The Mel Tolkin Papers, 1932-1997, consist of scripts, sketches, development materials, production notes, correspondence, playbills,
clippings, and other material related to his work as a comedy and variety writer for stage and television. The bulk of the
collection consists of material from Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour and All In the Family.
Mel Tolkin was born Shmuel Tolchinsky in a village outside of Odessa, Ukraine on August 3, 1913. His family emigrated to
Montreal, Canada in 1926 and he became known as Samuel. After high school, with his parents’ encouragement, he began studying
accounting. Without their permission, he began composing musical numbers for local revues under the pseudonym Mel Tolkin.
He served in the Canadian Army Band during World War II and upon completing service in 1945, moved to New York City and married
Tolkin teamed with writing partner Lucille Kallen whom he worked with for several years. Their partnership began while writing
weekly revues for Camp Tamiment, a summer resort in the Pocono Mountains that hosted many famous guests, performers and writers
including Danny Kaye, Woody Allen and Neil Simon. Realizing the potential of the new medium of television, Tamiment producer
Max Liebman created a weekly variety television show around Tamiment performers Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca and hired Tolkin
and Kallen to be the head writers. The Admiral Broadway Revue aired on NBC from January to June 1949 but was cancelled that
year due to sponsorship conflicts. Using the same writers and performers, Liebman then created Your Show of Shows, a weekly
variety show that premiered in 1950. Tolkin and Kallen were the head writers and later managed a staff that grew to include
Mel Brooks, Tony Webster and brothers Neil and Danny Simon. The television series The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Neil Simon
play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” are based on Tolkin and the writing team during this period. When Your Show of Shows ended
in 1954, Tolkin became the head writer for Sid Caesar’s new variety show, Caesar’s Hour, which ran from 1954-1957 and garnered
several Emmy nominations for Tolkin. The writing staff included Mel Brooks, Sheldon Keller, Larry Gelbart. According to
Tolkin’s notes in the collection, Woody Allen also wrote on the show but he is not credited. When the crew of Your Show of
Shows reunited in 1967 for a special, Tolkin and his team won an Emmy for writing in a variety program.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Tolkin wrote on several comedy and variety shows and for performers such as Danny Kaye and Bob
Hope. Between 1975 and 1979, he was a writer on the sitcom All In The Family, winning a Humanitas Prize and a WGA Award in
1978 as well as garnering an Emmy nomination for his work on the series. After the series ended, he worked on a few sitcoms
and taught comedy writing at UCLA Extension, winning 1987 Writing Teacher of the Year.
Tolkin died on November 26, 2007 at the age of 94 and was survived by his wife and sons Michael and Stephen, both screenwriters.