Glance into a tragic comic’s eye society
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