Engaging and well-documented recognition of four women’s significant impact on the emerging TV medium.



The author of Seinfeldia and other books on pop culture explores the early days of TV through the efforts of four innovative women.

Entertainment writer and TV historian Armstrong looks back at the careers of four women whose contributions helped shape many of the formats popular today, including talk shows, sitcoms, and soap operas. Producer, writer, and actor Gertrude Berg tenaciously battled networks and sponsors to get The Goldbergs, her long-running radio series about a Jewish family living in the Bronx, to TV in 1949 and to keep the show running through the mid-1950s. Irna Phillips created several dramatic radio serials and “conceived the soap opera, including its defining tropes,” and her series, Guiding Light, became “the longest-running scripted program in broadcast history”—72 years on radio and TV. Betty White was among the first women to write, produce, and star on her own talk show and comedy series, yet her efforts to assert creative control over these early shows were increasingly curbed by NBC. Talented jazz musician and civil rights activist Hazel Scott faced perhaps the toughest roadblocks. In 1950, she was the first Black American to host a popular evening variety show, but her TV career was unfairly curtailed by false accusations from the House Un-American Activities Committee. Though their backgrounds, talents, and successes were distinct, each of these women faced similar pressures within the conservative, White male–dominated environment of the 1950s. “The white men of the Eisenhower era would take over and erase women’s legacies in television,” laments the author. “The women would have to fight for their basic career survival, and to defend any life choices that deviated from the nuclear family norm: remaining single and child-free, like Betty White…or raising children without a father, like Irna Phillips.” Though Armstrong repeats some pieces of information over the course of the narrative, her history is fresh and welcome.

Engaging and well-documented recognition of four women’s significant impact on the emerging TV medium.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297330-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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