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Burb's Eye View: A writer's TV work remains relevant

March 04, 2014|By Bryan Mahoney

Irma Kalish had not seen her friend in years, yet here she was, thousands of miles from where they first met, telling Kalish all about the surgery that removed a cancerous tumor from her breast.

She mentioned to Kalish the recent episode of “All in the Family” that helped her through it — Edith Bunker found out she also had breast cancer, and the Bunkers get through it together.

Kalish had, indeed, known of the episode. She created it.

“Those shows we write aren’t just on paper — they go out there — they hit people and make an impact on people,” Kalish said this week.

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“All in the Family” was what she calls a “relevant show,” where she could address more personal and topical stories. It was one of many sitcoms she scripted with her husband, Rocky Kalish, over 30 years.

Her resume reads like a “best of” edition of TV Guide. Kalish wrote or produced sitcoms including “Gidget,” “F Troop,” “My Three Sons,” “Maude,” “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “The Facts of Life,” and others. She will talk about her career in a presentation on March 15 beginning at 2 p.m. at the Burbank Historical Society.

Though she led the way for female comedy writers in mainstream television, she laughs at the idea of being labeled a pioneer.

“I’m very proud that I was there — and if they want to call me a pioneer, I’ll put on a hoop skirt and bonnet and that’s fine,” she said.

Writing with her husband often took place at the kitchen table, on vacations and in the car. Irma Kalish would usually write the first draft of a script and Rocky would edit. If they couldn’t agree on a joke, they’d come up with a third option.

As with any marriage, compromise was key to their working relationship.

“We’re still a team. I’ve been married seven happy years — seven out of 65 isn’t bad,” IrmaKalish said.

She began her writing career fresh out of Syracuse University in a job as assistant editor at a pulp magazine. She began writing love stories (girl meets boy) and Westerns (girl meets horse) at a penny a word.

Once she and Rocky married, they came as a package deal for their writing work. In the 1960s and ’70s, she was told “women can make you cry, but they can’t make you laugh,” relegating most female writers to daytime soap operas.

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