Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two Comics and an Icon

John Cleese’s huge comedic influence has stretched across generations; his sharp irreverent eye and the unique brand of physical comedy he perfected with Monty Python, on Fawlty Towers, and beyond now seem written into comedy’s DNA. In this rollicking memoir, So, Anyway…, Cleese takes readers on a Grand Tour of his ascent in the entertainment world, from his humble beginnings in a sleepy English town and his early comedic days at Cambridge University (with future Python partner Graham Chapman), to the founding of the landmark comedy troupe that would propel him to worldwide renown.

Cleese was just days away from graduating Cambridge and setting off on a law career when he was visited by two BBC executives, who offered him a job writing comedy for radio. That fateful moment—and a near-simultaneous offer to take his university humor revue to London’s famed West End—propelled him down a different path, cutting his teeth writing for stars like David Frost and Peter Sellers, and eventually joining the five other Pythons to pioneer a new kind of comedy that prized invention, silliness, and absurdity. Along the way, he found his first true love with the actress Connie Booth and transformed himself from a reluctant performer to a world class actor and back again.

Twisting and turning through surprising stories and hilarious digressions—with some brief pauses along the way that comprise a fascinating primer on what’s funny and why—this story of a young man’s journey to the pinnacle of comedy is a masterly performance by a master performer.

In this engagingly witty, wise, and heartfelt memoir, Martin Short tells the tale of how a showbiz obsessed kid from Canada transformed himself into one of Hollywood's favorite funnymen, known to his famous peers as the "comedian's comedian."

Short takes the reader on a rich, hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking ride through his life and times, from his early years in Toronto as a member of the fabled improvisational troupe Second City to the all-American comic big time of Saturday Night Live, and from memorable roles in such movies as "Three Amigos" and "Father of the Bride" to Broadway stardom in "Fame Becomes Me" and the Tony-winning "Little Me".

He reveals how he created his most indelible comedic characters, among them the manic man-child Ed Grimley, the slimy corporate lawyer Nathan Thurm, and the bizarrely insensitive interviewer Jiminy Glick. Throughout, Short freely shares the spotlight with friends, colleagues, and collaborators, among them Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Gilda Radner, Mel Brooks, Nora Ephron, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Shaffer, and David Letterman.

But there is another side to Short's life that he has long kept private. He lost his eldest brother and both parents by the time he turned twenty, and, more recently, he lost his wife of thirty years to cancer. In I Must Say, Short talks for the first time about the pain that these losses inflicted and the upbeat life philosophy that has kept him resilient and carried him through.

In the grand tradition of comedy legends, Martin Short offers a show-business memoir densely populated with boldface names and rife with retellable tales: a hugely entertaining yet surprisingly moving self-portrait that will keep you laughing--and crying--from the first page to the last.

As he did in his bestselling biographies of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Clint Eastwood, Marc Eliot offers an exciting, groundbreaking new take on an American icon--the most legendary Western film hero of all time, John Wayne

An audience favorite and top box-office draw for decades, John Wayne symbolized masculinity, power, and patriotism, and inspired millions of Americans. Yet despite his popularity and success, he was unfairly dismissed as a "B" movie actor lacking elegance, creativity, range, and depth. American Titan challenges conventional wisdom and reevaluates Wayne's life and vital cinematic legacy, ultimately placing the man known as "Duke" among a select and brilliant pantheon of "actor auteurs"--artists whose consistency of style in their work reflects their personal creative vision.

In American Titan, Eliot demonstrates that Wayne possessed a distinct and remarkable vision rooted in his unique Midwestern and West Coast childhood that would become manifest in one of the most enduring screen personalities of all time: the elusive, stoic frontier loner. Wayne's heroic outsider also influenced a new generation of actors and filmmakers who would borrow from it to use in their own movies.

Drawing on his deep, extensive knowledge of Hollywood and film, Eliot contends that the primary driving force behind Wayne's extraordinary career and body of work was the result of his own ambitions and his collaborations with directors John Ford and Howard Hawks. Eliot offers as evidence the distinct personality that runs through Wayne's staggering 169 films, from Stage Coach and The Searchers to The Quiet Man and The Green Berets.

Setting Wayne's life within the sweeping political and social transformations that defined the nation, Eliot's masterly revisionist portrait is a remarkable in-depth look at a life that embodied the spirit of the twentieth century. What emerges is nothing less than a powerful understanding of and appreciation for a true American titan.

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