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Mel Tolkin Papers
WGF-MS-015  
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
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.
Background
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 Edith Liebovitch. 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.
Extent
11.4 linear feet
Restrictions
The responsibility to secure copyright and publication permission rests with the researcher.
Availability
Available by appointment only.