Pioneering female scriptwriter Irma Kalish, who wrote for TV shows like “All in the Family” and “I Dream of Jeannie,” has died at 96.
Kalish died on Friday at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., according to a story from The Hollywood Reporter.
She actually teamed up with her husband, Austin “Rocky” Kalish, and produced script after script. Other TV shows they worked on together included “Maude,” “F Troop,” “My Favorite Martian,” and “The Flying Nun.”
Their work on “All in the Family” included two emotional episodes around the issues of rape and women’s health.
‘All in the Family’ Script Writer Fought Her Way To Writers’ Room
“Gloria the Victim” focused on Gloria Stivic, played by Sally Struthers, surviving a rape attempt. Then Gloria has to consider whether she will testify against the attacker. “Edith’s Christmas Story” featured Edith Bunker, played by Jean Stapleton. Edith discovers a lump in her breast in the episode.
Both episodes aired in 1973 and those topics weren’t discussed a lot in primetime TV shows during the early 1970s. “All in the Family” producer Norman Lear, though, was focused on bringing taboo subjects into his TV shows.
The Kalishes also wrote for another Lear show, “Maude,” which starred Bea Arthur as Maude Finley. They took a chance and pitched a story for “Maude’s Dilemma,” a 1972 two-part episode. In it, Maude discovers that she is pregnant at 47 years old and decides to have an abortion.
Before “All in the Family,” the Kalishes happened to receive a major breakthrough back in 1965 when “My Three Sons” producer Ed Hartmann hired them. They wrote for the sitcom starring Fred MacMurray, then brought on as story editors for “Family Affair.”
Kalishes Lost Job For Jackie Gleason When He Learned of Irma
Why was Irma Kalish a trailblazer? She became probably the first woman to get into a male-dominated writers’ room during the mid-1960s.
“One producer actually thought I must not be writing, I must just be doing the typing,” Kalish said in a 2010 interview.
How bad was it? Well, the Kalishes were hired to write for CBS superstar comedian Jackie Gleason. Yet when Gleason found out Irma Kalish was part of the deal, he said no.
“Rocky” Kalish recalled that Gleason said “It’s off” when learning of Irma’s involvement.
“That was the prevalent attitude in television,” Irma Kalish said. “They didn’t believe that women were funny. They said, ‘Women can make you cry — they can write a soap opera or a drama — but they can’t make you laugh.'”
In 2005, Irma Kalish appeared at a Writer’s Guild event with actor William H. Macy.
Outsider sends its condolences to the Kalish family at this time.