They’re from the same generation as the septuagenarian rock stars who still keep prancing across the stage:
Larry David, Richard Lewis, Lily Tomlin, and our own Marty Nadler, who performed this past Sunday night to a great reception at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven.
At that performance, Marty was at his triumphant best, discussing issues about how fatherhood changed him: “I used to be a 6-foot-5 African American basketball player. Now I’m a short Jewish guy.”
Having once been married to him for 25 years, I know a bit of his background. Marty
was born and raised in the Bronx, which, with its streets both fine and mean, produced a host of comedy stars, including Penny Marshall, Garry Marshall, Carl Reiner, and Rob Reiner. Marty’s family apartment overlooked the emerald meadow of Mosholu Parkway, where all these teeming funny peeps hung out.
Other hangers-out were brawny gang members. Now, Marty was short and cute and defenseless, but also insanely funny, so the scariest dudes in this group took him on as a modern version of the court jester. It gave Marty a giddy sense of power. He could say anything, make any joke, because he had, among others, “Herbie” and “Lefty” to back him up.
You could view this comic élan in action at the L.A. Improvisation, back in the late ’70s — an era of Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, and Freddie Prinze, when Marty would sound off to a tough guy at the bar, forgetting that Herbie and Lefty no longer raised their fists for him (although he did have me). This sense of comic free-for-all yielded a sometimes edgy humor.
What Marty discovered after a few years of cracking jokes at the Improv, Comedy Club, and Catch a Rising Star was that following each set, comics would pop up at the bar and offer to purchase a particular joke. “Say, Nads, can I buy that bit about your car stalling over Laurel Canyon? How much? Twenty-five bucks? Here ya go!”
He couldn’t write jokes fast enough to keep a standup set alive. This woeful state of affairs corresponded with a new interest in him from the studios, in particular Paramount, where his pal Penny’s older brother Garry Marshall was starting to make a name for himself. Marshall read Marty’s spec script for “All in the Family,” thought it showed merit, and hired Marty as an apprentice writer on a new show called “The Odd Couple,” starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.
The apprenticeship turned to staff-writing jobs on shows such as “Chico and the Man,” “Happy Days,” and “Laverne and Shirley,” and an accumulation of series lasting a single season whose titles are lost to the mists of time. During that period Marty and I met when my agents sent me to pitch freelance “Laverne” notions to story writer Marty Nadler.
Meanwhile, the biggest part of Marty’s bio was Martha’s Vineyard. As a student in the theater program at Ithaca College in upstate New York, he and his buddies, including Cronig-related Jeff Kramer and future MVRHS teacher Duncan Ross, in the mid-’60s inaugurated a summer repertory company here on the Island called the Vineyard Players.
When you fell for any one of these Players, no matter where you lived in the country, you got whisked immediately to Martha’s Vineyard to see if you liked it. We married at Seth’s Pond in 1978, and bought a house on the western shore of East Chop in 1981. More shows wrapped their comedy-loving tentacles around young Nadler, and a show brought us to New York, “Love, Sidney,” with Tony Randall and Swoosie Kurtz.
We saved all our best occasions for the Island. Our son Charlie was born here on July 11, 1984. We spent his formative years — 0 to 7 — in New York and Los Angeles, but eventually followed our hearts’ desire for a life with seasons and traditions and a noble village to help us raise our kid. In 1991 we moved full-time to the Vineyard.
Marty has continued to write plays and short stories, and with uplifting regularity, he’s hired as script doctor on various movies, from “Pretty Woman” to “Runaway Bride” to a recent flick still shooting in Sacramento, starring Jerry O’Connell.
Marty lives in Florida year-round now, but he visits the Island once or twice a year. On Saturday, he shared funny stories about the Island’s two goofy bank robberies way back when, and of how son Charlie’s bar mitzvah was held in “this very same Hebrew Center, but he drew more people and more money.” Even Marty’s Q and A period prolonged the intense comedy; for instance, when a woman at the back asked him his opinion of Internet dating, and he replied he’d rather meet someone in real time in the supermarket, where he can spy on her checking for the expiration date of toilet paper.