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In response to a negative review, Brooks wanted to tell the critic, “I meant no harm. I only wanted to entertain you.”...

A biography of America’s “self-proclaimed emperor of bad taste.”

McGilligan’s (Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, 2015, etc.) hefty tome about Mel Brooks (b. 1928), the director of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, isn’t exactly a hagiography. The author ably chronicles Brooks’ career arc from the Brooklyn kid born Melvin Kaminsky to the loudest member of Sid Caesar’s writing staff on NBC’s Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour in the 1950s to the driving force behind some of the most successful film comedies of his time—and the crassest, with their many fart, rape, and “fag” jokes. McGilligan also shows the ugly side of Brooks: the hard-driving businessman who berated actors when he didn’t like a performance, the disputes over writing credits that led to multiple litigations. Much of this material has been documented elsewhere—such as the story of Caesar dangling a young Brooks out a hotel window when Brooks wanted to go out for the evening (“Is that far enough?” Caesar shouted)—which makes the book overlong. In the second half, the author gets bogged down in the minutiae of Brooks' business deals, and the prose is occasionally peculiar or old-fashioned. For example, McGilligan repeatedly refers to Brooks’ first wife, Florence Baum, only as “Mrs. Brooks”; he does the same thing a couple of times with his second wife, Anne Bancroft, a far more famous figure than Baum. These choices are emblematic of the troubling tendency to represent women in biographies only in relation to the men in their lives. Nonetheless, McGilligan does a nice job dramatizing the insecurities that drove Brooks and offers entertaining anecdotes about Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, and Brooks’ other collaborators, who didn’t always speak favorably of him.

In response to a negative review, Brooks wanted to tell the critic, “I meant no harm. I only wanted to entertain you.” Readers can decide for themselves whether the Brooks who emerges in these well-researched yet sometimes-tiresome pages caused more joy than harm.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-256099-5

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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