Bob Schiller was a prolific comedy writer whose career spanned more than six decades. A pioneer in the genre of the television sitcom, he was best known for his work with longtime collaborator Bob Weiskopf, with whom he wrote for such iconic series as I Love Lucy, All in the Family and Maude.
Born to Roland and Lucille Schiller in San Francisco in 1918, Schiller and his younger sister Marilyn spent their early years between his birth city of San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1928, the Great Depression necessitated the family’s permanent relocation to Los Angeles, where Schiller attended John Burroughs Junior High School and Los Angeles High School. An advanced student, Schiller graduated from L.A. High at 16 and enrolled at UCLA in 1935. During his four years at UCLA he met many lifelong friends and got his first real taste of writing when he penned the humor column "Bob Tales" in The Daily Bruin.
Drafted into the army in 1940, Schiller attended Officer Training School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, before being deployed to Europe. Schiller’s writing skills were again tasked during the war, when he wrote a column for the Stars and Stripes publication. He also produced comedy variety shows for the troops, providing levity during one of the darkest times in U.S. history. When reflecting on the war, he was always solemn about the loss of many friends, but equally aware how lucky he was, noting that, “the worst weapon I had to use was a pie to the face.”
After the war, Schiller took a job with the publicity firm Rogers & Cowan, whose client included a dentist for whom he wrote the billboard, “Visit your neighborhood friendly dentist. Come in before they come out.” His writing career evolved into radio, contributing to such well known shows as Abbott and Costello, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Mel Blanc Show, Sweeney and March, The Jimmy Durante Show and December Bride. He was also on the writing staff of the famous radio show Duffy’s Tavern, in 1946.
In 1947, Schiller married Joyce Harris, mother of his two sons, Tom and Jim, and settled into a home right down the street from his college alma mater in Westwood, California. The two remained married for 16 years during his career trajectory. When Harris passed away, Schiller took on the role of working single father to Tom and Jim and moved to Malibu, where he rasied the boys on his own.
In 1953, Schiller met and paired up with Bob Weiskopf, his writing partner of 45 years. Weiskopf, who was already a successful comedy writer at the time, had just relocated to Los Angeles from New York City. The two writers first collaborated on a radio script for Our Miss Brooks before delving into the new medium of network television.
Schiller and Weiskopf’s career together spanned decades, and their numerous writing credits were formidable. They were perhaps best known for being the first — and only — additions to the original writing staff of I Love Lucy, and many of the episodes they wrote were some of the most beloved — including John Wayne’s Footprints and the “grape stomping” episode.
In addition to I Love Lucy, Schiller and Weiskopf wrote for popular 1950s shows such as Make Room for Daddy, The Bob Cummings Show, My Favorite Husband, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Ann Sothern Show and Pete and Gladys. Their partnership continued through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, writing or producing such shows as The Lucy Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Good Guys, The Phyllis Diller Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Flip Wilson Show, Maude, All in the Family and its spinoff series, Archie Bunker's Place. Lifelong civil rights supporters, Schiller and Weiskopf made people laugh through their work, but also pushed for conversation around social issues and controversial topics such as race, gender, sexual assault and equal rights.
Schiller and Weiskopf not only worked long hours together; they also carpooled together to the office for most of their career. Along the way, they were nominated and won multiple awards, including Emmys, Golden Globes and Peabody Awards, as well as the Humanitas Prize, and the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Writers Guild of America. Schiller and Weiskopf played off each other perfectly, both in writing and in person. When Schiller was asked about the success and longevity of their partnership, he responded, "That's easy — we've never agreed on anything!" Weiskopf's witty retort: "Yes, we have."
In 1964, Schiller met the love of his life, Sabrina Scharf, at the beach in Malibu. Married in 1968, they settled into a home in Pacific Palisades, where they remained for the rest of his life. Their two daughters, Abbie and Sadie, were born in the ’70s, when Bob was well into his fifties, but he was always an involved and loving father. Schiller and Scharf celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary a few months before his death.
A dedicated and loving husband, father, grandfather and friend, Schiller was a member of the PLATO society for many years, enjoyed long walks with friends and had a standing golf game twice a week at Riviera Country Club for as long as he could play. His group at Riviera included new friends, as well as those from his writing career, all the way back to his days at UCLA and L.A. High.
Schiller retired soon after the writers' strike in 1988, at which time he took on more of the day-to-day parenting responsibilities to give his wife an opportunity to continue her career ambitions. He was as proud of driving his daughters to school or across country to college, writing their school’s cabaret show, and even serving as sideline ref for soccer games — until the age of 78 — as he was of any of his career achievements. He always kept his family front of mind and was as pleased to display his childrens’ sports trophies or other achievements on the same shelf with every one of his writing awards.
Although his health declined in his later years, Schiller never lost his wit. Every question was met with a clever retort, and he lived by the adage that in order to find humor you must see the situation differently, or “think crooked.” He would often say that “words were his inventory,” and his response to the constant question of “How are you?” as he got older was, “perfect, but improving.”
Schiller died on October 10, 2017. He was 98.