The Great Clowns of Broadway

The Great Clowns of Broadway

3.6 (5 ratings by Goodreads)
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A salute to the great comic actors and performers of the Broadway theater discusses stage careers of such notables as Fanny Brice, Jimmy Durante, Ed Wynn, Bert Lahr, and Beatrice Lillieshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 260 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 38.1mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones
  • 0195034716
  • 9780195034714

Review Text

Green (World of Musical Comedy, Encyclopedia of the Musical Film, etc.) is more a researcher than a writer or critic. So, while these brief studies of the Broadway careers of ten bygone musical/revue greats may lack style and insight, they do provide thorough documentation - with valuable reconstructions of (and excerpts from) legendary sketches, shticks, and numbers. Each chapter begins with an uninspired mini-essay on the clown's onstage personality and trademarks, then provides a paragraph or two of biographical background, and quickly proceeds to a show-by-show record - with quotes from reviews - of the Broadway career only. (You'll get no more than a sentence here about W. C. Fields' films or Jimmy Durante's TV stardom, for instance.) Aside from the inevitable discussion of Bert Lahr's fabled, much-annotated insecurities, the performers' personal lives remain virtually unexplored territory. There's little or no attempt to put the period comedy (circa 1925-50, for the most part) into any social, cultural, or theater-history context. Still, theater buffs will appreciate Green's detailed (if flatly written) evocations of un-recoverable Broadway highlights: the Yiddish-accented sketches and opera-singer parodies of plaintive Willie Howard (including "Pay the Two Dollars"); the circus specialties, absurdist monologues, and Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions of Joe Cook; the wacky inventions and virtual one-man shows of Ed Wynn, "the theatre's most disarming and amiable busybody"; Bobby Clark's classical clowning; plus the more familiar antics of Fanny Brice, Beatrice Lillie, Durante, Fields, and Lahr. Don't expect fresh perspectives here, then - and be prepared for repetitious cliches ("the audience howled"). But as a nostalgic source of song-lyrics, sketch excerpts (from both revues and musical-comedy books), stage "business," and other theater-history material (much of it still hilarious), this is a solid reference - complete with a 40-page appendix of full stage credits for each star. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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