“Every morning, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section, and see if I’m listed. If I’m not, I’ll have my breakfast.” – Carl Reiner
Most people are afraid of getting older. Even though you see it happen to everyone around you, there’s still an air of mystery about the whole thing — when you’re young, the unknown takes up more of your mind than it sound. But if Carl Reiner’s new documentary, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, is giving an accurate glimpse of what getting older is going to be like, it seems we’re all going to be just fine.
If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast — directed by Danny Gold and hosted Reiner — asks a simple question: is there such a thing as vitality in your 90s? Why are more and more people who reach 90 not retiring?
The documentary is a revolving door of some of the greatest show business legends of all time: Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, Stan Lee, Tony Bennett, and Kirk Douglas, to name but a few.
With such an enormous cavalcade of talent, you expect this to be a retrospective of the extraordinary lives and careers each one of them has lived and nothing more. But that’s exactly what this film is not. Sure, you may see Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Norman Lear talking about their infamous weekends spent together sometimes, but there’s certainly no pining for the good ol’ days. They are living for the present.
If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast producer George Shapiro found himself wondering this over the years as he observed his uncle (who just happens to be Reiner, and whom he also happens to manage) and his friends.
‘‘People like Carl Reiner and Norman Lear — Carl’s 95, Norman’s going to be 95 on July 27th — these guys are so active,” marvels Shapiro, on phone from his office in Beverly Hills, discussing what inspired the documentary. “Carl still is doing these guest appearances with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he did a rap song on Queen Latifah’s show.”
Additionally, Betty Seinfeld (mother of Jerry Seinfeld) also served as an inspiration. “She was just one of those people who had a joy of life. And she kept working out in the gym, and she lived to be 99. And I saw how much fun a lot of these people could have in their 90s.”
Shapiro had watched just how much fun Reiner, Seinfeld, and their friends were having, and so he decided to start keeping a file labeled “Vitality After 90.” Only he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with it.
“Aimee Hyatt, who works here at [my production company] Shapiro/West, pulled the file out and said, ‘Just shoot it.’ She finally got to me, and I spoke to Carl about him having conversations with people in their 90s.”
As a host, Reiner brings some of the funniest moments to the film, but he also brings a moment of somberness during his discussion with Kirk Douglas. Carl Reiner tells a story about how, when his wife was dying, he put on one of her own records — so that the final thing she could hear as she was leaving this mortal coil was herself singing. This shows so much about what Reiner is trying to do: this film is about living while you are still here. Why not go out living, instead of regretting?
Coincidentally, some of the film’s greatest observations actually come from people who aren’t even in show business. Ida Keeling is 102 years old, and more active than most people who are in their youth. She works out every single day, and is still a competitive runner. Harriett Thompson is 93 and is the oldest woman to complete a marathon. Pee Wee Martin was a paratrooper at D-Day — to commemorate the anniversary, he jumped out of a plane again at the age of 95.
Surely, there must be some sort of secret to maintaining such youthfulness when you’re in your 90s. It’s not as complex as one might think, according to Shapiro.
“Dick Van Dyke wrote a book called Keep Moving, and the whole philosophy in the book is to keep moving, and to love. He goes to a supermarket and people think he’s a little nuts because if he hears music, he’ll start dancing.”
If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast is a universal tale — you don’t have to be in your 90s to enjoy everything you do. But it also proves there’s no such thing as being “too old” to try something new.
“Two or three years ago, if you asked me ‘George, would you like to live to be 100?’ I would definitely quickly respond ‘No thank you, I don’t want to be that old. It’s not going to be a very good life.’ Now, I changed my mind completely. I’m not afraid to be 100.”