By Ken Tucker
Updated February 25, 2009 at 07:31 PM EST

Howard Zieff, known to fans of TV commercials as the auteur behind such classics as Alka Selzter’s “Mama mia, that’s a spicy meatball” commercial, has died at age 81. Zieff’s 1970 commercial was considered daring at the time, since it was a commercial about the making of a commercial, very meta, and very funny, for the time:

Zieff moved on to make feature films. His New York Times obit mentioned his biggest hit, the 1980 Goldie Hawn showcase Private Benjamin, but failed to cite what was probably his best movie, 1975’s Hearts of the West, starring Jeff Bridges as a young writer of Western novels who goes to Hollywood and becomes a Tinseltown cowboy:

Catch this movie on TV sometime. As always, Zieff liked to take you behind the scenes, give you credit for being smart enough to follow him on his guided tours through show-biz irony, romance, and a jadedness that could be redeemed. He’ll be missed.