TAKE MY LIFE, PLEASE!

``I'm so old that when I order a three-minute egg here [at the Friars Club], they make me pay up front.'' Henny Youngman (Take My Wife...Please!: My Life and Laughs, 1972) is now 86 and still ``the King of the One-Liners,'' as he was dubbed by Walter Winchell (uh, some time ago). ``I don't have any enemies—I've outlived them all...Take my life, please. It's all been a big mistake. Even at 86, I still don't know what the hell happened.'' Now that Sadie, his wife of 57 years, is gone, Youngman is ready to tell stories he couldn't before. Born in London, he was raised in Brooklyn: ``I knew I was born to the stage when my first-grade teacher picked up my option for 26 weeks.'' His father was an opera buff, hounded him to practice his violin. His first job was fiddling to silent films in his uncle Morris's movie house—no pay, but he was fired anyway. For quick cash, he fiddled on the Staten Island ferry, began cribbing jokes from vaudeville comics. After forming his own band, he became a tummler (noisy emcee, gagster, scenic designer, electrician, busboy, schmoozer who danced and flirted with unattractive women) on the borscht belt in the Catskills: ``You schticked just to survive.'' Soon he found himself befriended by Milton Berle and doing insult humor to gangsters in speak-easies (``This place was so rough the hatcheck girl's name was Rocco''). Among his more dismal tales is one about mobster Waxey Gordon asking Youngman to hold his automatic pistol, then following a waitress into the Lido Venice's kitchen and raping her on the floor. Always a bum to his mother-in-law, Youngman went on to perfect the mother-in-law joke: ``I just got back from a pleasure trip. I drove my mother-in-law to the airport.'' No match for George Burns but socko about the laws of comedy and show-biz. Nice for shut-ins. (Eight pages of b&w photographs- -not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 1991

ISBN: 0-688-07744-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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