Today I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Forgotten Heroes Of Comedy. I’m sharing an extract with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour and to the publisher for my copy of the extract.
In this long overdue and affectionate salute, celebrated comedy historian Robert Ross pays tribute to some of the finest, funniest and most fascinating names in comedy from both sides of the Atlantic.
Delving into the careers of the beguiling Avril Angers, the Clitheroe Kid himself, the forgotten Stooge Shemp Howard, Hollywood golden girl Thelma Todd, Italian film-maker Mario Zampi and many more between, Ross honours these legends of humour who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t quite reach the heady heights of stardom – or, once they did, they couldn’t cope with the pressures.
Whether it is a favourite from the distant smoke and ale-stained world of the Music Hall like the great George Robey, or the downbeat poetry of Hovis Presley, who dropped disenchanted bombs on the late 1990s, the Forgotten Heroes of Comedy will finally elevate them to the Hall of Fame where they belong. Forgotten, no longer.
An extract from Robert’s latest publication, the definitive tribute to Marty Feldman, ‘The Biography of a Comedy Legend’. one of those unfairly forgotten heroes of comedy, forgotten no more…
“Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act.”
Today, if you mention the name Marty Feldman to even the most ardent of comedy fans the chances are you will engender one of two responses. An affectionate chuckle at those lop-sided eyes of his as he gallantly crusades throughout a psychedelic sixties countryside, usually with a golf club firmly gripped. Or an affectionate chuckle at those lop-sided eyes of his as he channels old-school vaudeville within a vintage Universal horror setting. Cries of: “Hump? What hump?” or one of a dozen or so other deliciously quotable lines from Mel Brooks’s ‘Young Frankenstein’ would be the most commonly evoked response, particularly by anyone under the age of thirty.
For ‘Young Frankenstein’ remains the most celebrated and accessible of Marty’s work: an international, block-busting comedy success that made him a Hollywood favourite at the age of 40.
But for Marty, life didn’t start with him reaching his ambition for film stardom. Never again was he as relaxed, creative, popular and just plain likeable in a film project. Bitter clashes with studio executives and an endearing refusal to compromise his integrity saw his most personal projects scuppered by corporate politics. Almost as soon as he tasted fame in America he began missing the ‘hungry’ years. But not in that glorious, all-conquering Summer of 1974.
As he basked in the California sunshine, Marty had made it. This was the pinnacle he had worked so hard to achieve. As the palm tree sways and an endless line of media interviewers clamoured for his thoughts on the film industry, Marty’s thoughts must have wistfully returned to the thankless slog through British variety as part of Morris, Marty and Mitch. In 1974 he was more likely to be spotted at the Hollywood Bowl rather than the Chiswick Empire. His friends and colleagues were the likes of Dean Martin, Orson Welles and Groucho Marx rather than bottom of the bill variety turns.
But Marty retained his affection for his early days. Those far off days when a combined passion for jazz and silent comedy propelled him through a myriad of dead-end jobs and half-realised ambitions.
As he sipped fruity-flavoured alcohol and mapped out his first big solo Hollywood project, Marty could look back on a twenty-year long stint of writing comedy. Throughout the 1950s he had dutifully towed the line, writing safe and simple situation comedy and radio variety for the big names of the day. He had brought fresh blood to ITV’s flag-ship show ‘The Army Game’ and put words into the wooden mouth of Peter Brough’s badly-behaved ventriloquist dummy Archie Andrews.
Family-geared entertainment for the masses but, with Marty’s jet-black comedy imagination in the mix, a deceptively mild show could conceal sharp barbs of satire and surrealism. This trend for, in effect, bucking the trend of British comedy found it’s longest-lasting and most potent home in BBC Radio’s ‘Round the Horne’. One of the four cornerstones of radio humour, the show was a Trojan horse of smut. The English Sunday lunchtime was never quite the same again.
The Forgotten Heroes Of Comedy is available from Amazon.
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