Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.
Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.
I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.
Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr. Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.
Even when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.
Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly, he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.
As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.
It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.
It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.
- Lessons From The Cowardly Lion | Courage (pinkballoons4lunch.com)
- Remastered ‘Wizard of Oz’ to Screen in 3D and IMAX Theaters (hispanicbusiness.com)
As big a fan of these three men as I am, there is a level of revisionist history that is impossible to simply accept.
I actually had to stop reading the book, at least for a while. It’s a temporary interruption I’m sure, but I needed to back off from Three Bad Men. I needed to take a few deep breaths and calm down before continuing.
This book chronicles the lives and friendships of John Ford, John Wayne and Ward Bond. Two great actors and one extraordinary director. It’s an interesting read. I have been reading, as is my habit, slowly, savoring. I was enjoying it.
That’s just not true. What I see — and have always seen — is the perpetuation of racism by Pappy. As much as I love John Ford’s westerns, there’s no escaping the racism in his films. They were still calling Woody Strode “boy” as late as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Even considering his belated attempt to make some reparations with Cheyenne Autumn, it was much too little and way too late.
I’ll get back to the book in a while, when I have calmed down a bit. Right now, I’m sorry. I simply can’t continue reading it.
- – -
- Three Bad Men John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- John Ford, America’s Most Prolific Movie Director (expertscolumn.com)
- Top 10 John Ford Films (prettycleverfilms.com)
Hey, you sass that hoopy RT Gomer? Now there’s a frood who really knows where his towel is! There. Now if our glorious leader happens to be a Hitchhikers Guide fan, that should score me… I dunno, my own podcast or something. If not, however, it’s still a passable (?) segway into wishing one and all a Happy Towel Day!
I just bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday as a book club editor. It fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that went to book club members.
A large part of my job was to read books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best of the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had very large personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context and maybe brag a little.
The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, sort of, but not in any traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual sci fi categories. Time travel? Not exactly, but it has a time travel-ish feel to it.
The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago.
His observations on modern society are priceless. For example, while he is in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring of course to the to nurses and other workers who attend his needs.
His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea. “You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves, but without responsibility.”
“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.
“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would like to argue the point? Not me.
That is paraphrasing, of course, but is captures the gist of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.
This is a brilliant and unique book. It stands apart from the thousands of books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not a pretty sight.
Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body, but The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels” … making locating copies of his books more challenging. However you can get your hands on one – beg, steal or borrow — it’s a must-read,even if science fiction is not a genre you normally seek out. Whether “A Far Arena” is science fiction or plain fiction is a matter of opinion. I think it sits just on the edge where genres meet. (Question: When genres meet, do they have coffee together? Just wondering.)
You might check to see if your local library has a copy. I scored a good copy in hard-cover from a second-hand seller on Amazon for $8.50 plus shipping, not bad considering the book’s been out of print for 30+ years.
It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.
Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.
You can hunt down used copies. They are available on Amazon (I just bought one as a gift) and more come up periodically. Sometimes you get lucky and find one of these rare books at yard sales or the Salvation Army. Then you get the book for literally pennies and you have fun hunting it down, too. On the average, you’ll find it’s less expensive than most new paperbacks and more than worth the price.
Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: April 16 2013
From the publisher:
A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, Amity & Sorrow is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.
Given the nature of the material, I was not expecting a light little tale of joy and contentment. The publisher’s description doesn’t really give you a sense of how extremely dark the first chapters of the book are, nor how awful the circumstances from which this family is trying to escape have been.
Amity and Sorrow are the names of the two daughters, the young girls Amaranth is trying to rescue from a particularly sordid religious cult involving emotional and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of women and children, terror and bondage.
The first few chapters of the book are so grim I almost stopped reading because I was finding it more than a little stomach turning. I have trouble … a lot of trouble … dealing with pain and abuse of any living creature. But it’s worse dealing with children and animals. Amity and Sorrow are children and the degree to which they have both been horribly abused is never entirely laid out, but is certainly inferred with sufficient detail to make one feel that more detail would be over the top.
Just as I was about to close the book, it started to go in another direction, to a kind of redemption and restoration of light where there has previously been only darkness and fear.
It is very well written. For a first novel, it’s quite extraordinary. It would be exceptional even if it were the 20th novel, but what can only imagine what this author may produce in the future. The description is paralyzing in its ability to evoke raw emotion in the reader.
This is not a book for children. It’s also not a book for anyone who wants to keep his or her reading light. But, if you like to occasionally venture over to the dark side, visit the depths of depravity of which people are capable, try Amity & Sorrow. Although the theme of redemption is strong, the back story of despair, fear, and evil is equally strong … so make sure you’re ready for a trip into a nightmare.
It’s available in hardcopy, paperback and Kindle from Amazon and I’m sure from other vendors as well.
- Amity and Sorrow (from7eight.com)
- Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley (mynovelopinion.wordpress.com)
- Review: Peggy Riley, Amity and Sorrow: What makes fiction work (secondword.net)
- Religious Fervour: Amity and Sorrow (orangepekoereviews.wordpress.com)
- Review: Amity & Sorrow (bookingmama.net)
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detection Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul published in 1987 and 1988. It was originally intended to be a trilogy (The Salmon of Doubt was to be the third book in the series) but the author died before completing it.
I first read these when they were originally published. I have no idea how many times I have read them since, but I keep emergency copies of them on my Kindle in case I need a fix. I have had who-know-how-many copies in paperback, a couple of hard cover copies, and both books on cassette tape, CD, and now as Audible downloads.
I have listened to it so many times that you might think I’d grow tired of it, but I never do. Of all the books that Douglas Adams wrote — and I love all of them — this is my favorite.
Unlike the Hitchhiker series, the Dirk Gently books have plots and follow a linear timeline. They are bizarre, outlandish and hilarious, but are actual detective stories, albeit full of ghosts, gods and weirdness.
I love Dirk Gently. He’s wonderfully strange and finds things intentionally by accident. The “holistic detective,” his purposely random behavior produces results. He doesn’t know how he does what he does and he doesn’t actually like it, but he counts on it.
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul was the book in which Adams introduced the idea that gods without worshipers fade away, that their powers spring from having followers. The idea was new and unique when the books were published in 1987 and 1988. Since then, the concept has been widely adopted by many authors and is now a staple in the fantasy genre.
The title of the book is taken from Adams’ novel Life, the Universe and Everything (my favorite of the Hitchhiker series) to describe the wretched boredom of immortal being Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged. It’s also a play on Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross.
Douglas Adams died suddenly and far too soon. I still mourn him, but his influence and books live on.
Douglas Adams left his fingerprints all over the fantasy genre. Although Dirk was not a magician, he had magic. Descended from him is a legion of magic-wielding detectives solving crimes around the world. Douglas’ proclamation that “The Gods live!” has become the backbone of more than a few well-known authors. An entire sub-genre of literature is peopled by immortals and gods from various Pantheons.
Douglas Adams got there first and got there laughing.
If you haven’t read “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” you should correct that omission as soon as possible. You don’t have to read them in order, but I think they are better that way although each book stands on its own. You’ll love the gods … gods of rain, gods of thunder, gods of every little thing … as they roam the earth, wondering what happened to all their worshipers.
- Mike’s Random Thoughts: On Adaptations of Douglas Adams’ novels. (rtgomer.com)
- Don’t Panic! Google Honors Douglas Adams (abcnews.go.com)
- Don’t panic! (tararualibrary.wordpress.com)
London probationary constable Peter Grant hopes to become a detective, but his tendency to be distracted by details that others think are unimportant has landed him in the Case Progression Unit. That’s where the paperwork gets processed and where the biggest danger is a paper cut.
While collecting evidence from a crime scene, Peter finds an eye-witness who appears to be a ghost. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale is in charge of the secret police division that investigates crime involving the undead, magic, various deities or anything else that could be classified as weird.
Nightingale has always — and always turns out to be a long time indeed — worked alone, but incidences of the strange and bizarre seem to be increasing around town. Enter Peter Grant, the distractible cop with a natural ability to “sniff” vestiges of magic and the first official apprentice wizard in the history of the division.
I starting reading this on the recommendation of one of my readers. I’ve never been led astray by a reader’s recommendation and this was no exception. The is the first book in a series in which there are three books to date, but hopefully more to come.
I read a lot of mysteries and a lot of fantasy. Peter Grant is much more of a cop than he is a wizard, though that will probably change as the series progresses. In this first book, despite a strong magical theme, it is also a real cop thriller. There’s a lot of wonderful description about the life of a constable in the London metropolitan police. There’s even more background about growing up as a racially mixed, working class kid in London. Like whipped cream on a sundae, the book provides rich detail about everything from the social interaction of Londoners on the underground at rush hour, to architectural disasters and bomb craters … and the gods and goddesses who care for the streams and rivers of London. Lots about them.
Aaronovitch’s writing is witty — sometimes downright funny — and intelligent. His ironic humor keeps the book moving along at a brisk pace. Peter Grant feels very real. I feel like I’ve met him, would recognize him at a party. He’s got a history. He’s smart and intuitive, but also human. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He actually works at his job.
I didn’t just read the book, I also bought it from Audible and have listened to it twice. Once for the fun, and the second time to pick up details I might have missed first time around. There is a lot of detail. There’s humor, danger, magic and then there’s mood. Wherever Peter Grant goes, you are treated to a description so thorough you can pretty much see the whole thing … smell and taste it, too.
If you like audiobooks, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a marvelous narrator. He has the knack of making the book and its characters come alive but being non-intrusive so you see the book in your mind and don’t notice the narrator at all. This is exactly as it should be when the narrator and the books are perfectly matched.
I’m enjoying the second book even more than the first. Peter has begun to have more self-confidence, both as a police officer and as a wizard. I can sense where the series is going and I’m glad to be going along for the ride.
If you’re looking for a new series, this is a good one! I have a feeling it’s going to get even better as it matures.
- Ebook deal of the day – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (dailyebookdeal.me)
- Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch (clsiewert.wordpress.com)
- Rivers of London: Urban Fantasy at its Wittiest (thegeekiary.com)
- Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (bookslifewine.wordpress.com)