A writer, Stern was funny: he began writing jokes for Milton Berle at 16. After time out for World War II (where he served a kid’s dream job: Women’s Army Corps recruiter), he wrote films, including Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town and Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, was a staff writer for The Jackie Gleason Show and The Honeymooners, and won an Emmy for The Phil Silvers Show. He won another Emmy as executive producer and writer for Get Smart, where “he invented what I have always thought and said was the best opening and closing pieces,” said show co-creator Buck Henry, about the action under the opening and closing titles, which “define the show and that people always remember.” If that’s not enough, kids will forever be in Stern’s debt: while working as a staff writer for Steve Allen, the original host of The Tonight Show, Stern (and another writer on the show, Roger Price) invented “Mad Libs”. Allen introduced Mad Libs to the country by asking the Tonight audience for an adjective and a noun, and then made this introduction: “And here’s the scintillating Bob Hope, whose theme song is ‘Thanks for the Communist’.” Book publishers wouldn’t publish Mad Libs since they were a “game,” and game publishers wouldn’t publish them since they were a “book,” so the duo teamed with Larry Sloan and started their own publishing house, Price Stern Sloan, which is now part of the Penguin group — and still publishes 10 books of the game every year. Stern died June 7 at 87.
From This is True for 12 June 2011