George Shapiro on Finding Real-Life Inspiration for If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast
By Marissa Blanchard
Producer George Shapiro spent years listening to his uncle Carl Reiner sit and tell stories with his friends — well into into their 90s. Inspired by Reiner’s vitality, Shapiro created If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, to showcase other nonagenarians living life to the fullest.
How did you get involved in this film?
If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast is one of my favorite things I’ve done. I’m at Carl’s house a lot; he and Mel Brooks are there every night having fun. Carl is so amazing and he’s 95. He just writes one book after another, and he does all these guest appearances. He wrote Carl Reiner, Now You’re Ninety Four, which has all these stretching exercises in it, and while heading to Conan O’Brien’s show he fell down the stairs at his house. He went on the show, opened his book, and showed the leg exercises to prove he was supple enough to fall down the stairs and not get hurt. He really motivated me.
Watching Carl, Mel and Norman Lear -- I was collecting things in my “file.” [Executive Producer] Aimee Hyatt kept encouraging me to pull out the files and put it into production.
Why did you have Carl sit down with particular subjects in the film?
Carl and Betty White go back a long time; when Carl was in the army, his commanding officer was her husband. There were a lot of connections. I loved the discussion with Carl and Kirk Douglas because he says, “Kirk you’re my hero.” It was a beautiful moment.
What made you decide to interview Jerry Seinfeld, who presents a younger perspective?
Jerry’s mother was also one of the huge inspirations to do this film because I couldn’t believe how much fun she was having well into her 90s. I’m Jerry’s manager and he got so excited when I asked if he’d like to be involved. He was very revealing in it and also very funny at the end.
Does Jerry have a connection with Carl?
When he was about 8 or 9 years old Jerry got Carl’s autograph at the Westbury Music Fair when he went to see Alan King perform. Then Jerry actually met Carl when he did a young comedian special with him; and Carl later came to root on the pilot of Seinfeld, which was shot on the same stage as The Dick Van Dyke Show. Recently, Carl and Mel were both guests on Jerry’s show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It was a big tie in with Carl and that Jerry is committed to his 100th birthday.
Are there other people over 90 that you would’ve liked to have included in the film?
There are people we discovered later. We missed Robert Marchand from France who just set a record for being the oldest bicyclist at 105 years old; Singer Harry Belafonte is very active and just turned 90 and Sheldon Harnick who wrote Fiddler on the Roof is in his 90s, which I didn’t discover until we finished filming.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching this film?
I think there’s a misconception about old age. Look at this film for inspiration that you can have a joyous, fun life when you’re between 90 and 105. You have to open your mind to it.
Watch If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast on HBO.