Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

at the Santa Monica Playhouse through June 25

By: May. 19, 2023
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

Featured in the comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun are Jamie Gallo and Evelyn Rudie (the Mothers), Tara Brown and Patrick Censoplano (The Lovers), Chris DeCarlo and Paul Linke (The Fathers).
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Playhouse

Jerry Mayer, a nonagenarian from St. Louis has written and/or produced for many classic TV shows, among them The Facts of Life, M*A*S*H, Bewitched, Tabitha, All in the Family, Punky Brewster, Room 222, The Jonathan Winters Show, Bridget Loves Bernie, McHale's Navy, and specials for Mitzi Gaynor, Perry Como and Don Knotts. In 1986, his first play, Almost Perfect, debuted at Santa Monica Playhouse which has led to a dozen more - so far!

I decided to speak with him about his latest comedy, Jews R 2 Much Fun, at the Santa Monica Playhouse as well as his long-running and extremely successful TV writing career.

Hi Jerry. You have had such success writing for TV and plays. When did you know this was the career you wanted to follow?

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

Pictured: Jerry Mayer

I grew up in St. Louis and in grammar school, I was the class clown. I was also a cartoonist and during the war I drew my own little cartoon, Herman the German. I also wrote and acted out comedy scenes, and in high school at Western Military Academy, I wrote for the school paper and acted in school plays. I loved comedy and drama, but in those days, I knew I'd be in my Dad's successful construction company. So, comedy writing was my hobby for as long as I can remember.

How did being raised in St. Louis contribute to your sense of humor?

St. Louis was an All-American town, full of fun for this class clown - and being Jewish added to it since humor was such a big part of my family's life. I remember, at Halloween, we used to play funny pranks on people that were big laughs, though often in poor taste. In the meantime, I grew up as a good cartoonist and when Playboy magazine came out, I saved every copy and started doing cartoons for them. It took quite a lot of effort that got turned down, but eventually they bought about 20 of my cartoons for publication. I also started writing jokes for comedians and sold some of them to Phyllis Diller, who lived in St. Louis at the time.

With such fond memories, do you still consider St. Louis your home?

No, it's my past. When I wake up almost every morning now, I look out my window at the beautiful Pacific Ocean and say to my wife Emily, "Thank God we left St. Louis fifty-seven years ago!"

How did you manage to land your first job as a writer?

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun In St. Louis, I started to write Spec Scripts to send to TV shows. My favorite one was Get Smart, so I wrote a script and submitted it. And while I was pleased to get a complimentary note from the show's writer Buck Henry, he said his script assignments were taken. My real break was meeting Jerry Lester (pictured), who was visiting St. Louis because his wife's sister lived there. Jerry was the host of a New York late night TV show called Broadway Open House on which he was the comedy star, with the tall blonde beauty, Dagmar. It was followed by Jack Paar, then Johnny Carson doing The Tonight Show.

I told Jerry Lester I wanted to write for television and he said he knew the producer of the TV hit, McHale's Navy" and if I wanted to write a spec script for that show, he'd make sure his producer friend would read it. I jumped at the offer and wrote a script about McHale's guys in a Jeep race. The producer read it and liked it, bought the story for $1500 and had one of his writers rewrite it. When the show aired, I took a photo of the writing credit which read, Teleplay by Ralph Goodman, based on a story by Jerry Mayer, my first screen credit!

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

(Pictured: Emily and Jerry Mayer

I was so excited, I immediately talked to my wife, Emily, hoping she'd feel positive when I asked her to leave St. Louis and move out to Hollywood so I could start my full-time career in writing for TV. She showed wonderful confidence in my comedy ability and said "Yes." But just as important, my father also showed confidence about me leaving the building business. He loved my funny bone and backed me with enough cash to pay my bills until I was earning a living. My daughter and son didn't like leaving their St. Louis friends, but they looked forward to this new adventure. So, we moved out to L.A, and started a new life.

In what ways did you deal with the challenge as a writer wanting to break into the TV business in a new city?

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

Starting from scratch in L.A. was a fun and challenging adventure making new writing contacts. I not only wrote more and more spec scripts, I also took writing classes at UCLA, where Garry Marshall (pictued) (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley among his many TV shows) spoke to the class. Also took a great class taught by Francis Ford Coppola while he was making his early films, way ahead of The Godfather. The best thing about Francis Ford is when his classes had ended, he gave a great Italian food party at his Brentwood apartment, for which he cooked everything himself. And it was all so delicious!

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun What do you consider to be your biggest breakthrough on TV?

My first real important breakthrough happened when a program for new writers was offered by the head of Bewitched, Bill Asher, who was the director and husband of the show's star Elizabeth Montgomery (pictured together). A friend from writing class and I wrote a spec script about Samantha admiring the Mona Lisa painting and suddenly Leonardo da Vinci shows up and won't leave. They liked the script and it became an episode, leading to us soon becoming regular writers for the show.

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun From there, I got a great agent which led to having a good TV writing career. I was chosen to be Story Consultant on The Bob Newhart Show, which led to writing many of the top sitcoms, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and All in the Family. For six years I became Executive Producer of The Facts of Life, although I didn't write the pilot of the show; Howard Leeds and Ben Starr did. I was just chosen by Norman Lear for the job

What an exciting, and no doubt busy, time for you! Of all the classic TV shows you wrote, is there a favorite one?

My favorite is From Russia With Love, about Natalie who is visited by her grandmother who came to America from Russia years ago. My own Mother, Mona Mayer, came from Russia when she was sixteen, after she had hidden from a Cossack who wanted to do nasty things to her, and I will be eternally grateful that she escaped. I was lucky enough to get the famous and fabulous Broadway star, Molly Picon, to play her in From Russia With Love.

Did you get to be on set and have input on the script while the TV shows were rehearsing?

Of course, when you're Executive Producer you always can. On other shows, like All in the Family, or M*A*S*H, I just trusted the producers who ran the show.

Why did you decide to start writing plays for the Santa Monica Playhouse?

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun While I was producing and writing for The Facts of Life, an actress friend, Susan Davis, told me about a playwrights group writing scenes for plays and staging them with actors for comments afterwards. So, I started writing a play about my marriage called Almost Perfect that dealt with the joys as well as the stress of a marriage. I finished it and gave it to Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, long-time Artistic Directors of Santa Monica Playhouse. They liked it and wanted to produce it. That was the first of eleven plays I wrote for them. Now, at 91, I'm still doing it.

Your latest play, Jews R 2 Much Fun, centers on a story of two people who want to get married but face the challenge of one being Catholic and the other Jewish, as well as their fathers disliking each other. Are any of the characters based on people from your life?

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

Pictured: Evelyn Rudie (l.), Patrick Censoplano, Chris DeCarlo in Jews R 2 Much Fun
Photo credit: Cydne Moore

Yes, quite a bit. There's a lot of successful interfaith marriage in our family, and there's also so much antisemitism building in America (and around the world) which inspired me to write it.

Did you write Jews R 2 Much Fun specifically for the Santa Monica Playhouse's Jewish Heritage program?

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun

Jamie Gallo (l.), Patrick Censoplano, Paul Linke, Tara Brown, Chris DeCarlo, Evelyn Rudie in Jews R 2 Much Fun.
Photo credit: Cydne Moore

No, I wrote it because I felt it was a way to fight antisemitism. But the Playhouse loved the idea when I told them about it. And it's been a hit with audiences and reviewers. I've always been proud of my humor, and I wanted the world to realize the value and relax about Jews' creativity.

Have your plays been performed at other theaters? If so, do you attend each of them?

I sure do, all over California and the USA, and my wife Emily and I have enjoyed seeing them everywhere. Five of my plays have been published and printed by Samuel French Co., which has become Concord Theatricals. Playscripts also published and sells two of my plays. There's also a firm that produces my plays in Germany.

Is there another play you are working on right now?

Yes, and it's on a very exciting subject, but I can't give you the title until I'm finished and produce it. It's a great subject and I don't want some bum stealing it!

Thank you, Jerry, for sharing so much about your amazing writing career!

Interview: Playwright Jerry Mayer on his Writing Career and New Comedy Jews R 2 Much Fun Jews R 2 Much Fun performances take place in the intimate The Other Space at the Santa Monica Playhouse,1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401, on Sat. at 7:00 p.m. and Sun. at 2:30 p.m. through Sunday, June 25. Parking is available in a municipal structure directly across the street or at meters. Tickets are $35, available at the door prior to each performance, or in advance at or by phone at (310) 394-9779 ext. 1. Discounts for students, teachers, seniors, veterans, active military, and groups of 8 or more.


To post a comment, you must register and login.

Vote Sponsor