Barbara Klaus had a flair for finding humor in life, so she turned it into an award-winning career as a Newsday and New York Times columnist, with a brief stint as a writer on the "Roseanne" television show.
When her son, Barry Klaus, went to summer camp, she would write him humorous letters practically daily, sometimes from the perspective of their dog, signed with a paw print, her family said.
“Laughter was my mother’s love language,” said Barry Klaus of Manhattan. “I remember my teen years, when I would sleep later, and there were times when I would come downstairs and I would hear her on the phone talking to somebody, laughing. She loved to laugh, and she loved it when people laughed with her.”
Barbara Klaus, 85, a longtime Rockville Centre resident, died on July 12 surrounded by family in her Sharon, Connecticut, home.
Comedic star Roseanne Barr liked her columns so much that the show hired Klaus to be a writer in late 1989, even as she continued her Times column. For three months in Los Angeles, Klaus tried to get her plot outlines developed as Barr threatened to fire the writers and as one camp of writers refused to speak with the other, Klaus wrote in an October 1990 New York magazine article.
When Klaus’ contract was not renewed, Barr was going to make a stink, but the columnist asked her not to because she wanted to return to her family in New York, according to the story.
In her columns, Klaus showcased her observations and the absurdities in everyday life, from her cooking that turned everything brown to her husband being built for gin rummy instead of running, said her husband, Morty Klaus.
“She’d call a friend and she’d say ‘How’s John?’ and she’d have a column,” he recounted.
Barbara Klaus’ view of life stemmed from her childhood in Brooklyn, where her relatives lived within walking distance and had frequent, large get-togethers, her husband said. She penned plays poking fun at her aunts and uncles and she directed while her cousins performed the plays to family laughter, he said.
After graduating with a teaching degree, she taught second grade in a New York City public school before quitting to be a full-time mother. When her children got older, she took writing courses and became a freelancer.
From a small basement office wallpapered with about 100 rejection letters from her early writing pitches, Klaus worked on yellow legal pads and typed her articles for various publications, working often past sunrise, her husband said. She penned the "Long Island Sound" column for The New York Times in the late 1980s, then wrote the "Laugh Lines" column at Newsday from 1990 to her retirement about eight years later.
The couple met in 1958 while Morty Klaus was in the Army and stationed at Fort Tilden in Queens; they were married in 1959. They moved from Brooklyn to Rockville Centre in 1962, then to Manhattan in 1994. (They left Manhattan for their vacation home in Sharon, Connecticut, in 2020 during the pandemic.)
Morty would buy 20 copies of newspapers in which her columns appeared and together, the couple would cut and file them. Every time the columnist had a speaking engagement, he would record her. He called their lives together “a blast."
Barbara Klaus' columns garnered several awards, including at least three first-place prizes for "Laugh Lines" from the Press Club of Long Island.
Despite a successful career, family came first in her heart, her son said. When he had his tonsils taken out as boy, he recalled, she fulfilled her promise of ice cream by filling all the freezer shelves with ice cream cups. When he remarried three months ago, the son said, she overcame the physical challenges of dementia to dance with him at the wedding.
“She was at her core not just dedicated but devoted to her family,” her son said.
After Barry’s son, Jacob, was born 24 years ago, her grandson became the “love of her life,” and she would drop everything if she learned he needed something, her family said.
Just days before Barbara Klaus' death, Barry’s wife, Marcelle, read her one of her "Laugh Lines" columns about how she would be a grandmother.
Even though it was written long before her grandson’s birth, it all came true, Barry Klaus said. “Marcelle asked her, ‘What do you think?’ We were basically describing the experiences she would live, and my mother laughed. That was the last time I ever heard her laugh,” he said.
Besides her son and husband, Barbara Klaus is survived by a daughter, Anne Klaus of Manhattan; and a grandson, Jacob Klaus of Atlanta.