Author:Brian Gari

Publisher:BearManor Media

ISBN:ISBN 978-1-59393-739-3

Well, there’s close and then there’s close. This collection of the author’s encounters with celebrities ranges widely and wildly from connections based on family associations and professional collaborations, to the occasional favorable outcome of stalking artists that might help the author’s own career, to contacts that are as insignificant as anyone might experience spotting a star on the street.

Brian Gari is the grandson of Eddie Cantor, one of the great entertainers of the 20th century—a fact that Gari is not loathe to identify when approaching celebrities when the moment is right. His account of his relationship with his grandfather sets this compendium off to a most promising start. Later retelling of family or near-family associations are similarly warming and affecting.

Other encounters are so casual and superficial as to be more appropriate for a fan magazine than a memoir. The use of lurid punctuation such as multiple exclamation points reinforces this impression. Sure, some celebrities when confronted by a stranger who struggles to identify facts which connect them, are more gracious than others. And therefore?

For this reviewer, the primary value of this book is its vivid depiction of the plight of a struggling songwriter/singer in the jungles of New York and Los Angeles. Fighting as best he could the appellation of being unsung—a songwriter’s uniquely worst nightmare--the image of the guitar-carrying author motoring by bike through the streets of New York in search of a gig promising a pittance and a sandwich was fascinating and beautifully told. If nothing else, this book provides an effective tease to the author’s other book, telling of the odyssey of his musical, Late Nite Comic. I’ll bet it’s damned good.

Occasionally, I wished that the author’s pursuit of trivia had gone further. For example, being taught to swim by Shelley Winters did not go on to mention that Ms. Winters will always be remembered as an outstanding swimmer as a result of her heroic plunge in The Poseidon Adventure. And mentioning Robert Clary’s appearance in Leonard Sillman’s Broadway musical, New Faces of 1952, might have been usefully augmented by noting that no less stellar performers than Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Pat Carroll, Carol Lawrence and Alice Ghostley, were also along for the ride. To paraphrase a mantra mentioned later, “Do I remember that show? You bet I do.”

In addition to his other pursuits, Brian Gari is a possessed collector of memorabilia, a fact that is irritatingly underscored with a mantra that overstays its welcome very early in the book.

The book is well edited and indexed, and includes some wonderful photographs which are usefully captioned except for one that neglects to identify Jimmy Durante. The great Schnozzola may not have liked that.

I was sorry that the author chose to include an anti-Semitic quote from one of his subjects, Dean of Jan and Dean, and I frequently felt that the author’s awe (innate and commercially motivated) of celebrity excused, in his evaluations, too much social carelessness on the part of his notorious targets.

Those old enough to remember the fame and the fascination of performing and behind-the-scenes artists of the Golden Age of Tin Pan Alley will find much pleasure in this very mixed memoir.

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