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Much Ado About Me de Fred Allen
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Much Ado About Me (1956 original; edició 1956)

de Fred Allen

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Radio and film star Fred Allen's autobiography: Much Ado About Me.
Membre:Dr.Hilda.Webb
Títol:Much Ado About Me
Autors:Fred Allen
Informació:Little Brown (1956), Edition: 5th Pntg, Hardcover
Col·leccions:Hilda's Library
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Much Ado about Me de Fred Allen (1956)

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Fred Allen’s autobiographical Much Ado About Me serves up a smorgasbord of early-twentieth-century images and idioms that will satisfy anyone interested in the period, regardless of special interest in Vaudeville or not. Allen spent is life in Show Business, beginning with a teenage performance at a public-library-employee talent show.

Allen demonstrates a Dickensian flair for describing settings. His childhood, teen, and adult experiences invite the reader to experience the places with him. For example, we meet Allen in his aunt’s boarding house establishment, where Allen and his brother grew up amidst a family-community arrangement, with many other relatives, fraught with the daily dramas, debates, fights and reconciliations of families in close quarters.

Other vivid settings include the detailed description of the library where he worked as a child and teen, and fascinating details about how it operated. He describes the many varied qualities and types of Vaudeville theaters in which he later performed. For example, some theaters had glassed-in crying rooms, where mothers could take crying babies so the sound would not bother others, but the mother could still see the show. There’s a great description of agent Sam Cohen’s office and waiting room (55); and the several hotels and boarding rooms he lived in during his Vaudevillian travels.

Allen also excels at character sketches. He vividly depicts the personalities, eccentricities, talents and foibles of his fellow Small Time and Big Time Vaudevillians over the years, in dressing rooms, on stage, and on trains as they rail across country in large traveling shows.

One delightful description was Allen’s first day in New York City—it was NYC in the 1910s, around Broadway, 42nd and 43rd streets, first encountering the famous Vaudeville theaters and nearby booking agent offices, and to top it off, his first breakfast in NYC, which he ate at the legendary magical Automat. There is a Dickensian description of 40th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway, complete with saloons, dime museum, theaters, fruit store and other shops (120–122).

The book was published in 1956, when Vaudeville was still in the living memory of most adults. The stories are peppered with terms and phrases that evoke the feeling of the old days. Putting something like a hotel room or a meal “on the cuff” meant “on credit”—there were no credit cards, so it was trust based. There’s “shandy-gaff” meaning a watered down, or lesser, version of something, coming from the literal meaning of diluting beer with lemonade or ginger beer (figuratively similar to ersatz). You don’t want to be a “Patsy Bolivar,” meaning the butt of a joke, later shortened to “patsy” or a scapegoat, someone you can set up or frame for a crime they didn’t commit. References are made to long-forgotten objects such as a calliope, a musical instrument with keys and steam whistle. Perhaps the most esoteric term (not in dictionaries) was “Kimberley Gravel,” slang for diamonds, which were dé rigueur for Vaudevillians, Small Time as well as Big Time (note: Diamonds were mined and sorted from the gravel at mines in Kimberley, South Africa in the 1800s).

Fred Allen was a Big Time hit on Vaudeville, and not surprisingly, he crossed paths with some familiar names. Allen had a minor-but-funny intellectual-property dispute with Al Jolson. His neighbors in the NYC theater culture included Mae West and George Burns. He was in a show with Archie Leach, who later moved to Hollywood and changed his name to Cary Grant. He performed with Archie Leach/Cary Grant in a show to entertain the Du Pont family in Wilmington, Delaware.

Allen kindly shares some of his material with the reader. We get to laugh at some of his jokes straight from his repertoire library. He shares a lot of oddball acts and names of acts, and oddball superstitions of the performers, such as whistling in the dressing room (bad luck), or wearing an undershirt inside out (good luck) (248). He tells stories about his acts, such as one very successful Big Time traveling show where he and a partner performed as “Yorke and Allen” early in the show, and later with the same partner, performed again as Fink and Smith, with a different act. Allen told jokes, delivered monologues, juggled, played banjo and clarinet, and danced. His was a true Vaudevillian, having all the skills, top of the game, and having played the quintessential rough-and-tumble circuits cross-country and abroad, during the peak of the Vaudeville phenomenon.

The book is highly recommended to anyone with interest in the origins of Show Business, the storied past of Vaudeville, or general interest in history from the 1910s through the 1920s. ( )
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Radio and film star Fred Allen's autobiography: Much Ado About Me.

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