THE DOCUMENTARY “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast”
WHEN | WHERE Monday at 8 p.m. on HBO
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Carl Reiner, 95, celebrates life after 90 with interviews of Mel Brooks, Kirk Douglas, Norman Lear, Stan Lee, Dick Van Dyke and Betty White, as well as some nonagenarians outside the entertainment industry (designer Iris Apfel, sprinter Ida Keeling, yoga master Tao Porchon-Lynch, painter Raymond Olivere, marathoner Harriette Thompson, harmonica virtuoso Stan Harper). Also this gift to fans of musical theater: Patricia Morison, 102, who also sings. She was the lead in the 1948 Broadway smash “Kiss Me, Kate.” Van Dyke’s wife, Arlene, is also in this.
“Obit” is produced by George Shapiro, Reiner’s nephew and a close friend of Betty Seinfeld, whose son Shapiro has long managed talent; Shapiro was also executive producer of “Seinfeld,” along with Howard West, who died in 2015. (“Obit” is dedicated to both West and Betty, who died recently at age 99.)
Jerry Seinfeld, 63, is interviewed too, and recalls an autograph he collected from Reiner after a show at the Westbury Music Fair in 1967. He offers up his own secrets (work hard, be aware, embrace passion) but mostly serves as a reminder that “Obit” isn’t just about “living well at 90,” but a prescription for life at any age.
Meanwhile, the title refers to a funny Reiner joke, but best let him tell it.
MY SAY “Obit” pretty much sells itself. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with Reiner and all these other legends? Better yet, those who gave you so much pleasure over the years finally reveal the secret of their success: The pleasure has been all theirs, and still is. There is an insistent, glowing, pervasive optimism over these 80 minutes that the TV screen can barely contain. For these fully lived lives, “joy” apparently isn’t just an ideal or goal, but an active ingredient, in some instances a hyperactive one. Van Dyke still has moves — proficient ones. Keeling still runs the hundred. Lee still works at his computer every day. Brooks is telling the same joke about the old Bing Crosby standard “Dancing in the Dark” — I’ve heard it at least a dozen times — and it’s still hilarious. What gives?
What gives to a certain extent is luck — obviously — and enduring health. Financial health probably doesn’t hurt either, and most of these people have been well-compensated for their considerable accomplishments. Humor is a big part of these lives; music, too. But there’s something else. Foremost, they live not just for the moment, but in the moment, or that transitory place between “over . . . and next,” as Lear explains. “When something is over,” he says, “it’s over.”
Some, in fact, do have dreams for the future. Fyvush Finkel, for example, wants to do another 90-minute revue on Broadway. (Alas, he died last August). Reiner still has another book, or maybe two, in him. Jim “Pee Wee” Martin — who parachuted into Normandy with the 101st Airborne — is probably still skydiving somewhere right now. He’s 96.
But none talk of the past or even in the past tense. No one is preoccupied with the “good old days,” or exhibit so much as a hint of wistfulness. “Now” might as well be their operative word.
There is an ambient trace of melancholy — inescapable, I suppose, when the subject is about people pushing 100. Besides Finkel, Harper died last June at age 94. Composer Irving Fields, who played piano at the Park Sheraton and Plaza for a quarter-century, died last August at 101. (He does, however, offer one priceless piece of advice in “Obit.” His wrinkle-free secret? Every morning, he confides, “I wash my face in ice-cold water.”)
You may wonder (I did) why other famous nonagenarians are not included, like Marge Champion (97), Carol Channing (96), or Doris Day (95). And where’s Don Rickles? He died in April at age 90 long after this was filmed. As it turns out, the kid was too young to get into the picture.
BOTTOM LINE Warm, wonderful, wise. (Did I mention funny too?)