Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Mel Tolkin Papers
Collection Number: WGF-MS-015
Tolkin, Mel, 1913-2007
Extent: 11.4 linear feet
Writers Guild Foundation Archive
Los Angeles, California 90048
Abstract: 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.
Language of Material: English
Available by appointment only.
The responsibility to secure copyright and publication permission rests with the researcher.
[Identification of item]. Mel Tolkin Papers. Collection Number: WGF-MS-015. Writers Guild Foundation Archive
Donated by Mel Tolkin, July 22, 1998 and Michael Tolkin, February 3, 2022.
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 with whom he with for several years. Their partnership began while writing
weekly revues at 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 “Doc” Simon. The television series The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Neil
Simon play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” were inspired by the work of 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, and Larry Gelbart.
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
During the 1950s and 1960s, Tolkin wrote on several other comedy and variety shows for performers such Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis
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 other
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 Edith and sons Michael and Stephen, both screenwriters.
Scope and Content of Collection
Series I: Scripts, 1949-1980, consists of scripts and sketches from Mel Tolkin’s comedy and variety writing career. Subseries
A: Weekly Television Scripts contains scripts from episodic television shows running from 1949-1980, chiefly Your Show of
Shows, Caesar’s Hour and All in the Family. Others include The Admiral Broadway Revue, Sid Caesar Invites You, and Sanford.
Subseries B: Specials, 1959-1966, consists of scripts for television specials and movies sponsored by a variety of companies
including Rexall, Pontiac, Revlon and U.S. Steel. The series includes a script for the Jerry Lewis Show (1957) and Accent
on Love (1959) and a script for The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special reunion show (1967). Also
included is the script and rundown for the 200th episode of All In the Family, a retrospective hosted by Norman Lear showcasing
stories and favorite moments from the show. Subseries C: The Bob Hope Show Materials, 1970-1975, consists of speeches and
monologue jokes that Mel Tolkin and Lester White wrote for The Bob Hope Show and Hope’s public appearances during the early
1970s. Subseries D: Films and Plays, 1965-1997, contains scripts for the film 1965 The Last of the Secret Agents and an unmade
Allen and Rossi follow-up Acapulco Happening. Playscripts include the Kallen and Tolkin shows Maybe Tuesday and Double Take
and a few other solo works by Tolkin.
Series II: Development Materials, 1966-1978, contains story meeting notes and development materials from Tolkin’s time as
a staff writer on All In The Family. It also contains Mel Tolkin’s pitch and contract for the 1967 Caesar/Coca reunion special
Sid Caesar Revisited.
Series III: Professional Papers, 1932-1997, consists of Tolkin’s correspondence and files related to people, places and projects
as well as documentation of his musical work and his theories and teachings on comedy writing. Subseries A: Individuals,
1950-1997, contains notes from and about writers and performers he worked with during his career including Imogene Coca, Sid
Caesar, Max Liebman, Tony Webster, Larry Gelbart, Danny Kaye, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Norman Lear, and Woody
Allen. There is extensive correspondence with Lucille Kallen spanning 1960s-2000s, much of which relates to Show of Shows.
Subseries B: Projects, 1936-1997, contains review clippings, written memories and notes about specific projects or time periods
such as the Camp Tamiment revues, Admiral Broadway Revue, and Ten From Your Show of Shows. This series also contains specific
notes recounting his history writing for Sid Caesar and notes from his two year stint as a development executive at Universal
Studios. Subseries C: General and Personal Files, 1932-1997, contains clippings about some of Tolkin’s former colleagues
and his thoughts about comedy writing in general. It also contains personal, complimentary letters from a variety of people
including novelist Thomas Berger, actor Carroll O’Connor, writer Rita Mae Brown, Spiro Agnew and others. There is a transcript
of a 1960 televised interview show, Open End with David Susskind, on which Tolkin appeared alongside Sheldon Keller, Mel Brooks,
Larry Gelbart, Jack Douglas and Charles Andrews. There are dozens of musical compositions and song lyrics by Tolkin including
the music he wrote for Your Show of Shows. Finally, in this series is Tolkin’s unpublished autobiography Where Did I Go Right?
(1993) which details his entire life and opinions, both personal and professional. He writes in great detail about his Ukrainian
childhood, his Canadian life, the beginning of his career in New York and his life in Los Angeles.
Series IV: Artifacts, 1946-1973, consists of photos and ephemeral items related to Tolkin’s comedy writing career. This includes
playbills, programs, and posters from Admiral Broadway Revue, Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, and others. Also in this
series is a 45 record with a recording of “Goin’ Crazy” co-written by Mel Tolkin and Sid Caesar and a souvenir pen from President
Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act.
Variety shows (Television programs)
Golden Age of Television
All in the family (Television program)
Caesar's hour (Television program)
Your show of shows (Television program)
Television producers and directors
Television comedy writers