Emmy-winning TV writer Leonard Stern, who worked on classic shows like The Honeymooners and Get Smart — but is perhaps best known as the creator of Mad Libs — has died at the age of 88.
Stern came up with the idea for the fill-in-the-blank books while writing a scene for The Honeymooners. “I was trying to find the right word to describe the nose of Ralph Kramden’s new boss,” he told Publishers Weekly in a 2008 interview. “So I asked Roger [Price] for an idea for an adjective and before I could tell him what it was describing, he threw out ‘clumsy’ and ‘naked.’ We both started laughing. We sat down and wrote a bunch of stories with blanks in them. That night we took them to a cocktail party and they were a great success.”
Initially, due to concern over whether what he was pitching was technically a book or a game, Stern’s concept was turned down by every publisher in the New York area, so he decided to self-publish 14,000 copies with Price’s help. In 2008, fifty years after this mass rejection, more than 110 million copies of the popular books had reportedly been sold. As Stern once said, “It just proves how important rejection is if you want to get a good start.”