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Robert Klane, ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ and ‘Where’s Poppa?’ Screenwriter, Dies at 81

Robert Klane, who wrote the screenplays for the irreverent comedy classics Weekend at Bernie’s and Where’s Poppa? and directed the disco-era favorite Thank God It’s Friday, has died. He was 81.

Klane died Tuesday in his Woodland Hills home of kidney failure after a long illness, his son Jon Klane announced.

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He wrote for the films Every Little Crook and Nanny (1972), Fire Sale (1977), The Man With One Red Shoe (1985), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), Unfaithfully Yours (1984), Walk Like a Man (1987) and Folks! (1992).

Among his TV writing credits were six episodes of M*A*S*H* and The Odd Couple: Together Again, a 1973 reunion telefilm starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall that he also directed. He also wrote and produced Tracey Takes On…, winning an Emmy for his work in 1997.

“Bob had a brilliant comedy mind that went deeper and deeper to get to the truth,” Rob Reiner, an actor in Where’s Poppa? (1970), said in a statement. “Most people have a censor in their minds and know how far they can go. Bob didn’t have a censor. That’s what made him great and set him apart. He was fearless.”

Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman and Terry Kiser and directed by Ted Kotcheff, grossed $30 million off a $15 million budget and spawned a 1993 sequel that was written and directed by Klane.

The phrase “Weekend at Bernie’s” has become a verb in the Urban Dictionary to define “the act of propping up a friend who’s passed out and can’t stand on his or her own.”

Klane’s “satirical and daring writing pushed the boundaries of good taste while depicting the unfairness of life through themes of sex, family, madness and death,” his son noted.

Klane was born on Oct. 17, 1941, in Port Jefferson, Long Island. His mother, Adele, was a homemaker and community volunteer, and his father, Edward, was a physician. He grew up in the Long Island communities of Patchogue and Bayport.

After graduating from Bayport High School, he earned a degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963. His creative writing instructor, Betty Smith, author of the acclaimed 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, told him he had what it took to be a novelist.

At 21, with a young family to support, Klane accepted a job in New York with the BBD&O advertising agency as a copywriter and eventually directed TV commercials for clients including Coca-Cola. But after work, he stayed up late writing his first novel, The Horse Is Dead, which Random House published in 1967.

The story about a nebbish camp counselor who’s picked on by his campers inspired none other than Jack Benny to send a letter to Klane, writing that The Horse Is Dead was “without a doubt the funniest book that I have ever read.”

Though it was never turned into a movie, the money from selling the rights to producer Nick Vanoff enabled Klane to quit advertising and concentrate full-time on writing. The result: a second novel for Random House, 1970’s Where’s Poppa?

The novel tells the story of a beleaguered lawyer who vowed to his late father that he’d never put his mother in a nursing home, but when she begins to drive him nuts, he schemes to get rid of her by any means necessary.

When producer Marvin Worth and United Artists agreed to produce it as a film starring George Segal and Ruth Gordon and directed by Carl Reiner, Klane and his family moved to Los Angeles. His screen adaptation was nominated for a WGA award.

Despite Klane’s initial objections to the tamed-down ending of Reiner’s final cut — preferring instead the suggestively Oedipal one from the book — he realized it was the right choice after learning that the studio would not have released the film otherwise, his son said. The home video release, however, included his book’s version as an alternate ending, which also was shot.

When Sarah Silverman introduced Where’s Poppa? to a revival house audience in 2009, she said: “It blew my mind … It’s so hardcore and silly and funny in a way that I think is emerging now. I was surprised it existed then.”

Klane adapted his next novel, 1975’s Fire Sale, into a film directed by and starring Alan Arkin. Klane agreed with the majority of critics who panned the movie, his son noted.

Thank God It’s Friday, which he co-wrote (uncredited), marked his film directing debut. Among the movie’s highlights is a performance of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” which won the best song Oscar in 1978.

Survivors include his third wife, J.C. Scott, whom he married in 1984; brother Larry; children David, Jon and Caitlin; and five grandchildren. Another daughter, Tracy, died in 2011.

He was also married to Linda Tesh from 1962-75 and to actress Anjanette Comer (she was in Fire Sale) from 1976-83.

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