Robert Klane, Writer of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s,’ Dies at 81

He also adapted his best-known novel, “Where’s Poppa?,” into the script for a raw Carl Reiner comedy and directed the disco movie “Thank God It’s Friday.”

Robert Klane, a comic novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker with a taste for gleeful vulgarity who wrote the screenplay for “Weekend at Bernie’s,” the 1989 cult film about two young insurance company employees who create the illusion that their murdered boss is still alive, died on Aug. 29 at his home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 81.

His son Jon said the cause was kidney failure.

Mr. Klane wrote “Weekend at Bernie’s” more than two decades into a career that began with the publication of two humorous novels: “The Horse Is Dead: A Tasteless Novel” (1968) and “Where’s Poppa?” (1970). He adapted “Where’s Poppa?” into the screenplay for a twisted comedy about a single lawyer (played by George Segal) who dreams of scaring to death or institutionalizing his aged, maddening mother (Ruth Gordon).

Ted Kotcheff, who directed “Weekend at Bernie’s,” wrote in his 2017 memoir, “Director’s Cut: My Life in Film,” that Mr. Klane had been inspired to write it by his time as an advertising copywriter in the 1960s, when the top executives at one of the agencies where he worked invited employees to their beach houses on Long Island.

Mr. Klane with Donna Summer on the set of the 1978 disco film “Thank God It’s Friday,” which he directed. Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

“But he always wondered what would happen if the underlings got a house all to themselves — inmates taking over the asylum,” Mr. Kotcheff wrote.

In “Bernie’s,” the young workers (Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman) discover a $2 million fraud but don’t know that their boss, Bernie (Terry Kiser), is the culprit. Bernie invites them to his beach house, ostensibly as a reward, and asks his mobster partner to kill them. But the mobster tells the hit man to kill Bernie instead for sleeping with his girlfriend.

The employees — fearful that they might be next on the hit list — frantically make Bernie seem alive by, among other ruses, putting sunglasses on him, rolling him out to his sun deck and rigging a device that raises his arm so he appears to be waving to people.

The film, which grossed a modest $30 million (a little less than $75 million in today’s money), gained fans long after its release through home video and cable-TV viewing. People magazine wrote in 2014 that the movie “has managed to age into something close to respectability.”

Mr. Klane believed that the Bernie character was too dead to revive cinematically. But a sequel was made — because Victor Drai, one of the original film’s producers, raised the money from its Italian distributor, Mr. Drai recalled in a phone interview.

Mr. Klane was the director as well as the writer of “Weekend at Bernie’s II” (1993), which involves the discovery of Bernie’s offshore bank account, containing the embezzled money, and a voodoo ceremony to try reanimating him.

The reviews were roundly negative.

“If ever there was a career-ending movie,” the Miami Herald critic Rene Rodriguez wrote, “‘Weekend at Bernie’s II’ is it.”

But for Mr. Klane, it wasn’t. He kept working.

Robert Klane was born on Oct. 17, 1941, in Port Jefferson, N.Y., on Long Island, and grew up in nearby Patchogue and Bayport. His father, Edward, was a physician. His mother, Adele (Blum) Klane, was a homemaker.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in English, Mr. Klane returned to New York and found work in advertising.

Over the next few years he was a commercial copywriter at two agencies, Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (now BBDO) and McCann Erickson (now McCann). In 1967 he went to work at Filmex, a production house, where he directed commercials.

In his spare time he wrote “The Horse Is Dead,” about a camp counselor who hates his campers. The book was labeled “filth and smut simply for the sake of smut” by a self-appointed decent literature committee that wanted it removed from a library in Bel Air, Md., in 1968. But commissioners in Harford County, Md., refused to ban it.

On the other hand, Jack Benny sent Mr. Klane a fan letter telling him that it was the funniest book he had ever read.

Two years later, Mr. Klane published “Where’s Poppa?,” and that same year Carl Reiner directed the film version, with a script by Mr. Klane. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film did not have “much more on its mind than a desperate desire to provoke shock and laughter” — which, he said, it did successfully.

Jon Klane recalled going to a theater to see the film with his father, who stayed in the lobby. “I came out to get candy, and he was watching a matronly woman demand a refund,” he said by phone. “I went up to him, and he said, ‘This is exactly the kind of person I want to offend.’”

Over the next three decades, Mr. Klane stayed busy in television and film. He wrote six episodes of the sitcom “M*A*S*H”; the 1985 film “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” with John Hughes; “The Man With One Red Shoe,” a 1985 remake of the French comedy “The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe,” which starred Tom Hanks; and, in 1997, 11 episodes of Tracey Ullman’s sketch comedy series “Tracey Takes On …,” for which he and several others received an Emmy Award for outstanding variety, music or comedy series.

His directing work included “Thank God It’s Friday” (1978), set entirely in a disco, which won the Academy Award for best original song, “Last Dance,” sung by the disco diva Donna Summer, one of its stars; and “The Odd Couple: Together Again,” a 1993 TV movie that reunited Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, the stars of that 1970s sitcom.

In addition to his son Jon, Mr. Klane is survived by his wife, J.C. Scott; a daughter, Caitlin Klane; another son, David; a brother, Larry; and five grandchildren. Another daughter, Tracy Klane, died in 2011. His marriages to Linda Tesh and the actress Anjanette Comer ended in divorce.

About 20 years ago, Mr. Klane worked with his son Jon on a script, set in a ski resort, that would have rebooted the “Bernie’s” franchise. It did not sell.

“We wore out the carpet coming up with gags,” Jon Klane said. “It was my best memory of him. He would say, ‘It has to be a laugh a page, Jonny.’”

Source: Movies -


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