‘My looks are my comic equipment, and they are the right packaging for my job.’
Published: 16:00 EST, 31 October 2015 | Updated: 16:21 EST, 31 October 2015
Only his wife knew the ‘wonky-eyed’ comic had written an autobiography – but she was too traumatised by his death to open it. Now at last the story can be told… and it’s every bit as delightfully bonkers as his fans could hope for
‘My face reflects the disasters of my life so far. My eyes are the by-product of a thyroid condition, perhaps brought on by an accident when a boy stuck a pencil in my eye at school,’ said Marty Feldman
Thirty-three years ago, English comedian Marty Feldman completed the autobiography he had been writing, put it away and set off for Mexico to make a film.
He never returned, dying of a heart attack during filming.
Only Feldman’s widow Lauretta knew about the autobiography and the treasure trove of material it contained – including her husband’s views on David Frost, Dylan Thomas, John Lennon and more, plus hilarious anecdotes from his years in showbiz – but she found reading it too painful and the book remained a secret, hidden from the public.
It was only after her death in 2010 that family friend Mark Flanagan discovered the manuscript.
Now it is being published for the first time, just as Feldman conceived it – complete with anarchic episodes such as the time he stripped before the Royals, and his darkly comic views of death, as well as his painfully honest views of the looks that made his fame.
The comedian and actor famous for his weirdly crooked eyes once wrote: ‘My face reflects the disasters of my life so far.
‘My looks are my comic equipment, and they are the right packaging for my job,’ said Marty who was told he was too ‘grotesque’ for TV by broadcasting legend David Frost
‘My eyes are the by-product of a thyroid condition, perhaps brought on by an accident when a boy stuck a pencil in my eye at school or the result of a boating mishap, when I almost drowned.
‘My looks are my comic equipment, and they are the right packaging for my job.’
Despite being told he was too ‘grotesque’ for TV by broadcasting legend David Frost, Feldman landed his big break in 1967 on At Last The 1948 Show, thanks to lobbying by co-stars John Cleese and Tim Brooke-Taylor.
He became famous for writing the ‘Class Sketch’ starring Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, sending up Britain’s class system, and then landed a successful run of hit TV shows in the Sixties and Seventies, both in the UK and America.
Feldman’s madcap comic genius also led to films, including a memorable role as Igor in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein, starring Gene Wilder.
Only Marty’s widow Lauretta knew about the autobiography and the treasure trove of material it contained, but she found reading it too painful and the book remained a secret, hidden from the public
Feldman’s friend, Eric Idle, says: ‘He used his quizzical physiognomy to his advantage, playing tricks on all of us. “No, I will not come back to your place, you filthy man,” he yelled at a packed Chelsea football ground, striding away from a blushing Tim Brooke-Taylor.
‘In a crowded London restaurant he would taste the proffered wine, savour it, roll it around in his mouth, then suddenly clutch his throat, howl and throw himself to the floor, to the consternation of the waiter and the other diners.
‘Then he’d pick himself up, sit down, nod at the waiter and say, “Yes, that’s fine”.’
He went on to work with Peter Ustinov, Ann-Margret and Michael York and counted David Bowie, Eric Idle and Spike Milligan as friends.
Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, dancer Aimi MacDonald, Graham Chapman and Marty on At Last the 1948 Show in 1967
He died suddenly in 1982 aged 48 on location in Mexico while shooting Yellowbeard, a film that also starred Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Peter Cook and David Bowie.
Flanagan says: ‘The day Marty shot his final scene, Graham Chapman received a frantic call from him: “Please come quickly – I think I’m dying.”
‘Graham rushed to Marty’s room, knowing from the tone of his voice that this was not a prank.
‘Marty was still alive but labouring, and Graham asked someone to call an ambulance and the hotel to find life-saving equipment.
‘It was not enough to save him.’
Extracts from ‘eYE Marty: The Newly Discovered Autobiography Of A Comic Genius’ by Marty Feldman
Snookered by Parker, my hero
‘I decided I wanted to meet my hero, jazz musician Charlie Parker, who was doing a run in Paris. You want your heroes to be wonderful, superhuman, marvellous people. When I finally got to meet Parker, all he wanted to talk about was snooker. Dylan Thomas only ever talked about how much he had drunk or could drink. Since then, when I’ve had the chance to meet one of my heroes, I’ve often made an excuse to avoid it. This has backfired on many occasions when I couldn’t remember the lie I’d told to get out of it, or the lie had been changed by whoever passed on the message. I told Frank Sinatra’s people at a Las Vegas show that I couldn’t come back afterwards to meet him because I had a cold and feared it might be contagious. Sinatra was told I didn’t agree with his politics, which might have been true, though I didn’t know what his politics were. I just knew him as a great singer and interpreter and had loved him for years’
How I won the class war
‘The Frost Report was an overnight sensation. An old sketch that I’d written with John Law, based on the class system became popular, featuring John Cleese as an upper-class man, Ronnie Barker representing the middle class, and Ronnie Corbett the lower class. After it had aired you could hear people in pubs and cafés doing their own interpretations of it. I knew right away that this was a really good entry for me into telly and people’s homes. People still quote it to me – “I know my place”’
A right royal Marty-pants…
‘I was not as skilled a performer as the others but my freakish looks made me stand out. David Frost had thought my ‘wonky eye’ would scare off the punters but the exact opposite occurred. On November 9 I almost ended my career in front of the Queen Mum. I was invited to perform at The Royal Variety Performance. I despise everything about the monarchy and feel embarrassed about the turmoil it has created in the world. However, the show was a benefit concert for a cause I believed in and it was a dream come true to appear at the Palladium, where I had seen Danny Kaye. It seemed like only yesterday that I was flogging jokes by the stage door to anyone who would have them. During my sketch I divested myself of my clothing, upsetting my mum and Phil the Greek [Prince Philip]. I was told that nobody takes their clothes off in front of royalty, though Phil must have done. Where else could Anne and Charles have come from? Maybe there’s been another Immaculate Conception that we don’t know about. The audience were afraid to laugh but I had a right old time’
Igor to please…
In Los Angeles I was lucky enough to make good business contacts. An agent asked me who I’d like to work with. I sputtered, “Gene Wilder”. Suddenly I was on the phone with this very polite, soft-spoken man who told me that he had been lying in bed very late one night and was flicking through the telly channels when he’d stumbled upon The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine. He watched a couple of minutes of the show, then sprang out of bed and scribbled on a yellow notepad “Young Frankenstein”. Mel Brooks had pulled together a great cast and crew. The wardrobe lady was Dorothy Jeakins – she’d just come off the film The Way We Were, which my twin Robert Redford had been in. She told me I was just as handsome as him! I became the only guy to appear in a horror film without make-up!’
I drove Yoko wild!
‘I was hanging out with Harry Nilsson on his birthday, watching Ronald Reagan campaign on telly when the phone rang. It was John Lennon. John asked to speak to me and was so funny, quoting dialogue from my old shows. He said he drove Yoko crazy every time they went somewhere by screaming, “Wait for me, wait for me” from one of my sketches’
That’ll teach me to have a wandering eye…
‘One morning I blurted out that I thought we should be free to have sex with other people, that marriage and monogamy were antiquated traditions. Lauretta, my long-suffering partner, got up and went to the other side of the house. She reappeared moments later with a bagful of my stuff and told me to get out and go f*** whoever I wanted. I was out of the house before I had time to grasp the depth of my blunder. Days and weeks dragged on. I ended up driving a great distance to stay with John Cleese, who was not only a good friend but also no stranger to love and flux. After a while he begged Lauretta to take me back because he couldn’t bear it any more’
My secret death wish
‘Maybe a suicide attempt could do wonders for my career. I was actually starting to fancy the idea of disappearing altogether. No such luck! For me, it might have been a lot easier to stay at home. I could have told Lauretta funny jokes, played my trumpet for her and written poems that only she would ever see. But my mind is an attic full of crazy dreams that never quit or disappoint me, and I have been blessed with these eyes to see things differently and have people see me in a different way.’
Extracted with permission of Coronet from ‘eYE Marty: The Newly Discovered Autobiography Of A Comic Genius’ by Marty Feldman, published on Thursday, priced £20.
Offer price £15 (25 per cent discount), until November 15. Pre-order at www. mailbookshop.co.uk, p&p is free on orders over £12