Austin Kalish, the legendary sitcom writer who, in partnership with his wife Irma was an instrumental force in the changes sweeping television in the 1970s penning scripts for shows like All in the Family and Maude and whose credits include some of the most famous sitcoms of all time has died. He was 95, and died Wednesday in a Woodland Hills, California retirement home.
Born in New York City, Austin attended New York University and served in the U.S. Army in World War II. After the war he began his writing career penning jokes for stand up comics. He and Irma married in 1948 and in 1950 the couple moved to Los Angeles to write for The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Show, following it when the comedy team moved to television.
From there began a long and impacting career on the small screen, with their credits going on to include shows such as The Bob Cummings Show, My Favorite Martian, My Three Sons, and I Dream of Jeannie. The couple also co-wrote the pilot for Gilligan’s Island with Elroy Schwartz, brother of the show’s creator Sherwood Schwartz. Among their contributions, they came up with the show’s characters and gave them, and the show’s damaged boat S.S. Minnow, their names. In later years, Kalish would disclose that they were denied rightful ownership of the series and lost out on millions.
In 1972, the Kalishes pitched “Maude’s Dilemma” for CBS’ Maude. The episode saw the title character opt to terminate an unexpected pregnancy at age 47. Aired just months before Roe v. Wade, it remains one of the decade’s essential episodes of television, particularly that it was one of the first times the topic was discussed openly on American TV.
The Kalishes continued to bring real world concerns into sitcoms, writing the All In The Family episode “Gloria the Victim” which saw the character played by Sally Struthers survive a rape attempt, and contributing to the show’s cancer-focused episode, “Edith’s Christmas Story,” in 1973. Both Maude and All In The Family were Norman Lear productions, and the Kalishes continued working with him, executive producing and writing for Good Times.
Also producing 22 episodes of the CBS series Family Affair, producing and writing for the ABC series Too Close For Comfort, their other credits included The Bob Newhart Show and The Facts of Life among others. Kalish is survived by Irma, their son, TV producer Bruce Kalish, their daughter Nancy, and children and great grandchildren.