Justly proclaimed by "insiders" as one of the funniest men in the world (on par with such giants as Larry Gelbart and Buck Henry), the El Centro, California-born TV comedy writer Jerry Belson hotfooted it to Tinseltown immediately after high-school graduation, where he briefly supported himself with stints as a comic-book writer, magician, and drummer. Not long after, at the tender age of 22, Belson sold his first script for an episode of The Danny Thomas Show (in 1960), then on CBS. He quickly met and teamed up with Northwestern grad Garry Marshall, four years his senior; the two pooled their abilities and jointly scripted some of the most enduring small-screen series comedies of the 1960s and '70s, including The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966, CBS, for which Belson won an Emmy), The Joey Bishop Show (1961-1965, NBC, CBS), The Lucy Show (1962-1974, CBS), Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. (1964-1970, CBS), Hey, Landlord (1966-1967, NBC), and The Odd Couple (1970-1975, ABC), on which Belson also served as producer and director. Needless to say, the towering, uniform success of these programs (many of which ran concurrently) turned both men into wealthy sitcom veterans and revered show-business legends, whose style of writing spurred countless others on to great heights. During this period, Belson and Marshall also created specials for Bob Hope, Danny Thomas (a project that won the WGA award), Fred Astaire, and Bing Crosby.
As The Odd Couple wrapped in the mid-'70s, Belson segued into big-screen work, with varying degrees of success. He began brilliantly, scripting one of the funniest American comedies of the postwar era, Michael Ritchie's Smile (1975) -- a heartfelt satire about a California beauty pageant. Uncredited collaborations with Steven Spielberg (on 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and Ritchie (Semi-Tough, 1977) followed. Belson authored an original script for the hilarious Burt Reynolds-directed black comedy The End (1978), with Reynolds as a terminally ill man whose attempts to off himself are abetted by a nutty-as-a-fruitcake, schizoid mental patient (Dom DeLuise). It opened to solid reviews and box office, but everyone except for a (very) few die-hard Burt fans dismissed Belson's silver-screen reunion with Reynolds, Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), which Belson co-scripted with Brock Yates and Michael Caine.