Books by Martin Gottfried

ARTHUR MILLER by Martin Gottfried
Released: Sept. 15, 2003

"A thorough and welcome summing-up of a towering achievement in the modern theater."
Veteran show-biz biographer Gottfried (George Burns, 1996, etc.) strikes just the right balance between the work and the life in his judicious assessment of the great American playwright. Read full book review >
GEORGE BURNS by Martin Gottfried
Released: Jan. 20, 1996

A breezy trot through the life and career of a true show business legend. After writing biographies of artists who were far more likable on-stage than off (Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye, 1994, etc.), it must have been a pleasure for Gottfried to turn to the thoroughly lovable near-centenarian George Burns (this book will be published on his 100th birthday). However, in writing this first biography of the comedian, the author encountered a major obstacle that he has not entirely conquered. Burns himself has written several autobiographies and memoirs, and despite Gottfried's extensive research, there is little in the first two-thirds of this work that will come as a surprise to readers of those books. Here again is Burns's childhood poverty, his long period of failure in vaudeville, his professional and personal courting of Gracie Allen, the great success of the Burns and Allen team, his loving, laugh- filled friendship with Jack Benny, etc. It is in detailing the period following Gracie's retirement in 1958 that Gottfried comes into his own. Burns has written of this time as well, but Gottfried gives the story new perspective. We see Burns's fears of working solo and his failed attempts to recreate the old act with new partners (among them Ann-Margaret, whom he discovered), leading to the near-total collapse of his career entering the '70s (and his 70s). And then the miracle: Benny, nearing death, passes the lead in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys to Burns, who wins an Oscar and begins a second career at 80. Gottfried paints the artist's comeback years with compassion and insight. According to Gottfried, this last year has been a sad one, with ill health leading to cancellations of many 100th birthday tributes. This leaves 99 wonderful years of George Burns. It's not enough. The love Gottfried has for George Burns matches that of the reader, making this biography an occasion for laughter and misty eyes. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
NOBODY'S FOOL by Martin Gottfried
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

Show biz biographer Gottfried (All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, 1990, etc.) once again condescends to his subject. As usual, Gottfried has done a solid job of researching and crisply retelling the life story of Danny Kaye, born David Kaminski in 1913 to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. He capably situates Kaye, who began his career in the Catskills, at ``a historic moment [when] the low clowns of burlesque and the elegant monologuists of vaudeville...were being replaced by the cooler, more remote entertainers of radio and the movies.'' Kaye himself, though he exuded warmth onstage, was, in Gottfried's depiction, emotionally distant in his personal life, and he gained his greatest fame as a carefully nonethnic, childlike performer attuned to the mores of suburban, family-oriented postwar America—though he himself was thoroughly urbane. His stage successes in the early 1940s and such movie vehicles as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Hans Christian Andersen (1952) never really captured Kaye's unique combination of gifts; Gottfried rightly points to the sophisticated mÇlange of comic songs, soft-shoe dancing, and audience-pleasing patter in his nightclub act, which triumphed at the London Palladium in 1948, as more expressive of his abilities. Not that Gottfried appears to think much of those abilities; he quotes extensively from negative assessments of Kaye's work and is similarly free with bitchy comments from people who knew the entertainer, regaling us endlessly with stories of Kaye's ego, cruelty, and strained marriage with writer Sylvia Fine, depicted as a union of professional convenience. He does take time to convincingly refute Donald Spoto's much-ballyhooed claim that Kaye and Laurence Olivier were lovers, but other than that, no gossip is too mean-spirited to repeat. The author seems almost to relish Kaye's sad professional and personal decline before his death in 1987. Comprehensive—except for any spark of human sympathy. Read full book review >