eye marty

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1982, at the absurdly early age of 48, the comedy writer and actor Marty Feldman died. Thirty years later, after his beloved wife Lauretta passed away, this autobiography was discovered in her attic.

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED: 08:59, Fri, Nov 13, 2015
eye marty

According to the introduction, this book is exactly as he wrote it. With his weirdly bulging eyes (or eyEs as he always referred to them) staring in different directions, Marty was unmistakable. His face, you might say, was born to do comedy yet he was not born with that face. As the photographs in this book show, he grew up as a good-looking Jewish boy in London’s East End.

The question of how his eyes managed to grow faster than the rest of him is mentioned in the book but never answered. On every other point about his life, beliefs, personality and loves he is open and candid, making this the most honest, revealing and readable autobiography I have ever encountered.

From the misery of his schooldays, when he was beaten by his teachers and by his fellow pupils, through his precarious, tramp-like, drunken teenage years bumming around Europe trying to scratch a living as a rather poor jazz trumpeter, his life was slowly transformed when he realised he had a talent for writing comedy.

Until then, he had been, as he puts it, a “rebel without a clue”. Still carrying his battered trumpet, he started hanging around theatre doors, selling jokes to anyone who would take them and ended up as one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed scriptwriters and actors. In between, his life seemed to be a succession of meetings and collaborations with all the greats of British comedy in its most exciting and anarchic years in the late 1950s and 1960s.

From radio with Kenneth Horne and Frankie Howerd to television with David Frost, The Goodies and Monty Python, he worked with and wrote for all of them. I never realised that the sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett representing the upper, middle and working classes was written by Marty Feldman and John Law or that Python’s “four Yorkshiremen” sketch began with Feldman poking fun at John Cleese in Marty’s kitchen when Cleese complained about the rain: “Rain? Let me tell you about rain, my son.

Tired? We were too poor to be tired. Bloody luxury is sleep, lad.” Feldman learnt a lot from these comic geniuses and they learnt from him. Finally the Americans noticed him which led to work with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder on films such as Young Frankenstein. Throughout all this, his love of jazz and alcohol persisted with his beloved wife Lauretta providing the stability he needed to steer clear of disaster.

Perhaps the most eye-bulgingly hilarious story in the book tells of his getting drunk with artist Francis Bacon who gave him a painting. Lauretta, a huge Bacon admirer, refused to believe Marty’s story, threatened to destroy the painting and insisted that he took it back to wherever he had stolen it from. The story ends with Marty Feldman and Peter Cook climbing over the wall of Francis Bacon’s house to leave the painting at his back door.

At times the book reads like a roll call of the upper echelons of world comedy. My only slight reservation is his habit of referring to people by their first names so sometimes one is unsure whether he is referring to David Frost or David Nobbs or whether he is getting drunk with Cook or some other Peter.

A few surnames in square brackets might have helped. A word of warning, too, this book contains strong language from the start. After reading the book, I turned on my computer, entered the words “what hump?” into Google and watched a clip of Feldman as Igor (pronounced eyE-gore) delivering the most memorable two-word phrase in comic film history. His timing and his unchanging expression of incomprehension were wondrous to behold.

I wiped away a tear of laughter tinged with sadness and realised once more that there was far more to Marty Feldman that just a pair of bulging eyEs.

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