The Remarkable Hal Kanter - Head Writer of The George Gobel Show
Hal Kanter was a lovely, lovely, brilliant man[and] by the way [he] was as funny as many of the comics he wrote for, you know. – George Schlatter (producer, ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN)
A prince among comedy writers. – Angela Lansbury
I'm the internationally famous writer-director known to his barber as “Next!” – Hal Kanter
George Gobel's greatest writer, Hal Kanter, was born on December 18, 1918 in Savannah, Georgia. His father, Albert Lewis, came to the United States from Russia at the age of four. Hal remembered his father who worked for some years as a traveling salesman, as an autodidact: “In order to complete his own education, he spent many hours in public libraries.... He was one of the most omnivorous readers, as a young man, that I've ever heard of.”
It was this love of reading in general and the classics in particular that led Albert Kanter to found Classic Comics-- later known as Classics Illustrated-- in 1941. The firm offered adaptations of great literature in comic book form. (The first title was The Three Musketeers.) These early “graphic novels” formed an important part of many children's reading from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Hal Kanter remembered his father as “an extremely witty man. He was a marvelous storyteller and, I often felt, really a frustrated actor. He was interested primarily in comedy....” For his part, Hal “became really hooked on comedy” after seeing Eddie Cantor at a theatre in Miami, Florida. He also became hooked on writing and drawing. [SMU, p.2]
When Hal was a teenager living in Long Beach, New York, he “would sneak away from school and go into [Manhattan] and try and sell cartoons, and succeeded sometimes.” Eventually, he started making his way into professional comedy. The 1930s were a hectic and exhilarating time for young Kanter, as he spent time on both coasts working on material for both radio and the stage. He encountered (and sometimes even wrote for) such luminaries as Jack Pearl, Olson and Johnson, Joe Penner, W.C. Fields and Jack Haley.
After a stint in the army during World War 2, Kanter returned to broadcasting, joining the staff of Danny Kaye's radio show. He went on to write for, amongst others-- Amos 'n' Andy, Jack Paar, Don Ameche and most notably Bing Crosby's show, (where he was able to work with “practically anybody of any consequence in [show] business.”)
In 1949, Kanter entered the new medium of television. When asked about how it was to transition from radio to television, he said, “I was young enough so that everything was easy in those days.... [Television] was easier then than it is now because nobody knew anything about television. Today, everybody knows everything about television.” He became head writer for The Ed Wynn Show, a comedy-variety program which was the first live network series to originate in California.
Wynn was a revered figure in comedy, having enjoyed a career that comprised vaudeville, radio, film and the Broadway stage. Kanter loved working for him: “He would lecture us very often about why something wouldn't work, or how something could be improved. And it was an education just working with the man.”
Soon after this, Kanter found a home at Paramount Pictures, writing screenplays for Bob Hope and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. (He even ventured into drama, adapting Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo for the screen. “In those days, it was fun [making pictures]. And they didn't seem to be under the gun to get it done and to save money.”
Gratifying as all this was, Kanter elected to step back into television in 1954 to collaborate with George Gobel. And in spite of his many other credits, he always believed that his work with George was in a class by itself.
In 1988, Kanter summarized his bond with the comedian. “I think that George Gobel probably... was the best catalyst between me and an audience. He could deliver a line exactly as I heard it in my head, more so than perhaps any single comedian with whom I worked. I enjoyed the association with George. I still enjoy a friendship with him.... [H]e had a unique point of view and... in many instances [it] was coincidental with my own. So that the two of us, working in concert, could satisfy me more than any other comic..... It was gratifying to know that what satisfied me satisfied millions and millions of other people, because the show was very successful its first couple of seasons.”