Glance into a tragic comic’s eye so­ci­ety

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

THIRTY THREE years af­ter the death of the com­edy writer and per­former Marty Feld­man, read­ers of this “newly dis­cov­ered au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of a comic ge­nius” should take heed of an early warn­ing in it that “no­body’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy tells the whole truth… you lie about some­thing you know about to make it more in­ter­est­ing.”

But there is still much can­dour in Feld­man’s orig­i­nal ma­te­rial, which was res­cued from his widow’s at­tic and tran­scribed by Mark Flanagan, night­club owner and fam­ily friend.

This cor­nu­copia of ran­dom scrib­bling, fam­ily pho­tos, Mil­li­ganesque po­ems, philo­soph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal mus­ings and insight into writ­ing com­edy ex­plains Feld­man’s mag­pie-like mind.

His unique and mis­chievous phys­iog­nomy,broughtabout­by­athy­roid­con­di­tion, is high­lighted through­out and it is this to which he as­cribes his skewed view of life: “I have an eyE that looks the op­po­site way from the other but why should we not have an eyE that can see all around us?”

Born in Lon­don’s East End in 1934, the grand­child of em­i­grants from East­ern Europe, his de­scrip­tions of his tra­di­tional and penu­ri­ous Jewish back­ground, mis­cre­ant be­hav­iour at school and the reg­u­lar beat­ings by an­ti­semitic school­boys are the most mov­ing.

Hav­in­gleft­school, the would-be horn player ran with a bo­hemian crowd of be­bop­pers, Parisian gang­sters, junkies and show­biz mis­fits, abu­sive dwarves and nude acts. Feld­man was a re­bel­lious an­ar­chist, who ad­mit­ted to an overindul­gence of drink and drugs and that, “be­ing a mis­fit has al­ways suited me.” Later, when he dis­cov­ered his pro­fes­sional forte, the Bafta-win­ning Feld­man was re­spon­si­ble for some of the na­tion’s favourite com­edy: he co-wrote the hugely­suc­cess­ful­ra­dioseries RoundtheHorne, the­fol­low-upto Be­yond Our Ken (writ­ten and cre­ated by my fa­ther, Eric Mer­ri­man); and the oft-re­peated com­edy sketch about class, “I know my place”, for the Frost Re­port; as well as the “FourYork­shire­men” sketch for At Last the 1948 Show, which was for ever linked to Monty Python.

In 1970, Marty, with his wife, Lau­retta, moved to Los An­ge­les to ap­pear in Mel Brooks’s Young Franken­stein. His dream of “making films with big-time peo­ple” had come true and he ini­tially achieved the global suc­cess he so de­sired, al­though sub­se­quent movie projects proved to be less suc­cess­ful and Feld­man strug­gled with the Hol­ly­wood life­style.

De­spite be­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing read, the book would have ben­e­fited from some ed­i­to­rial in­ter­ven­tion and ret­ro­spec­tive ob­jec­tiv­ity. The au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is per­haps bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ated if read in con­junc­tion with Robert Ross’s fine bi­og­ra­phy of the per­former.

Feld­man’spre­ma­ture­death­inMex­ico City in 1982 still re­mains shrouded in mystery.He­suf­fered­from­man­icde­pres­sio­n­andtherew­ere­ru­mour­sof asui­cide at­tempt. Ex­ces­sive drug use and even food poi­son­ing were among ex­pla­na­tions of the cause of the mas­sive heart at­tack that killed him.

One of the most poignant lines in the book is in a let­ter from Spike Mil­li­gan to Lau­retta shortly af­ter Feld­man’s pre­ma­ture death: “If life is like a game of cards, some­bodyis­cheat­ing.”An­dit’struethat, in­Mar­tyFeld­man’sown­pok­er­hand,the one-eYED Jacks were al­ways wild. An­drew Mer­ri­man is an au­thor and scriptwriter

IM­AGES PHOTO: GETTY

Marty Feld­man

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