couldn’t have said it better myself [laugh]. Rob, very quickly, in 30 seconds, you got two films coming out I mentioned earlier, both with Woody?
Rob: Both with Woody. One is “LBJ”. Woody Harrelson plays LBJ with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Richard Jenkins. And then there’s another film called “Shock and Awe” which is all about the run-up to the war in Iraq and it’s a true story about the four journalists from Knight Ridder. Woody is in that along with Tommy Lee Jones and James Marsden. I play a part, there’s Jessica Biel and Milla Jovovich.
Carl: I saw that movie, by the way. There’s an actor who plays a part I could not believe. I haven’t seen him acting for a long time. I could not believe the depth of his acting and the reality of it. I was blown away. It turns out it was him playing the lead. I’m not kidding.
Tavis: I love it.
Carl: He jumped in at that last…
Ron: He didn’t think I was that good [laugh].
Carl: He jumped in at the last minute. Somebody fell out.
Tavis: See, your daddy loves you, man. That’s all you can ask for.
Tavis: Next week, these guys will be the first father-son team together to get their hands and feet cemented outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Congratulations in advance. TCM, thanks for doing that, the festival, and glad they’re honoring you guys.
Rob: Thanks for having us.
Tavis: Congratulations, and keep writing these books, my friend.
Carl: I’m going to try.
Tavis: Thank you. Before we go, a quick programming note. We will be in New York City next week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam”, delivered five decades ago at the Riverside Church in New York.
So next week, all five nights of this show dedicated to looking back on that speech and where America is 50 years later on racism, poverty and militarism from New York City. Until then, thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.
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