Saul Turteltaub ’54, LAW’57, a TV writer and producer known for his work on Sanford and Son, The Carol Burnett Show, That Girl, What’s Happening!! and other popular comedies, died on April 9, 2020. He was 87 and lived in Beverly Hills.
Turteltaub was born on May 15, 1932, in Teaneck, N.J.,
and grew up in Englewood. He got his start in comedy in the Catskills’s “Borscht Belt” with a routine that required him to strip his clothes and reveal a Superman costume. While at the Law School, Turteltaub created the Columbia Law Revue and wrote jokes for the comedy team of Marty Allen and Mitch DeWood.
Turteltaub was nominated for Emmys in 1964 and 1965 for the satirical news program That Was the Week That Was, and in 1968 for the first season of The Carol Burnett Show. He and Bernie Orenstein, who wrote together for more than 30 years, formed TOY Productions with Bud Yorkin in the mid-1970s following Yorkin’s split with writer-producer Norman Lear. Turteltaub and Orenstein got three comedies on ABC: What’s Happening!!, Carter Country and 13 Queens Boulevard, then joined Sanford and Son as producer-writers in 1974 and stayed through the sit- com’s end in 1977. The pair also worked on the Sanford spinoffs Grady and Sanford Arms.
Turteltaub was congratulated for having done 23 sitcoms during his 50-year career. “You might be impressed that I’ve made 23 TV shows,” he said, “but every producer will tell you that making 23 shows only means that you’ve had 23 shows canceled.”
In a 2016 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Turteltaub talked about being inspired by comedians. “I used to admire those guys more than the singers and more than the actors because they would say something and 200 people in the audience would laugh,” he said. “So it was my job when I was doing Sanford and Son to make 20 million people all over the country laugh at the same time and never hear it. But it was enough to hear the audience in the studio.” Turteltaub was a mentor, and gave first jobs, to Richard Pryor, Garry Shandling, Dana Carvey, Nathan Lane and others.
Turteltaub’s family said he was “beloved and respected by his entire community for his generosity, endless philanthropy, the giving of his time, his work with civil rights, his role as a teacher to underprivileged or emerging writers, helping war veterans learning to write and his devotion to endless Jewish charities.”Turteltaub was beloved by his CC’54 classmates, as well; he often spoke at reunion gatherings and was the featured guest speaker last year at his 65th.
Turteltaub is survived by his wife of 59 years, Shirley (née Steinberg); sons, Adam and his wife, Rhea, and Jon and his wife, Amy; five grandchildren; and sister, Helena.
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.