Joyce Rebeta-Burditt Dies; Diagnosis Murder Creator was 83

Joyce Rebeta-Burditt, a bestselling author who went on to create the long-running Dick Van Dyke drama Diagnosis Murder, died in Los Angeles on June 2. She was 83.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Rebeta-Burditt authored the ground-breaking roman a clef, The Cracker Factor, about a housewife who enters a mental hospital to treat her alcoholism. The 1977 Macmillan book became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a TV movie of the same name starring Natalie Wood. The lead character, Cassie Barrett, was based on Rebeta-Burditt’s early life as a young married raising three small children.

“I think being a housewife is the most underrated job in the world. It is a perfect setup if one is predisposed to be an alcoholic,” Rebeta-Burditt told People Magazine in 1977. “My husband had to take over much of the mothering. And my own mother was around a lot. I adopted the attitude and behavior of an oldest child. I was physically there, but AWOL emotionally. Then when I was sober, like many alcoholic women, I tended to be the overprotective supermother. I probably drove the kids bananas.”

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Rebeta-Burditt went on to work in the television business, first as a programming executive at ABC and later as vice president of comedy development at NBC. She wrote another novel in 1981 called Triplets. Five years later, she wrote the screenplay for Under the Influence, a TV movie starring a very young Keanu Reeves about the impact of alcoholism on families. The movie also featured Andy Griffith, who requested that Rebeta-Burditt join the writing staff of his drama series Matlock.

Rebeta-Burditt ended up writing dozens of episodes for Matlock and Father Dowling Mysteries, before going on to create Diagnosis Murder in 1993. The Dick Van Dyke starrer ran for eight seasons on CBS.

Rebeta-Burditt is survived by her three children, artist Paul Burditt, Emmy-winning sitcom writer Jack Burditt, and former Lionsgate Television senior VP Ellen Burditt; eight grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and a brother and sister. She was preceded in death by her husband/TV writer George Burditt, whom she met at a greeting card company when she was 17. The former Three’s Company scribe died in 2013.

The family is holding private services due to the pandemic. Memorial contributions may be made to Deaf West Theatre.

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