The Book of the Week is “Serling, the Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man” by Gordon F. Sander, published in 1992. This is a biography of Rodman Serling, the television writer best known for “The Twilight Zone.”
Serling, born in December 1924, had traumatic experiences as a soldier in WWII. Prior to creating “The Twilight Zone” he penned “Requiem For a Heavyweight,” a drama about a professional boxer aired on the TV show, “Playhouse 90” in October1956. By early 1957, Serling had moved his wife and daughter from Westport, Connecticut to a mansion with a swimming pool in Beverly Hills, California.
Serling was a chain smoker. emotionally troubled for various reasons. One reason was that once the TV industry got its financial sea legs, it began churning out a high volume of lowbrow entertainment. That is why, during his writing career, Serling, an intellectual idea man, switched back and forth between television and movies.
Read the book to learn how. through the decades, Serling coped with radical changes in the profit-making structures and popularity of different genres of television.
The Book of the Week is “First Cameraman” by Arun Chaudhary, published in 2012. This volume describes the job done by the author– the first-ever videographer of the President of the United States (POTUS).
The main purpose of gathering footage of the president at work is to record history (and show it off in his presidential library). During his laborious, stressful, four-plus years in Washington D.C., Chaudhary created, produced and posted a weekly, show called “West Wing Week” for the world to see on YouTube. It summed up the POTUS’ activities of the previous week.
The author emphasized that he was not a journalist, but a supplementary source of information on American politics starting in 2007 with Barack Obama’s campaign and presidency. “Once upon a time, the government counted on the press… But these days, technical innovations have greatly reduced the government’s reliance on them.” Clearly, visual communication is replacing print, and the introduction of mobile devices has allowed more and more people to use it, not necessarily wisely. The author related that there were still some scenes he was told not to include in his videos, as they were un-presidential. However, the president’s taking of “selfies” has shown how relaxed political mores have become.
Read the book to find out more about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Chaudhary’s position.
The Book of the Week is “Psychedelic Bubble Gum” by Bobby Hart, published in 2015. This is the autobiography of a singer/songwriter.
Hart started his career in 1958, at eighteen years old. He was signed to a management/recording artist contract, but he had to “pay to play.” It cost him $400– a lot of money in those days– for the privilege of recording, with other musicians, “A” and “B” sides of two 45-rpm records. His producer did hire top-notch talent, however.
In the early 1960’s, every weekend, Hart played music at high school auditoriums around southern California with already-famous groups such as Jan and Dean, the Righteous Brothers, the Coasters and the Beach Boys. He wasn’t paid for it, but he had to do it in exchange for the promotion of his records in Los Angeles.
This blogger was a bit perturbed by the author’s factually erroneous line, “… in the upscale New York City suburb of Riverdale.” The author’s producer’s Manhattan office contained numerous cubicles occupied by singer-songwriters, including Hart and his songwriting partner, Tommy Boyce. They cooperated well and weren’t credit-grabbers. In 1964, he and Boyce wrote a song for Jay Black & the Americans. He got 1/3 of a cent per record sold, because his two co-writers got royalties, too.
Read the book to learn how he came to co-write songs for The Monkees (who sold more records than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined) and The Partridge family, what transpired when he and his partner hired an aggressive manager, and how he built a successful recording and performing career.
The Book of the Week is “What’s So Funny?” by Tim Conway with Jane Scovell, published in 2013. This is the comedian’s autobiography. An only child born in December 1933 to an Irish father and Romanian mother, he grew up in a suburb of Cleveland. The former groomed horses and the latter made slipcovers for sofas at a time they were becoming popular in American living rooms. Conway is best known for acting on the Carol Burnett Show.
Conway started gaining experience in an entertainment career in his mid-20’s, at a Cleveland radio station. When he had “made it” on TV, he performed material he had written himself. In the early 1960’s, Steve Allen, the late-night talk-show host, told Conway to change his first name from Tom to Tim, because there was another performer named Tom Conway, so he did.
Read the book to learn of the antics Conway used to break into show business in his generation, and of the characters who populated his life.
The Book of the Week is “Trouble Man” by Steve Turner, published in 1998. This is a biography of Marvin Gaye. His father, a Pentecostal preacher for the House of God church, and violent drunk, was the third oldest of thirteen surviving siblings, born in October 1914.
Gaye was born in April 1939. His full name was Marvin Pentz Gaye II. “His Motown image was still that of a polite, handsome black man who believed in fidelity, success and family life… like his father, Marvin was misogynistic. The function of women, he believed, was to serve and obey men.”
Unfortunately, his life spiraled downward into drug addiction and promiscuity, not unlike another famous and popular peforming artist of a later generation– Richard Pryor. Read the book to learn the details.
The Book of the Week is “Dean & Me” by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan, published in 2005. This is a career memoir of one half of the super-successful comedy team, “Martin and Lewis.”
Starting in the mid-1940’s, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis did live shows of banter, singing and slapstick, and performed in movies, on recordings and on TV and radio. They hobnobbed with “The Rat Pack”– other night-club and casino comedians and singers who included Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., in the late 1950’s.
Read the book to learn about Lewis’ complex, love-hate relationship with Martin, Lewis’ later solo career, and the nature of American comedic entertainment in the mid-twentieth century.
The Book of the Week is “Sesame Street Dad” by Roscoe Orman, published in 2006. This is a general overview of Orman’s performance history in theater, in film and on television, and a comprehensive listing of the famous people with whom he worked. It reads more like a curriculum vitae than a memoir, but it is well organized in chronological order and has a comprehensive index.
The book is somewhat of a bragfest, and the author writes as though he is at a job interview. One section even tells of his encounters with U.S. first ladies who visited the set of Sesame Street. He also discusses how, in recent years, funding has been reduced significantly for that unique educational program, which is on public television. The show has suffered even more budget reductions of late, due to resource-rich, dumbed-down competition from cable channels.
Orman was luckily afforded mentors after he graduated high school in the early 1960’s. He took acting, singing and dancing lessons. He did summer stock theater, and joined a troupe– Free Southern Theater– that presented civil-rights related shows in the Deep South. However, jealousy among this and other acting groups generated competition rather than cooperation in the black theater community. Marijuana and cocaine also added to their problems.
The author started playing the character, “Gordon” on Sesame Street in 1974. The TV show had an anomalous shooting schedule, so its cast and crew were permitted to do other projects in the long off-season. Orman made extra money by making celebrity appearances via the American Program Bureau and later, Paul Jacob Productions. He was easily recognized by viewers as Gordon, but since Sesame Street is a children’s show with a mix of puppets and humans of all ages, the names of its performers are neither as well known nor is their acting as talked about as those of a long-running hit show comprised of adults.
Read the book to learn of the historical reference points in Orman’s life, in his quest for self-discovery and artistic growth, that he wants to “… pass along to my children and their fellow ‘hip-hop-generation-Xers.’ “
The Book of the Week is “Home” by Julie Andrews, published in 2008. This memoir tells of Andrews’ life until just after she turned 27 years old.
The author found her talent and passion as a singer with her parents when she was ten. They traveled around England performing, and even got to sing for the royal family. It was not all fun and games, however, as her parents split, and found new lovers. Her stepfather and mother devolved into alcoholism. As a teenager, she was under pressure to financially support them, plus care for her younger half-siblings. Her education fell by the wayside as a consequence.
Read the book to learn the series of events that led to Andrews’ starring in various hit shows through the decades, and about her experiences in show business.
The Book of the Week is “Rickles’ Book” by Don Rickles with David Ritz, published in 2007. Rickles was a stand-up comedian and movie actor. He developed a reputation for insult comedy, or “roasting.” This is a book of anecdotes of his experiences in show business.
Rickles once replaced Lenny Bruce at a night club in Los Angeles because the owners considered Bruce too offensive. Rickles’ manager “…came out of that era when a man’s word was his bond and loyalty was everything… like any savvy promoter who came up in the thirties and forties, Joe had connections outside formal show business. That was the way of the world. Without those connections, you never left the dock, with them, you sailed.”
Read the book to learn of Rickles’ adventures with various celebrities.
The Book of the Week is “Life Itself” by Roger Ebert, published in 2011. This is the autobiography of an American movie critic.
Born in the autumn of 1942, Ebert grew up in Urbana, Illinois. He started his journalism career while still in high school. He attended graduate school in the mid-1960’s to avoid the Vietnam draft. It was by chance that he was assigned to write movie reviews, and later on, team up with Gene Siskel.
Ebert inherited a self-destructive tendency from his parents. “After my father was told he had lung cancer, he switched to filter-tip Winstons… She [Ebert’s mother] continued to smoke, and when she was on oxygen would remove the tube to have a cigarette.” Ebert himself became an alcoholic. In 1979, he stopped drinking and joined AA.
The author writes of the culture of his generation. During elementary school summers, “The lives of kids were not fast-tracked…” They would ride their bicycles, mow lawns, open a Kool-Aid stand, or listen to the radio. Movie theaters were one of the few places that had air conditioning.
The author’s take on today’s movie dialogue is: “…the characters have grown stupid… get their laughs by their delivery of four-letter words.”
Read the book to learn the details of Ebert’s life and times.