Comedy writer Paul Laikin dies at 84

Paul I. Laikin of West Babylon.

Paul I. Laikin of West Babylon. (Credit: Handout)

Paul Laikin, whose 40-year career in comedy writing included stints at MAD magazine and penning one-liners for some of the best-known comedians of the 20th century -- Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle, among them -- died Saturday from non-Hodgkins lymphoma while in hospice care in Melville. He was 84.

Laikin "lived and loved one-liners," said his daughter, Eden Laikin of Bethpage, a former Newsday reporter who now is an aide to Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano. She said he was making quips right up until his passing.

While his working life revolved around jokes, his devotion to his children was paramount, his family said.

"If you sum up one word about him, it's sacrifice," said Laikin's son, Aron, of West Babylon, a caricaturist who worked closely with his father starting as a teenager when he painted some of the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards that his father worked on as a freelancer for Topps Chewing Gum Inc.

Laikin's career began to blossom and he soon married the former Betty Silon, in 1961, said his son, Aron Laikin. She died in 1967, Eden Laikin said, and her father never remarried. He died on his wife's birthday, his children noted.

"He brought up me and my sister all by himself," Aron Laikin said. "Instead of getting a full-time nanny and pursuing a career, he picked assignments to allow him flexibility to keep us under his watchful eye . . . He gave his all to me and my sister."

Eden Laikin agreed. In the last days of his life, she said, her father didn't reminisce about career accomplishments. "He wanted to know, did he do a good job" of raising his children. "I said, 'I think we turned out pretty good,' and he said, 'Yeah. No complaints.' "

Mort Drucker of Woodbury, an illustrator who collaborated with Laikin on two best-selling satirical coloring books -- "The JFK Coloring Book" in 1962 and "The Ollie North Coloring Book" in 1987 -- described Laikin as a "very good writer [with] a good sense of humor and good knowledge of politics." He added that Laikin was "kind of quiet. . . . He wasn't a forward kind of person, unless you got to know him."

Cartoonist Jay Lynch, who wrote gags for the Wacky Packages trading cards and stickers that parodied brand-name products, which Laikin helped create, said of Laikin: "He was an important figure in the world of whatever that is, that MAD magazine, post-World War II satire thing."

Laikin was born in Brooklyn and graduated from James Madison High School in 1944. In 1945, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Germany, stationed, in part, at the former Dachau concentration camp -- which by then had become a prison for Germans convicted of war crimes. He attained the rank of corporal and played the bugle for the troops.

He returned home in 1947 and attended Columbia University to study English, though the family is not certain he graduated.

He wrote jokes for the likes of not only Gleason and Berle, but also Jan Murray, Ed Wynn and Alan King.

Laikin began writing for MAD magazine in 1957, and later went on to write for or edit other humor magazines, such as Cracked, which he edited for three years. In the '60s, he became the head writer for several TV comedy game shows, such as "Let's Play Post Office," "Reach for the Stars" and "The Baby Game." He also wrote a series of humor paperbacks, like the 101 Jokes series of books, for Pyramid Publications, and collaborated on the classic comedy recording, "LBJ in the Catskills."

Besides his two children, Laikin is survived by a brother, Harvey Laikin of Brooklyn; and three granddaughters.

A memorial service for Laikin will be held at noon Thursday at Noce Funeral Home in West Babylon. His cremated remains are to be interred 1:45 p.m. at Long Island National Cemetery at Pinelawn in Farmingdale.

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