Monday, 8 July 2019
The Newly Discovered Autobiography Of A Comic Genius
Marty Feldman was born on 8 July 1934 and died after a heart attack on 2 December 1982, aged 48. This autobiography was discovered 30 years after his passing. “None of his writing has been changed and all of his attachments have been included,” says Mark Flanagan, trustee of the Marty Feldman estate.
“I can never see myself as an old man, not because I don’t want to but because I just don’t feel my distance will be that far.”
“My looks are my comic equipment, and they are the right packaging for my job. Not the right packaging for a brain surgeon or the pilot of a 747, but I have the right packaging for a clown.”
I must admit I had forgotten about Marty Feldman but as soon as I was aware of this book and saw his distinctive features on the cover, a lot of very fond memories came flooding back. His wild and crazy TV shows were, in the main, big hits and at least half of his ten or so films were popular successes. He was always a writer first and then a reluctant performer when he was encouraged to take centre stage.
Marty Feldman was the son of Jewish immigrants and saw himself as a solitary child, a sort of odd-one-out as a kid in the war years when he, the city boy from the East End of London, was farmed out to country families as an evacuee. He left school at fifteen and worked in a Margate funfair before getting the showbiz bug writing and performing as part of a whacky variety trio. He developed a huge love for jazz and in his early years as a budding musician, he was considered to be the worst trumpet player in the world. His passion to learn and his devotion to jazz kept growing throughout his life. He got some gigs with bands and made some money but, more often than not he would have no idea where he was going to sleep or what he was going to eat on any given day or night. But, it seemed, nothing was going to get in the way of his independent spirit.
He had the good fortune to meet, befriend and eventually collaborate with Barry Took, the two occasional performers finding their niche as a brilliant writing team. They wrote for “The Army Game” and “Bootsie and Snudge” on television and “Round The Horne” on radio.
Marty Feldman became script editor on “The Frost Report” and one of his many classic sketches involved John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett doing the famous “I look down on him, I look up to him” sketch. He was firmly part of the group that became Monty Python and included John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Ian McShane amongst his closest pals.
His TV career as writer/performer hit gold with “Marty”, a series of sketches and was followed up with more of the same, pacy, crazy and very funny shows loved by millions. (There’s a ton of Marty Feldman stuff on YouTube.)
He moved to Hollywood with his wife Lauretta, “the love of my life”, and first with Gene Wilder and then with Mel Brooks, he found a new lease of life as an actor and a new level of fame worldwide in movies. He liked Los Angeles but found out fairly quickly that you are only as good as your last film’s box office receipts. His most famous role was as Igor (pronounced Eye-gor) in Young Frankenstein. He also featured in “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother”, “Silent Movie” and “The Last Remake of Beau Geste”. He died during the production of the pirate film “Yellowbeard”, a project that included his friends Graham Chapman, Peter Boyle, Peter Cook, Eric Idle and many others. His body was laid to rest in the Hollywood Hills Cemetery in a grave close to that of his comedy idol Buster Keaton.
This is a beautifully written book with a flowing narrative style, descriptive, funny in parts and told from the heart. Occasionally, the flow is paused for poems about love and life with all its distractions, foibles and beauty. On the whole it is a happy autobiography but it is difficult not to read it without a degree of sadness now that Marty Feldman is no longer with us. Towards the end of the book he gets more reflective about politics, religion and the absurdities of life. But the overriding features of his story are twofold; he was happy in his own skin as a clown and he loved his wife Lauretta to bits.
It is amazing and wonderful that Mark Flanagan not only found this book but also that he ensured it was published as a lasting tribute to Marty Feldman, a journeyman writer whose life’s path took him from the golden age of radio comedy in the 1950s to the British comedy explosion in the 1960s to the heights of Hollywood in the 1970s.
It is not exaggerating to say he was unique.