The Book of the Week is “A Gift of Laughter” by Allan Sherman published in 1965. This is the autobiography of song parodist and co-creator of the TV show “I’ve Got a Secret.”
Sherman became most famous for the song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” which describes the humorous adventures of a kid in summer camp. President John F. Kennedy was heard to be humming his song, “Sarah Jackman” while walking through the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Some of Sherman’s other songs, such as “J.C. Cohen,” “Al ‘N’ Yetta” and “Harvey and Sheila” also captured Jewish stereotypes, but had American appeal.
In the book, Sherman provided bits of trivia on Hollywood of the 1950’s and 1960’s. When he had finally become rich and famous, he bought a house next door to Harpo Marx, with a rubber tree in the yard. When he was interviewing candidates to hire a secretary, he came across one who deliberately failed a typing test. She admitted to him she was a member of an “Unemployment Club.”
The goal was to stay jobless for the maximum membership duration, six months, at which time her unemployment benefits ran out, anyway. She was receiving $55 a week, which was pooled with benefits of eleven other people, who were renting a sprawling ranch house in the Hollywood Hills (that had a swimming pool), and a convertible car. Members engaged in sunbathing and skinny dipping, and practiced free love.
Sadly, Sherman died at 49 years old of heart disease, possibly due to his admittedly poor diet of Kraft macaroni and “cheese” dinners. He was survived by his college-sweetheart wife, a son and a daughter.
The Book of the Week is “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” by Suketu Mehta, published in 2004.
The author is a fiction writer and journalist who grew up in Bombay and Jackson Heights, New York. He discusses in intimate detail, the culture of Bombay (now called Mumbai), a city of 14 million people. Mehta also examines the lives of several Bombayites living in extreme situations, including an organized-crime detective and “mob” members, a strip club dancer and a club patron, a partial transsexual, and a Jain. He graphically depicts the activities of people living in the Bombay slums, and his own reasons for moving back and forth between India and New York.
He writes, “…because your family misses you. It’s the reason I’ve gone back, been pulled back, again and again…What I found in most of my Bombay characters was freedom… Most of them don’t pay taxes, don’t fill out forms. They don’t stay in one place or in one relationship long enough to build up assets… Surviving in a modern country involves dealing with an immense amount of paper.”
Mehta is torn between New York, in a country with modern conveniences (but with paperwork and financial worries) and Bombay, where his family lives (but with the stresses of simple survival– its poor or nonexistent sanitation, and rampant corruption that obstructs the attainment of even basic services, such as water and electricity.)
The extreme contrasts were interesting.
The Book of the Week is “Leading With My Chin,” the autobiography of Jay Leno. This is an amusing book, although the part in which he explains the secret to his success, is rather simple. It was tenacity: “…we would start lining up outside the clubs at two in the afternoon with hopes of getting onstage sometime after eleven that night… I’ve never been better at anything than anybody else… I plowed forward, slow and steady. Even if it meant sitting on curbs all day or sleeping on the back steps of comedy clubs all night.”