"Mad Libs", "Get Smart" producer Leonard B. Stern dies

Thu Jun 9, 2011 2:24am EDT

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Leonard B. Stern, the prolific writer and producer whose credits included "The Honeymooners," "Get Smart" and the word game "Mad Libs," died Tuesday of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87.

The three-time Emmy Award winner also created "McMillan and Wife," the breezy crime drama starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James that aired on NBC from 1971-77.

Stern penned "Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion" (1950) and a pair of Ma & Pa Kettle films before his stint on "The Jackie Gleason Show," where he wrote "Honeymooners" sketches for the variety show and the series it spawned.

"It's funny, and it deals with hope and dreams," Stern said of 'The Honeymooners' in an interview with the Archive of American Television. "It makes you comfortable that you're not them. I don't know, it's kind of a mystery. Gleason used to say, 'It's funny and it's never going to go out of style because it makes you laugh and it's not current.'"

In the 1960s, the native New Yorker created the sitcoms "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" starring Marty Ingels and John Astin; "Run Buddy Run," a "Fugitive" satire starring Jack Sheldon; and "He & She," starring Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss as two young love birds.

Later, Stern wrote 17 episodes and served as executive producer on the classic spy spoof "Get Smart," starring Don Adams, and then wrote for "The Good Guys" starring Bob Denver.

Stern's film credits include screenplays for "The Jazz Singer," starring Danny Thomas (1952); Just You and Me, Kid," starring George Burns and Brooke Shields (1979), which he also directed; and Arthur Penn's "Target," starring Gene Hackman (1985).

Stern also was involved in publishing. "Mad Libs" -- a party game in which one player prompts another for a list of words to substitute for blanks in a story, hopefully with funny results -- was invented in 1953 by Stern and Roger Price.

Asked how the game was developed, Stern said, "I was writing for 'The Honeymooners' and Roger was at the house. I was doing a polish on a script and I said, 'I need an adjective. And Roger said, 'Naked!' ... Out of this came this word game where you somebody asked you for an adjective or noun and parts of speech."

The two and partner Larry Sloan went on to form Price Stern Sloan, which published the first Mad Libs book in 1958. The company was purchased by Putnam Berkley in 1993.

Stern's survivors include his wife of 55 years, actress Gloria Stroock, who played Hudson's secretary on "McMillan & Wife."

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