Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Review: Remembering the Perfect Fool

As a longtime aficionado of classic TV and radio, I certainly knew the name of Ed Wynn (1886-1966), but not much more than the barest outline of his lengthy career. That's been corrected now that I've read Garry Berman's Perfect Fool: The Life and Career of Ed Wynn (BearManor Media, $19.95). A slim volume at just over 200 pages, Berman's book is nonetheless a well-written, thoroughly researched account that restores Wynn to his proper place as one of the biggest funnymen of his era. 

Berman's book covers Wynn's beginnings in vaudeville, his radio stardom as Texaco's Fire Chief, and his popular Broadway revues such as Hooray for What! A clown in the classic tradition, Wynn's comedy was aimed at the masses, yet even highbrow New York critics were helpless to resist its pure fun. (For a taste of Wynn's comedy style, here's a YouTube clip).

Unlike many radio comedians, Wynn wasn't unnerved by the emerging medium of television; in fact, he was eager for it to arrive, and had been so since the early 1930s. He recognized TV's capacity to showcase his visual comedy, and undertook his first regular series, CBS' The Ed Wynn Show, in 1949, a year or so before even video pioneers such as Groucho Marx, Burns and Allen, or Jack Benny. He won an Emmy for his television efforts, and also gave a number of Hollywood stars some of their first exposure to the new medium, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz prior to I Love Lucy. In the mid-1950s, with his comedy style seemingly falling out of favor, Wynn took the advice of his son Keenan and launched a second career as a dramatic actor in film and television, giving impressive performances in Requiem for a Heavyweight and The Diary of Anne Frank. 

Author Garry Berman is extremely well-versed in not only show business history, but also the inner workings of radio and television in the 1930s through the 1960s, and this informs his writing throughout this fine book. You can visit the author's website at www.garryberman.com.

(No need for the usual disclaimer today - bought my own copy at full price, OK?)

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