Part of the original lineup of writers on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), Rosie Shuster continued a family heritage of humor initiated by her father, Frank Shuster of Wayne & Shuster fame. Just as her father had found the ideal partner, Shuster also discovered her own perfect collaborators. She entered the business with longtime friend and eventual husband Lorne Michaels, whose keen judgment and ability to work with comedic talent landed him producer duties on "SNL." Shuster also proved to be an excellent match with fellow "SNL" scribe Anne Beatts. Together, they helped create some of the program's most memorable characters, including Emily Litella, Baba Wawa, and Roseanne Roseannadanna, successfully overcoming the prevalent "chicks aren't funny" sexism of the era. Staying with "SNL" for a time after the big talent purge of 1980 and then returning again in 1986, Shuster survived the program's lean years and walked away with a pair of Primetime Emmys and a handful of nominations for her efforts. That track record led to a creative invitation from Carol Burnett to help with her latest network vehicles and Shuster's comedic talents also enlivened "Square Pegs" (CBS, 1982-83), "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-98) and "Bob and Margaret" (Comedy Central, 1998-2002). While asked primarily to write for the female stars of "SNL," Shuster also came up with material that made excellent use of the entire cast and the perseverance and quality work she offered helped make her a groundbreaking television comedy scribe.
A native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Rosie Shuster was born on June 19, 1950. The daughter of comedian Frank Shuster of the Wayne & Shuster team, she was exposed to the world of comedy right from childhood. One of her early friends was Lorne Lipowitz, who shared a similar sensibility and sense of humor and was fascinated by her father's accomplishments. The two became a couple and as Lorne Michaels, he pursued a career in comedy that eventually landed him on television with "The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour!" (CBC, 1970-71) on which he co-starred with fellow comic Hart Pomerantz. Shuster also did some writing for the Canadian program, but it was often shortened or pre-empted by hockey games, making it hard to develop an audience. As a result, the show was not renewed for a second season. Shuster went on to study at the University of Toronto and the York University School of Art, and wed Michaels in 1971. Like many Canadians looking to make it in the entertainment world, they headed to California and eventually collaborated with comedienne Lily Tomlin on a trio of specials. Those efforts caught the attention of NBC, which was looking to replace its Saturday evening repeat of "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1962- ) with a new program aimed at both younger viewers and the counterculture audience.
The result was "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), with Michaels tapped to produce and Shuster included among the program's initial staff of writers. "SNL" proved to be the launching point for several major new stars, including John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd, and while their individual talents were a major part of that accomplishment, the quality of the program's writing was also a key factor. Shuster found a suitable creative partner in Anne Beatts and their efforts led to such iconic characters as Gilda Radner's beloved Emily Litella, Baba Wawa, and Roseanne Roseannadanna, among others. However, both women were forced to deal with the inherent sexism in comedy circles of the time and had a recurring foe in Belushi, who eventually refused to act in anything they had written. Although Michaels asked Shuster and Beatts to concentrate on material for female cast members Radner, Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin, they still managed to come up with sketches featuring others that struck a chord, including the popular Killer Bees. "SNL" helped revolutionize late night comedy, but success was not without its price. The stress of producing the show on a demanding schedule took its toll on Shuster and Michaels' marriage and they started seeing other people. Shuster soon moved in with Aykroyd, while still married to Michaels, which led to some bemused perceptions of their relationships.
By 1980, "SNL" was in a state of chaos and the majority of performers and behind the scenes talent departed for good. An exception was Shuster, who legally and professionally split from Lorne Michaels that year, but rejoined the writing staff a few months later. After splitting from Aykroyd, she entered into a relationship with painter John Alexander and the two later married in 1987. In between her ongoing "SNL" obligations, Shuster also found time to work on other projects. Having helped in the creation of some of Radner's most endearing characters, she was a natural to contribute to the Broadway production "Gilda Radner - Live from New York" (1979), later released to movie theatres as "Gilda Live!" (1980), and she took a small acting role in the popular feature film offshoot of "The Blues Brothers" (1980), appearing as a cocktail waitress alongside Belushi's wife and Schuster's close friend, Judy Jacklin-Belushi. Shuster was also given the opportunity to work once more with Beatts on "Square Pegs" (CBS, 1982-83), the acclaimed but short-lived sitcom created by her former colleague, and they were among the contributors to the book Titters 101: An Introduction to Women's Literature (1984).
Shuster left "SNL," but returned again in 1986, staying for two more seasons. Upon finishing with the show in 1988, she had won a pair of Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series and earned several nominations. Shuster's union with Alexander ended during this time and her output slowed down a bit in the years that followed, though she did work on a few interesting projects. A much younger cousin of Superman creator Joe Shuster, she participated in the construction of the special "Superman's 50th Anniversary: A Celebration of the Man of Steel" (CBS, 1988), produced by Lorne Michaels and featuring several other "SNL" veterans doing on-camera duties. Shuster also struck up an artistic partnership with Carol Burnett and worked on "Carol & Company" (NBC, 1990-91) and a new, short-lived incarnation of "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS, 1991). Additionally, she penned episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-98), receiving another Emmy nomination, and the animated series "Bob and Margaret" (Comedy Central, 1998-2002).
By John Charles