At the age of 96, Carl Reiner remains impressively engaged with life.
And he keeps on top of the news, like the recent controversy over late night TV host Samantha Bee, who earned widespread censure after she called Ivanka Trump the “c” word.
“I know Samantha Bee, and I know she’s not a racist or anything,” Reiner tells Deadline. “She’s a very good soul, and she made a mistake and she apologized profusely, and it’s a little different than what Roseanne did. It’s quite a bit different because Samantha Bee’s heart is in the right place.”
Reiner continues to write books (he’s published well over a dozen already) and in the past year he devoted a good deal of time to starring in a movie, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast— a documentary about how people like him manage to thrive well into their 90s. The HBO film is now contending for Emmy nominations.
“This is a real labor of love. My nephew, George Shapiro, came up with the idea of [exploring] vitality after 90,” Reiner explains. “It was inspiring.”
Reiner appears in the film along with a number of his nonagenarian friends, some not well known to the public and others famous—like Mel Brooks (91), Norman Lear (95), Betty White (96) and Dick Van Dyke (92). Van Dyke dances his way through a number of scenes, displaying the kind of dexterity that made him one of the great physical comedians of all time.
“Dick Van Dyke just did the remake of Mary Poppins,” notes Shapiro, a producer on the documentary. “He’s singing and dancing in that movie at the age of 92, and I got a report that he was just fantastic.” Adds Reiner about his pal of more than half a century, “He’s absolutely amazing.”
Director Danny Gold went beyond the realm of Hollywood to find other people who defy their advanced age, including Ida Keeling who at 102 continues to compete as a runner. She got into the sport at the urging of her daughter, who witnessed her mother sink into depression after the deaths of two of her four kids.
“Interviewing Ida and her daughter…that was a very moving experience,” Gold recalls. ‘Her daughter brought her into the world of running to escape certain tragedies [she experienced] and it has sustained her and brought her a vital life.”
Maintaining a sense of purpose and strong social bonds turn out to be important factors in quality of life in old age, the filmmakers discovered. Finding joy in simple things like music can help, too.
“You have Dick Van Dyke and his wife. They love to sing. They went to Capitol Records and recorded that song, ‘Young at Heart,’” Gold comments. “Tony Bennett [age 91] loves to sing. That’s what he does. Even the ending song in the movie involved Alan Bergman. Alan is over 90 and wrote the song ‘Just Getting Started’ for the film with Dave Grusin.”
There’s no substitute for laughter, either. There is plenty of it in the documentary, some of it supplied by Reiner and Brooks, who have been riffing off each other since the 1950s. In the film Brooks tells—or rather, sings—a joke about the dangers of trying to reach the high notes in the “range-y” tune “Dancing in the Dark.”
“No matter how many times when you’re making the movie and you’ve been editing it for weeks or months—every time that scene came on I was on the floor laughing,” Gold remembers.
Behind the title of the documentary lurks a humorous story.
“Every morning I would actually look at the obituaries before I had breakfast. And as a joke I said if I was not in it, I would have the breakfast,” Reiner says. “But one day [in 2014] I read the obituaries, and there was a picture of me and Polly Bergen. She had passed away and it looked like we had both passed away. I wondered why they used that picture… I did one little show with her.”
Reiner reenacts that moment in the film, staring in alarm at the copy of the Los Angeles Times with the photo of him and Bergen, each of them clutching Emmys. In addition to the documentary, Reiner was set to appear in a movie opening on Friday, Ocean’s 8, starring—among others—Sandra Bullock.
“I did a scene in that but they just called me up and the scene has been dropped, so I’m not in it anymore,” he shares. “But I was in it long enough to tell Sandra Bullock that she’s my favorite actress.”
Reiner will appear in an upcoming episode of the TBS comedy series Angie Tribeca, which stars another of his favorites, Rashida Jones. And every day there is something new to be experienced.
“For 96, I’m not doing badly, because I’m still at the computer writing books and that’s exciting to me,” he tells Deadline. “So I’m on my way to 97. “If I can make it, I’ll do it. I’ve got too many projects, I got to keep going.”