Leonard B. Stern—the writer and producer who helped bring The Honeymooners, Get Smart, McMillan And Wife, and even the venerable party game Mad Libs into this world—has died of heart failure. He was 87.
Stern penned several features before his long stint in television, including a couple of Ma And Pa Kettle films, Abbot And Costello Join The Foreign Legion, and the 1952 Danny Thomas version of The Jazz Singer. He transitioned to TV with gigs on The Phil Silvers Show and The Steve Allen Show before hooking up with Gleason. On the comedian’s eponymous The Jackie Gleason Show (in both its ’50s and ’60s runs), as well as its standalone series, Stern wrote many episodes of The Honeymooners, helping to develop its characters and early sketches into one of the most seminal sitcoms in TV history.
Here's one of Stern's first standalone Honeymooners episodes, "Pal O' Mine."
He would go on to create and direct episodes of his own shows—I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster with Marty Ingels and John Astin, the Fugitive spoof Run Buddy Run, and the Richard Benjamin/Paula Prentiss romantic comedy He And She—and produced and wrote many episodes of the still-awesome ‘60s spy satire Get Smart, including co-writing the 1980 movie sequel The Nude Bomb and the 1989 TV movie Get Smart, Again!. In 1971, Stern had his greatest solo success with McMillan And Wife, which found Rock Hudson solving crimes in San Francisco with the help of his scatterbrained wife played by Susan Saint James, usually by them attending tony social events that somehow were always interrupted by murders or robberies. The show ran for six seasons on NBC.
Other Stern credits include writing many episodes of Operation Petticoat, writing the story for the Arthur Penn-directed, Gene Hackman-starring Target, serving as the executive producer on the Bob Denver series The Good Guys, and writing and directing the George Burns/Brooke Shields comedy Just You And Me, Kid. And as if all that weren’t enough, Stern is also responsible for one of the most popular parlor games ever invented, with Mad Libs growing out of a writing session he shared with his friend and Tonight Show collaborator Roger Price (creator of the cartoon Droodles). Together with partner Larry Sloan, they formed the Price Stern Sloan group to publish Mad Libs, eventually branching out into other novelty and children’s books such as the beloved Mr. Men series.
After Price died, Stern would found the Tallfellow Press with Sloan and continue to publish novelty books like 2000’s A Martian Wouldn’t Say That, which collected actual notes and memos sent to TV writers by network executives over the years. His last screen credit was writing and directing the 1992 comedy Missing Pieces with Eric Idle and Robert Wuhl.