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Leonard Stern, 'Honeymooners,' 'Get Smart' Writer/Producer and Mad Libs Creator, Dies

by Marc Schneider, posted Jun 9th 2011 1:30PM
Leonard Stern made a name for himself writing complete sentences for some of the most iconic TV shows in history, including 'The Honeymooners,' 'Get Smart' and 'McMillan and Wife,' but it's when he co-created a game book that purposefully left words out that his name become known to kids and grown-ups alike. The Mad Libs innovator died Tuesday, June 7 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles following a long illness, his daughter-in-law told the LA Times. He was 88.

"A super silly way to fill in the _________!" by Roger Price & Leonard Stern graced the bottom of each Mad Libs, which emerged in 1958. At that point Stern was already a successful writer on 'The Honeymooners,' starring Jackie Gleason.

He began his writing career in film in the early 1950s, but moved on to television. He won an Emmy as part of the writing team for 'The Phil Silvers Show' and another for an episode of 'Get Smart,' in which he acted as executive producer for its entire 1965-1969 run.

'Get Smart' co-creator Buck Henry has said that Stern devised the opening sequence for the iconic show. "He invented what I have always thought and said was the best opening and closing pieces that define the show and that people always remember," Henry said.

Other shows he worked on include the Rock Hudson-starring 'McMillan and Wife,' 'The Steve Allen Show' and 'I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster.'

Mad Libs had its unofficial birth in 1953 when Stern became stumped while writing a scene for 'The Honeymooners.' His friend, Roger Price, was in the room. He recalled the moment to Publisher's Weekly in 2008.

"I was trying to find the right word to describe the nose of Ralph Kramden's new boss," Stern recalled. "So I asked Roger for an idea for an adjective and before I could tell him what it was describing, he threw out 'clumsy' and 'naked.' We both started laughing. We sat down and wrote a bunch of stories with blanks in them. That night we took them to a cocktail party and they were a great success."

Five years later, they came up with the name when they overheard an actor tell his agent that he was going to "ad-lib" an interview. The agent said the idea was "mad."

Publishers were not interested in picking up their idea, though, because they believed it wasn't a book. "Publishers told us it wasn't a book and suggested we approach game manufacturers, but they also rejected us and advised us to talk to publishers. It became a well-worn path."

So they instead decided to self-publish and in a few years they formed their own publisher, called Price Stern Sloan. It really took off after Stern suggested a Mad Libs-style skit for 'The Steve Allen Show,' in which he was head writer. Allen asked the audience for a noun and adjective for an introduction of Bob Hope. The result: "And here's the scintillating Bob Hope, whose theme song is 'Thanks for the Communist.'"

Sales for the fun word-books exploded and haven't let up yet. In 2008, there were more than 110 million Mad Libs sold.

Even with Mad Libs a success, Stern continued writing and producing, and later co-wrote and directed the 1979 film 'Just You and Me, Kid,' starring George Burns and Brooke Shields.

His final writing and directing credit, according to IMDB, was 1992's 'Missing Pieces,' starring Eric Idle and Robert Wuhl.

The New York City native is survived by his wife, actress Gloria Stroock, a son and daughter; two grandsons and a great-granddaughter.

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My sister and I loved Mad Libs! I still have one of my original Mad Lib pads probably from the late 70s. I really think it helped kids with grammar. It was learning but fun.

June 10 2011 at 10:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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