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The Wicked Wit of the West: The Last Great Golden-Age Screenwriter Shares the Hilarity and Heartaches of Working With Groucho, Garland, Gleason, Burns, Berle, Benny and Many More (Inglese) Copertina rigida – 17 gen 2009

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2 di 2 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle Mr. Rosenfeld, We Bought Your Son's Book! 29 novembre 2016
Di Donald P. Reed - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida Acquisto verificato
The Wicked Wit of The West: The Last Great Golden Age Screenwriter... [a memoir narrated by] Irving Brecher [1914-2008] as told to Hank Rosenfeld (2009 paperback)

A blurb inside "Wicked Wit": "Please buy my son's book. --- Norman Rosenfeld"


Irving Brecher, the humorist:

"Methuselah lived to be 900. But that's because in those days there were no doctors."
"Norma [his wife] and I were on our way... to services for a friend. And we got into an argument... a loud, disturbing quarrel... As I parked... we glared at each other. I said, 'You know, you take all the fun out of a funeral.' End of quarrel."
"There was Groucho [Marx], still in his familiar crouch, but with his pants down, holding his belt and stumbling through a clearing" in the woods of the Wyoming Grand Tetons, altitude 10,000 feet & diagonal miles away from any facility with indoor plumbing.

Groucho: "Don't look now, but is there a bear following me?"

"Fully visible at the edge of the overgrowth was a brown bear," --- the very same one that had flushed Groucho out of the brush, --- who, after dancing around, retreated into the woods.

"Groucho... breathing hard: 'I should have locked the door before I sat down.' "


All that I had intended to do while reading the review was to browse through the pages looking for margin notes. Before I knew it, all of "Wit" was read again, twice now, appreciating Irv's stories, his sincerity & candor, the chemistry shared by the co-authors, even the mistakes.*

This was a welcome reminder of the joy of reading, after having spent three days getting irked while having to rearrange the order of dozens of newspaper articles in a massive anthology (so as to be able to read them in chronological order).

Books such as "Wit" also become maps of the histories of writers & their lives. Unexpected things turned up.

Actress June Gayle. Oscar Levant's wife, she (glamorous, cold) surfaces in the story of how Irv got stiffed out of $500 (huge money in the 1930's) by "Hoot" Gibson, inept aviator & movie cowboy.

This reminiscence eventually led me to something that had nothing to do with the book, a brilliant obituary of Jerry Tallmer (related by marriage to June & Oscar), who passed away in 2014.

His theatre reviews in the Village Voice & New York Post from 1955-1993 were widely admired:

“And since a cultural organ operating out of the Village must have a critic who reviews plays, Jerry took on that job, as well. And in no time, in a voice and style that was not lofty, not all-knowing, not out to prove how superior the critic was to the play under review, Jerry introduced openness to theater criticism. … He helped invent the kind of voice that, within a few years, almost everyone was trying out in one form or another. Talking to the reader as if he’s a friend. He was my friend..."
(artist/cartoonist Jules Feiffer).

Who has heard of Gene Shalit's "Great Hollywood Wit," full of "Hollywood Wisecracks, Zingers..."? I hadn't, until now. Book ordered!

Many such discoveries await inquisitive readers, given the golden banter & resources of "Wit."

Thanks, Hank.


The cover illustration of Groucho & his fellow actors/comedians is by Drew Friedman, an artist whose robust artwork ran on the front pages of the New York Observer, back in the 1990s when it was a formidable newspaper.

We bypass the sad story of its descent into intellectual Hades & note that its print editions have now been suspended, in all likelihood forever.

When one becomes president, such ventures become instantly expendable. That, however, is moot. The paper's owner is the son-in-law of Donald Trump. No doubt, it was anticipated that the paper would from now on be persona non grata at Manhattan newsstands.


*The mistakes.

--- Editor Harold Ross wasn't the owner of the New Yorker magazine & he could not possibly have attended a party thrown in honor of Irving & Norma's wedding - circa 1983 (p. 261 ). He had passed away in 1951.

The mistake is especially amusing since Ross passionately hated & conducted an infamous, decades-long running feud with the magazine's actual owner, Raoul Fleischmann. Getting these two mixed up seems an impossibility. Yet, there it is.

At any rate, I hope the host forgave Ross for not showing up.

--- It is also doubtful that playwright Mark Connolly was at the party, as stated by Brecher, for Mark had died in December of 1980.

(Prior to that, Connolly was in quite poor health. Most of us who have read Marc's semi-comatose memoir, "Voices Offstage," published in 1968, figure that the author had passed away before he wrote it.)

--- The most obvious fumble --- there's no index! How can this possibly be?

Seven years went by as the interviews were conducted & the chapters of the book assembled.

How much longer would the creation of an index have taken, a week?

Here's an example of why indexes are more important than who wins the World Series (sorry, Chicago!).

This is from the obituary that follows: "His most notable achievement there [at MGM] was his Oscar-nominated screenplay (shared with Fred F Finklehoffe) for Vincente Minnelli's 'Meet Me in St Louis' (1944)."

I had already read "Wit." I knew that Irv had emphatically stated that he was the sole author of the "St. Louis" screenplay. No doubt about it, none, he said it.

That's not good enough. Without an index, it was impossible to quickly locate & verify Irv's quote, "I didn't write it with anyone else" (p. 135).

Had I not drifted into reading the book twice, I never would have found it.

Really, who has the time to thumb through 317 pages to locate one quote? Why should anyone have to?

Had I not drifted into reading the book twice, I never would have found it.



Next up: Brecher's obituary, which will provide the biographical details all sane reviewers avoid rewriting if given the glorious option of tacking the writer's obit at the end of a review.

Unfortunately, Wolf Kaufman once again is a ghost.

It was Wolf who made it possible for Brecher to eventually end up in Hollywood, but more immediately, be able to pay his rathouse rent in the Bronx & eat (an option available in all five boroughs) by getting manna-from-heaven work as the gag writer for comedian Milton Berle, a hilarious, narcissistic maniac on the brink of superstardom at the age of twenty-five.

From Elliot Paul's "The Last Time I Saw Paris" & other, much less substantive sources, I know that Kaufman primarily worked as a journalist & publicist (who pays you & how much is the difference).

Kaufman's brief foray in the book world (possibly more than once) resulted in "Call Me Nate," amusing, oft-clever fictional stories about a Broadway producer & Hollywood agent in the 1940s-50s (Exposition Press, 1951). It contains a charming Introduction by Elliot Paul.

Buy it if you can find it.


The Obit:

Guardian (UK) 11 March 2009 Last modified 23 March 2009 (copied 10/08/16)

Most good American comedy writers and wits would be the first to admit that nothing today can compare with the glory days of Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, George Kaufman, SJ Perelman, Oscar Levant and others too humorous [great pun!] to mention.

Among this august company could be placed Irving Brecher, who has died aged 94, although Milton Berle once joked: "As a writer, Irving Brecher really has no equals. Superiors, yes."

However, the quip was probably written by Brecher himself - he wrote a lot of Berle's material. Brecher was also credited with the screenplay of two Marx Brothers films, At the Circus (1939) and Go West (1940).

Since his youth, he had been a confirmed Marxist and enjoyed performing his Groucho routine at parties. "I thought he was the funniest man in the world," he recalled. "When I was asked by MGM producer Mervyn LeRoy to do a picture for the Marx Brothers, I couldn't believe it."

Brecher was born in the Bronx. At 19, after a brief stint covering high school sports for a local newspaper, he took a job as an usher at a Manhattan cinema. To fuel his ambition to write for his favourite comedians, he began sending one-liners to columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan, who often used them.

Knowing of Berle's self-perpetuated reputation as a joke-stealer, he placed an advertisement in Variety, reading: "Positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them," with the telephone number of the movie theatre where he was working.

Berle phoned him straight away, saying: "If you're so damn smart, be over at the Capital Theater tonight, because I'm being held over for the third week - and bring some jokes." This led to Brecher being employed to write sketches for Berle's shows.

In 1937, Brecher moved to Hollywood and began working as an uncredited script doctor on comedy sequences such as those for Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz (1939). This led later to Groucho calling Brecher the Wicked Wit of the West - the title of his autobiography, which has just been published.

Then came the Marx Brothers movies. "For both pictures, they stuck to the script," Brecher said later. "They were tough jobs. No one had ever written a Marx Brothers movie by himself. They generally had five or six writers. And I paid the price. I wound up with a tic."

In At the Circus, Brecher gave Groucho one of his best lines. Playing a trapeze artist, Eve Arden stuffs a wad of bank notes that belongs to the circus into her bra. Groucho turns to the camera and says: "There's got to be some way of getting the money back without getting in trouble with the Hays office [the censor]."

In the same film, there was another risqué wise-crack when Groucho, as shyster lawyer J Cheever Loophole, says: "I don't know what I'm doing here, when I could be at home in bed with a hot toddy. That's a drink!"

In Go West, the confidence trickster S Quentin Quale (Groucho, who else?), says: "Lulubelle, it's you! I didn't recognise you standing up." In the same film, Quale remarks: "I'd have thrashed him to within an inch of his life, but I didn't have a tape measure."

Brecher also came up with many of the films' sight gags, including the scene in At the Circus when Chico and Harpo search the strongman's room for stolen money while he is asleep.

Brecher then joined the famed Arthur Freed unit at MGM, which produced some of the studio's best musicals. His most notable achievement there was his Oscar-nominated screenplay (shared with Fred F Finklehoffe) for Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St Louis (1944).

It was Brecher who persuaded a reluctant 22-year-old Judy Garland (who did not want to play another teenager) to take the part. It was also Brecher who indicated in the script where he thought songs should go, particularly his instinct about the Trolley Song.

"I was writing the script, and when I came to the end of that scene, I felt that this was a spot that would be good for a song."

But Brecher, who also wrote Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief (1945) for Fred Astaire, did not get on with the domineering Freed. "He couldn't take any disagreement. If you disagreed with him, he'd go crazy," he recalled.

Brecher, who had created a radio comedy series, The Life of Riley, which had been running successfully for some years from 1941, decided to adapt it for television, starring Jackie Gleason. The series continued with William Bendix, after Gleason left the show, from 1953 to 1958.

Brecher wrote and directed a rather feeble feature film version in 1949 with Bendix in the title role.

He went on to direct two other features, Somebody Loves Me (1952), a rags-to-riches Technicolor biopic of the vaudeville star Blossom Seely (Betty Hutton), and Sail a Crooked Ship (1961), a rather leaden comedy with Robert Wagner.

His last screenplay was Bye Bye Birdie (1963), which he wittily adapted from the Broadway musical.

But Brecher later became disillusioned with the film industry. "Today, they're making movies that cost a lot, but they're not making them out of love. These people today are bankers, brokers, agents, whatever they are... I'm grateful that I had a shot at a time when... movies were made by people who loved movies."

During the Writers Guild of America strike of 2007, he made a video in which he urged the writers not to settle. "Since 1938, when I joined what was then the Radio Writers Guild, I have been waiting for the writers to get a fair deal. I'm still waiting. As Chester A Riley would have said, 'What a revoltin' development this is!' But he only said it because I wrote it."

Brecher is survived by his second wife and three stepchildren.

Irving Brecher, screenwriter, born 17 January 1914; died 17 November 2008
5.0 su 5 stelle I am a good friend of Hank 18 gennaio 2017
Di Ridge Tolbert - Pubblicato su
Formato: Formato Kindle Acquisto verificato
Disclaimer: I am a good friend of Hank. Also, Irv paid me to read drafts of the book to him so he could make comments to me to pass along to Hank.
I read the book when it was newly published just like an ordinary reader, someone who relishes tales of Hollywood past and present. I loved it. I could hear Irv's wisecracking voice and Hank's softer humor. Don't you just love a history book with photographs? I do. But mostly this book is funny. Two funny guys together. One old guy with lots of tales and a younger guy egging him on. And the tales told, oh my. Having lived in Los Angeles for many years I knew the locations and as a film lover I knew the movies even though much of the story happens long before there was a me.
And now I am reading it once again in Kindle form. Hank asked me to look it over and let him know that the formatting, the look and feel of the book, was right. It is. Plus, I am having a great time once again immersed in old Hollywood. Even knowing all the stories and punchlines it is still a marvelous time in my head in these uncertain times. If you like funny writing, if you like Hollywood history, if you like reading on your Kindle, then buy the book and sit down by your fireplace for a very good time. Be prepared to laugh.
2 di 2 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle The Wicked Wit of the West - Groucho Marx 17 maggio 2015
Di T. G. Vellini - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina flessibile Acquisto verificato
Name another Man who single-handedly wrote TWO Marx brothers Movies. Who wrote the first Television situation Comedy? Wrote scores of movies. Wrote material for Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason to name a couple. Irving Brecher is probably one of the Funniest Men who ever lived, and yet few have heard of him. A wonderful book full of storiues and adventures. Kudos to Mr. Rosenfeld for gathering these priceless stories before it was too late. If you like Comedy and Comedy writing you will enjoy this volume.
1 di 1 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
4.0 su 5 stelle Brecher's moment to shine is the reader's golden opportunity. 7 marzo 2009
Di Joe Hamilton - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina flessibile Acquisto verificato
It seems like Irving Brecher was involved in every possible facet of entertainment in the "Golden Age". Vaudeville, radio, MGM musicals, television, stand-up comedy, he was not just there, he was creating some of the best we've got.

This uniquely formatted book is his chance to step out and have some spotlight on his face and both he and the reader deserve it. It's an effortless read, warm, respectful but extremely candid, and a must for anyone who's ever wanted to know what it was like, really like to be in the thick of the entertainment industry in a bygone era. Yes, you'll get those terrific cameos you're buying the book for, but the unexpected treat is the opportunity to hear Brecher's story, to get to know him, respect him, and appreciate his warmth, fortitude, kindness, and of course his humor. You'll close the book knowing more about Garland, Groucho, Gleason, Benny, Benny, Burns, and most importantly, Brecher. I'm sure that like myself, you'll be grateful he was here.
4.0 su 5 stelle Enjoyable. 5 gennaio 2017
Di Joe Stuntebeck - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina flessibile Acquisto verificato
Very enjoyable. Mr. Brecher has some stories I have never heard before and has some interesting insight about working with Groucho, Judy garland and Milton Berle.