Who knew Carl Reiner studied at Georgetown University? It’s not a well-known part of the comedy legend’s résumé. But the actor/director/producer/writer spent nearly a year there as a young soldier during WWII, studying French as part of a special Army training program for interpreters.
“This was a boon for me,” Reiner, 90, told us. A Bronx kid who didn’t otherwise have college on his roadmap, “I learned a lot of things I might not have learned.”
He didn’t get a degree then, but on Tuesday night, Georgetown presented him with an honorary doctorate in a Beverly Hills ceremony attended by President John J. DeGioia and other top university officials, as well as director son Rob Reiner. The citation evoked the breadth of Reiner’s career — his credits stretch more than 60 years, from “Your Show of Shows” to “Parks and Recreation” — with appropriate wit: “Georgetown University delights to honor the director of ‘The Jerk,’ the father of Meathead and Betty White’s on-screen boyfriend.”
If his stay at Georgetown was fleeting, it was vivid for Reiner. Before the ceremony, he said in a phone interview that his time there burnished his theatrical skills.
“I did a Christmas show making fun of all the professors and the priests. I could impersonate them all,” he said. “I got roars. The priests were falling out of the balcony!” He even dared make fun of Father Edmund Walsh, legendary founder of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. It went over big.
Reiner asked a professor if he could direct a production of Moliere’s “The Physician in Spite of Himself.” Absolutely, said the prof — if you do it in French. Of course, Reiner told him. No, the professor said, “You also have to direct it in French.” Did he? Only when the professor wandered into the rehearsal hall.
Reiner’s francophone career was short-lived. When his company shipped out for the Pacific, “they had me traded like a ballplayer” into a unit that entertained the troops. Those language skills? Helpful during many nice post-war vacations in France.
But in Washington, “I had the time of my life,” he said. It was here that he married his wife, Estelle; she came down from New York, and he got permission to leave the dorms and rent a room on O Street for their honeymoon.
How lovely! Did you explore the city much?
“No,” Reiner said, dropping his voice a dramatic notch. “We explored each other.”
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