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HONEST, ABE by Abe Burrows Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown

Yes, Abe Burrows did write that touching love song, ""The Girl With the Three Blue Eyes."" But no, he didn't write ""If I Had My Life to Live Over Again, I'd Live It Over a Delicatessen""--Fred Allen just said that he did, back in the Forties when both Fred and Abe were big in radio. And, surprisingly, though most people today think of Abe as the scripter of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed, as well as Play Doctor supreme, his pre-Broadway careers in broadcasting provide some of the most endearing moments in this semi-endearing autobiography. Abe started out as a bright kid from Brooklyn writing gags in his spare time from a job selling garment labels on commission; soon he was fully employed in N.Y./Hollywood radio, prot‚g‚ of radio pro Ed Gardner, the ""brilliant primitive"" with whom he created Duffy's Tavern (after a stint with The Rudy Vallee Show, where his duties included keeping John Barrymore conscious enough to go on). Other radio/early-TV jobs as writer and performer followed; so did Abe's career as propagandist for baldness and party/caf‚ singer of silly songs. But theater came late--not till a show called Guys and Dolls needed a new book writer who could be Runyonesquely funny: ""not too funny,"" admonished songwriter Frank Loesser, while surly taskmaster-director George S. Kaufman (""my Professor of the Science of Turning Comical Sows' Ears into Theatrical Silk Purses"") demanded better and better jokes, deriding Loesser's abundant score (""Good God, do we have to do every number this son-of-a-bitch ever wrote?""). Nonetheless, G & D was a super-hit, and Abe went on to write and direct (Can-Can, Cactus Flower) and discreetly doctor shows in trouble--""not as many as I'm given credit for."" His story loses steam after Guys & Dolls, however (though it is interesting to learn that the How To Succeed denouement was inspired by the Bay of Pigs); and, throughout, the wit and savvy are dampened a bit by Abe's tetchy grumblings about today's show-biz and by his frequent moroseness. Still--a distinctive multi-media memoir dotted with dashing anecdotes and some Big Moments in show-biz history.