Leonard Stern, the guiding force behind Get Smart and so much more, passed away on June 7, 2011. I wrote the below mini-tribute on the day he died and I think it's a fitting tribute and should remain on my page, so here it is.
I'd like to take some time to share some of my thoughts on the passing of our friend.
News organizations will do a far better job than I on the impact of Leonard on the world at large. Suffice it to say that he, along with his friends and peers like Larry Gelbart, Norman Lear, and Sherwood Schwartz, created the prime time television industry that was so wonderful and creative until the past decade or so. It was the talent, drive, determination, and ethics of Leonard and his friends that created millions of wonderful moments that have enriched all of our lives. For the fans of Get Smart, the show never would have made it on the air without Leonard and it was Leonard who kept that quality up and fought for quality at every turn. Buck Henry and Mel Brooks created the show, but it was Leonard Stern who rewrote the pilot for the specific skills of Don Adams. While Mel left after the pilot and Buck after two seasons, Leonard was always there to guide the show and its cast and crew. Beyond Get Smart, Leonard created so much and gave so much it's impossible to count. You'll read elsewhere of the many careers Leonard helped get started, including Sherry Lansing, Stephen J. Cannell, Steven Bochco, Don Adams, Jay Sandrich, and Richard Donner. Those careers will shine the spotlight on Leonard, and deservedly so, but I'd like to write about the millions of non-famous people that Leonard touched.
In his high school yearbook Leonard put as his goal "to make the world laugh." A pretty big goal but one that he achieved early on. Who among us didn't have their childhood enhanced by Mad Libs? Heck, Mad Libs taught me grammar better and in a more fun way than any teacher ever did. The laughs and fun we had sharing in the many hilarious moments he created in The Honeymooners, Get Smart, and his other work made our world better and also gave us something to share as a nation and as a world. I've traveled across the globe and I've always found someone touched by the work of Leonard. Many years ago, after we had first met, I asked visitors to this website to send a few lines about what Leonard's work meant to them and the results were staggering. A fan from Beirut who said the weekly airings of Get Smart helped him forget the war around him for a half hour, a woman in Atlanta who used the example of 99 to help her become a doctor, a businessman in Brazil who used Max's plea for niceness and fairness in his dealings, hundreds of fans who just learned to laugh and enjoy life while watching his work. A friend of mine, Tim K., told me how he used to watch the show with his brother and dad and how it helped the three of them bond. Now he's using the Get Smart DVDs to bond with his son. For every one of those stories that we know about, there are hundreds that we don't know about other than that they exist. The strength, morality, and humanity of the characters he shaped and wrote about helped many of us to become better people. And he made us laugh while doing it.
On a personal note, I've had the privilege of being Leonard's friend and it's one of those instances where the person really does mean more than his accomplishments. When we first met, it would have been easy for Leonard to dismiss me, as I was just a guy who had a Get Smart website and at that time, web writers were looked down upon far more than today. Leonard treated me as an equal, with respect and dignity, right at the start and it's the measure of the man that he did that with everyone he met. We became friends and I don't know if he ever realized just how much he taught me. His humanity, intelligence, and caring came through on every level, whether we were discussing politics, dating, or the fan who yelled at me because I spelled "Goommee" wrong in Camp Gitchee Goommee Noonii WaWa. As a matter of fact, you've never had dating advice until you've received it from Leonard Stern! His ability to see what others couldn't and to do it all with humor and respect were unmatched. One time I was humorously recounting a difficult situation I was having in a video that I was producing and Leonard tossed off a solution that worked perfectly. It took him two minutes to solve a problem that I had been working on for a week. I only got to see him two or three times a year but those meetings were always the highlight of my year. The example of how he lived and thought inspired all those around him to be better. Writer/producer Alan Spencer said that not only did Leonard help him in learning how to produce a show, but also how to be a gentleman and that's true for so many of us. Most of us that were touched by Leonard don't have careers or accomplishments that will be trumpeted by the media when they discuss Leonard's wonderful life as the big names that I've mentioned. It's a shame really because the way that he touched us is actually more important than any of that, for Leonard helped so many of us to be better people and lead more enjoyable lives. The goodness, humanity, humor, and love of life that came through in all that Leonard did will always be with us to enjoy and use as guidelines and just plain laugh at life and ourselves. You did make the world laugh and you made it a better place because you made us better people. Goodbye my friend, though parts of you will always remain with us and guide us, you will be greatly missed. I'm already missing you because I know you could help me rewrite this ending to make it fantastic.
Copyright 2011 Carl Birkmeyer