OFF STAGE by Betty Comden


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 As literate and witty as a Comden-and-Green lyric, the noted Broadway and Hollywood wordsmith's memoir concentrates on her non- working life, with a few nods to famous friends thrown in as a bonus. Comden's evocative account of growing up in Brooklyn during the 1920s captures a world in transition: A hallway light fixture has an electric bulb on the bottom and a gas fixture (``cheaper to run'') on top; her well-to-do grandfather still has nightmares about hiding from the Cossacks back in Russia; her relatives shake their head when Uncle David marries a 19-year-old flapper who smokes, wears red nail polish, and (worst of all) is Rumanian. As the lively anecdotes accumulate, we become acquainted with Comden's dignified, ladylike mother; her warm, nurturing father; and the author herself--smart, not so pretty, fascinated with words even as a child. The chapter on her late husband, Steve Kyle, is less compelling, though obviously heartfelt, and the obligatory sketches of buddies like Leonard Bernstein, Lauren Bacall, and James Jones seem rather perfunctory, though there is a marvelous, faintly malicious tale of Charlie Chaplin giving an impromptu performance with Comden at a party and feeling obliged to upstage her even in that casual setting. The author dulls the impact of genuinely funny lines like ``I got my decorator through my therapist. Doesn't everyone?'' by descending on occasion into archness; the fact that she discovered a largely French-speaking congregation at an Upper East Side synagogue hardly justifies the crack `` `Vous ne pouvez jamais revenir chez vous,' as Tomas Loup (Thomas Wolfe) once wrote.'' Her painful, honest depiction of son Alan's descent into drug addiction and eventual death from AIDS in 1990 is more representative of the book's better moments, as is her brisk chronicle, both amused and outraged, of the indignities her aging body has visited on her. Despite some glib patches, surprisingly sincere and moving. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-671-70579-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994