UNCLE MAME by Eric Myers
Kirkus Star

UNCLE MAME

The Life of Patrick Dennis

KIRKUS REVIEW

A moving and often hilarious account of the once-popular novelist who gave the world Auntie Mame and was a pioneer in American “High Camp” literature.

Dennis (christened Edward Everett Tanner III) was born in 1921 into a conservative upper-middle-class family in Evanston, Illinois. Signs that he was destined for a less conventional journey appeared early on when, to his stodgy and sotted father’s dismay, he showed great interest in costume design and theater and none whatsoever for athletics. After showing real heroism in WWII as an ambulance driver, Dennis found his way to glamorous postwar Manhattan. He found work easily enough, but his first big success lay a decade away with the publication of Auntie Mame (a novel—not, despite widespread belief, a biography), which was made into a successful Broadway play and movie (both starring Rosalind Russell). Dennis enjoyed success with such subsequent works as Little Me, Genius, and Tony—16 altogether and most with the same objective: skewering conventional mores and the pretentious boobs who flaunted them. He made millions, but spent or gave most of it away. After a breakdown, he confronted his homosexuality, reluctantly left his loving wife and two children, then led a rather wild and picaresque existence in Mexico and the US, finally ending up as a butler for McDonald’s chairman Ray Kroc (who never knew the true identity of his model servant). Stricken with inoperable cancer in 1976, Dennis returned to his family and died at home, still much loved by them and his many friends. Film publicist Myers seeks to restore Dennis’s place in literature and does so splendidly. He was given full access to family papers and interviewed as many of Dennis’s acquaintances as he could locate. He uses his research well, keeps speculation to a minimum, and, when employing psychological analyses, does so with a light touch, offering interpretations that are reasonable and believable. He also quotes generously from Dennis’s extensive correspondence—which is as amusing and scathing as his published work.

A superb biography: factual, informative, and—best of all—an absolute hoot.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-24655-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2000