The Book of the Week is “Piaf” by Simone Bertaut, published in 1969. This is Bertaut’s biography of her sister, Edith Piaf. They shared the same father, and both grew up in Paris in the nineteen teens and twenties, with nary a formal education.
Edith spent her early childhood in a brothel whose occupants acted as her surrogate mothers, because her biological mother never cared much for her. However, her father was an artist and street performer, who took her with him as soon as she was old enough to sing so he could earn enough money to survive. Fortunately, she had incredible natural talent. Simone also accompanied her father on his rounds after Edith had left him, but she could only do some simple acrobatics. At fifteen years old, Edith took twelve year old Simone into her employ, and Edith embarked on her quest for fame and fortune as a singer.
The inseparable sisters endured many hardships before Edith achieved fame. Throughout her life, the strong-willed, bossy Edith fell in and out of love with numerous men, some of whom she made into singing stars. Read the book to learn about her antics with them, and other aspects of her edgy existence in the fast lane.
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.