- Copertina rigida
- Editore: New York : Morrow; First Edition edizione (1976)
- Lingua: Inglese
- ISBN-10: 0688030343
- ISBN-13: 978-0688030346
- Peso di spedizione: 726 g
Smart Aleck : the Wit, World, and Life of Alexander Woollcott / by Howard Teichmann (Inglese) Copertina rigida – 1976
|Nuovo a partire da||Usato da|
Fine cloth copy in a near fine, very slightly edge-nicked and dust-dulled dw, now mylar-sleeved. Remains particularly and surprisingly well-preserved; tight, bright, clean and sharp-cornered. ; 334 pages; Description: 334 p. ,  leaves of plates : ill. ; 24 cm. Subjects: Woollcott, Alexander, 1887-1943. Authors, American --20th century --Biography. Theater critics --United States --Biography
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Among the high points of Smart Aleck are the aspects of his early life that to me seemed unlikely. His early life in semi-poverty was not nearly as surprising as his early life in a commune. That he was relatively un-athletic and picked on by his peers was no surprise. That he found a patron would help him attend Hamilton College was all but predictable. The author declares without reservation that Alexander Woollcott was a transvestite. More exactly he believes that he was a man of mostly indeterminate or at least minimal sexuality but with a preference for dressing up in women's clothing. That the men of Hamilton College would accept him as a drag queen seems to suggest a modern militancy about sexual identity that may not have existed over 100 years ago.
It was known to me that as a drama critic Woollcott's opinion was the published voice that could make or break new Broadway New York productions. That he would have had to work his way up with in the reporter's trade is obvious in retrospect but had not occurred to me before. Given his personal extravagances, prickly ego, and famous skills at the groaning board I would never have thought of him as a soldier serving in the front in World War I. His original service was as a private soldier in an ambulance unit where he would've been exposed if not to shell fire then certainly the bloody realities of trench warfare. After his promotion to sergeant it would appear his many friends pulled some strings and got him assigned to a then brand-new publication Stars & Stripes. As a reporter on this soldier's newspaper he would take himself to the battlefront with the same clarity of clarity that he would take himself to the finest restaurants in Paris. It would be during his military service that Woollcott and his friend George Kaufman would begin the card games that would later morph into the Algonquin Round Table.
It is likely that many important drama critics of his generation would've had a hand in promoting many of the careers that would become associated with Woollcott. He would claim the Marx Brothers as special protégés and Harpo Marx would become a lifelong friend. Woollcott was almost the sole critic to promote the play that would introduce Spencer Tracy. And while this list could go on for many more lines; Teichmann devotes little more than a paragraph to efforts by Woollcott to advance the career of a young black singer Paul Robeson.
For the rest, Woollcott was a large man and lived a large life. He would succeed in several media. Listing his many friends often read like name-dropping. This becomes a problem when Teichmann frequently assumes that you know the careers that go with the names.
The weakness to this book is its preference for the sharper retorts and cutting witticisms. The Round Table was famous for saber slash insults made by brilliant writers. It is fun to store up famous Woollcott jabs, but only towards the end to we get significant samples of his writing. The subtitle of Smart Alack is: The Wit, World and Life of Alexander Woollcott. All of these things are delivered. What is missing from the title, and more critically missing in the text are Woollcott's words.
It would have been interesting to have a few extended selections from the Woollcott keyboard. Especially those that demonstrated the various qualities Teichmann ascribes to Woollcott. It would have been interesting to contrast his early reports from the seamy side of New York City with his sometimes gushing reviews of performances by favored actors. A partial radio script would help to demonstrate the more mature writer, but also the differences he knew to be necessary in writing for the theater page and speaking to a live audience.
This is not an academic biography; this is a good thing for us non-academic readers. I also credit Teichmann with working to attempt neutrality about his subject. The result is readable, if overly larded with needless references to the man's weight and Buddha Belly. It is also too much of a name dropper book. These are petty complaints, but near dearth of original Woollcott material makes Smart Alack less than it could have been.
This charming book brings him back to life, as the witty, influential, narcistic man he must have been. Always in for a joke ('Guess which famous writer has his birthday today!' 'You, Aleck?' 'Close. It's Shakespeare.'), always ready to write a rotten review about a mediocre talent. I'm really glad I came across this book: it makes me appreciate Smart Aleck even more.