Modern Fiction Ted Heller Funnymen: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780743212632

Funnymen: A Novel

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9780743212632: Funnymen: A Novel

The author of Slab Rat takes readers deep into the earliest days of television in a funny, fascinating novel about a comedy duo following the rough-and-tumble road from the Catskills to Hollywood. 35,000 first printing. First serial, GQ.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Ted Heller is the photo editor and senior writer at Nickelodeon magazine and is a contributing writer for GQ. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

from Chapter One

ARNIE LATCHKEY [co-manager of Fountain and Bliss]: It's sad to say, but the funniest that Harry and Flo Blissman ever were was on the night that they were too dead to perform. Best thing that ever happened to Ziggy, his parents dying the way they did. Best thing. From a professional standpoint, of course.

SALLY KLEIN [Ziggy Bliss's cousin and co-manager of Fountain and Bliss]: When Harry met my Aunt Florence, she was one of the old Garrity Gaiety Gals; she had a wonderful figure, a fabulous face, but she was only five feet tall. Harry had two inches on her. But Flo could really belt it out; "a lion's roar coming out of an ant" is how someone once described her voice.

If Harry and Flo were passing through Philly, they'd stop over at our place. We had a front porch and Harry would go on the porch and sit on a swinging seat. He'd gaze off into the distance and he'd be mumbling and swaying. My mother told me he was doing their act in his mind, trying to get it right. Well, he may have been doing that or he might have just been talking to himself. With entertainers you can never tell.

My parents took me to see them once. Harry and Flo came on toward the middle and did a sketch about a wife who couldn't cook. The audience took this time to go to the bathroom or smoke cigars in the lobby. I really don't remember much about the act.

LENNY PEARL [comedian]: Instant amnesia, it was like -- as soon as they went offstage you forgot what you'd just seen. I was on the road with them for years. They were strictly a bottom-of-the-barrel, low-rung vaudeville act. A cough in the audience was like a standing ovation for them. They were the two tiniest things you ever saw, if you ever saw them.

Now, let's tell the truth here: the act failed. Before they signed with the Bratton circuit, they were on the Pantages circuit and they also had toured with the Keith and Albee companies. California, Oklahoma, Chicago, Florida -- they failed everywhere. But at least they got to see the country.

Archie Bratton [president of A. C. Bratton Theater Ventures] wanted to bill them as the Mirthful Midgets, did you know that? Well, Harry stood up to him and said, "Hey, we ain't midgets!" But Bratton did it anyway.

There was this magician with our company and his name was Ferdinand the Fantastiq. The reason there were no letters after the q was because Archie Bratton was so goddamn cheap, he'd even save money on the ink on the handbills they passed around.

If you ask me what Ferdinand was, where he was from, I couldn't tell you. Some people thought he was Maltese or a Gypsy. His hair was jet black. He put a lot of paprika in his food, I remember, so he might have been Hungarian. He was a damn good magician. Did the best disappearing act I ever saw. Let's see someone else really disappear like that!

SCARLET ROBIDEAUX [Ferdinand's assistant]: Ferdinand had a thin handlebar mustache and he waxed it with black shoe polish, and his shiny black hair was parted in the middle. He was always polite to me and to the other girls. He never tried to lay a hand on us and that was rare -- if you were an entertainer there were all kinds of things said about you. But he was a gentleman.

All I really did was go on the stage and hold up things for him or slip backstage and get props. That was quite a costume I had! I looked like a peacock. All those blue feathers. Ferdinand would do the routine, saw me in half, make me disappear, levitate me. He never worked with birds though -- he told me he'd often had "artistic differences" with them.

I realized that there was something going on between him and Florence Blissman. I heard rumors. I would see them walking down the hallway together in the hotels. And you just knew. She was very lonely and I couldn't blame her.

LENNY PEARL: Oh, there was all kinds of gossip. But this was the life we led. Did I know about Flo and the magician? Sure I did. It was like The Wizard of Oz with the Munchkins. You put all these munchkins from the world over on a set together and suddenly it's the ancient Roman baths all over again except a lot shorter.

When Flo got pregnant I slapped Harry on the back and congratulated him. He was so small I nearly knocked him over. He didn't seem very happy for it being his first kid. 'Cause maybe it wasn't really his kid.

SCARLET ROBIDEAUX: In the act I got into a box and Ferdinand sealed it shut. He spun it around and then opened it and I was gone...there would be nothing but my feathers wafting around inside.

One night Ferdinand told me he was going to change the act. He was going to disappear, he said. He told me he had a brand-new box and all I had to do was stand there and look very pretty. Well, I could not believe my eyes! This new box was quite grand. It was real mahogany. There was gold and pearls and floral inlay and it was very magnificent.

At the end of the act Ferdinand bowed to the audience and then went into the box and tipped his hat. I closed the door and walked around it. Then I opened the door and he was gone.

As far as I reckon, he was never seen again.

SALLY KLEIN: After Ziggy was born, my mother told me, Harry just devoted himself to the act. That was when he started rehearsing to himself and mumbling and staring off into space.

CATHERINE RICCI [sister of Vic Fountain]: Codport [Massachusetts] was a fishing town, right on Buzzard's Bay. Papa [Bruno Fontana] worked on the piers, in the fish market. He was an assistant manager there. He couldn't ever get the smell of fish off him, even on weekends. Nobody would sit too close to us at the movies because of the smell. But nobody really liked to sit too close to anybody. Most people smelled of fish in that town and everybody pretty much kept to themselves.

Mamma [Violetta Fontana] was like a lot of Italian mothers. She stayed home and took care of the kids. You couldn't walk in that house without tripping over a baby. Vic was the youngest, so I think he had more people tripping over him than the rest of us. Maybe that toughened him up.

My father was very quiet. He'd give you a look and you shut up for a while. He'd always be yanking Vic's hair or his ear, especially his ear -- it's amazing Vic could even hear with all that yanking. But make no mistake: Mamma ran the family.

ARNIE LATCHKEY: Vic hated fish, would never eat it. Not even caviar or lobster. You couldn't pay him to look at it. Once we had him all set to do a swashbuckler movie with Rhonda Fleming, but he wouldn't do it. I tell him, "Vic, you know, it's not like you're really on the high seas; you're on a soundstage and they got a big bathtub," and he says, "No, but when I see the movie it'll be like I was on the high seas." As though he would go to see one of his own movies.

[Vic's mother] had a little dash of Madame Defarge about her. Cooking, cleaning, and knitting, but plotting to take over the world. Vic got his looks from Bruno, the hair, the height, the eyes. Bruno, who could make Calvin Coolidge seem talkative, had those scary blue eyes -- like looking at ice. And his hands were as big as catcher's mitts.

RAY FONTANA [Vic's older brother]: Pop worked his way up at the fish market, lifting crates of cod and clams. Crates it took two guys to carry, he did it on his own. Once I saw him carry an armoire down the stairs without resting it. The armoire alone weighed two hundred pounds. And after he put it down, what happens? Three of my sisters and my brother Sal come running out.

TONY FERRO [childhood friend of Vic]: Rocco Straccio was a terror. Everyone in Codport was scared stiff of him. He had dark skin and all the kids called him Rocky the Nigger. Not to his face, mind you. He had black eyes. And his teeth were black, his teeth and his gums. There was all kinds of stories about him. He'd come over from Sicily on steerage when he was six. Alone. The immigration people in Boston saw that he was covered with rat bites, and he bragged to them he'd bitten back. They didn't believe him, but then they found two dead rats on the ship with tiny human teeth marks on them.

Straccio took the money in three cuts. From the fishermen themselves; if they didn't pay Straccio up front, they couldn't fish. From the market, where the fish was hauled in and then distributed. And finally when the fish was transported out of New England.

He'd do this thing -- he'd put his hand on your nose and twist it really hard and say, "Got your nose." And then he'd have his thumb wiggling between his fingers. Now, my uncle did that to me too and it was no big deal, but when Straccio did it, for the next five hours you made sure you still had your nose.

[Vic and me] both dropped out of school and wound up working at Jiggs's Pharmacy over on Governors Street. Jiggs was Jiggs Cudahy, a big Irishman with a big round red face, like an apple. I was a stock boy and a soda jerk and Vic jerked sodas and did deliveries. He made good ice-cream sundaes and malteds. The both of us, we had those white uniforms -- like a Norman Rockwell picture -- and it made us look like we was doctors except we had those meshed paper hats and not too many doctors wear meshed paper hats. Vic was always fussing, smoothing out the wrinkles, sneaking looks at himself in the mirror behind the counter. And he delivered stuff -- you know, cough syrup, bromides, elixirs, that kind of stuff. I kept wondering, why's Vic so anxious to do the deliveries? You got a nickel a run sometimes, while if you was behind the counter you could sometimes clear fifty cents in that time.

Well, in a fishing town the men are gone most of the day and there's no chance of them popping in. Vic's a strong handsome kid and we were what? -- seventeen, eighteen years old at the time. Well, what do you think Vic was doing? Why do you think it took an hour to deliver a tin of cold cream two streets away? That sonuvabitch'd be making a big fancy banana split with his left hand and sniffing the fingers on his right. Jiggs didn't care -- as long as Vi...

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Book Description Scribner Book Company, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 414 pages. From Library Journal: Heller follows his first novel, Slab Rat, with what's billed as "fiction's first mockumentary. " The subject is the fictional entertainment duo of Vic Fountain and Ziggy Bliss. The former is a smooth crooner, la Dean Martin, and the latter is a high-energy meshuga comedian, la Jerry Lewis. Conversational snippets from more than 50 of their colleagues, ranging from business managers and band members to wives and girlfriends, track the career of the team from the Catskills to Hollywood and beyond. The novel could serve as a primer for a snapshot history of the last century, since the team crosses paths with everybody from Mickey Cohen and Harry Cohn to J. Robert Oppenheimer. Sadly, though, it lacks the undiluted funniness of Christopher Guest's film "mockumentary, " Best in Show, for example, and, following hard on the heels of Elizabeth McCracken's very similar Niagara Falls All Over Again, published last year, it can be recommended only for the largest public libraries. Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Mel Brooks Wonderful reading, a great journey, and all true because I was there. Kirkus Reviews "Friends, enemies.girlfriends, relatives and other observers tell absolutely everything about a zany/croony midcentury comedy duo.Totally entertaining." Publishers Weekly "This mock oral history.is a comedic roller-coaster ride.a funny and illuminating story." Maxim.an inspired send-up.a laugh-out-loud funny show-biz satire that'll knock you on your tuchis. Vanity Fair Ted Heller proves he is one of the funniest of the FUNNYMEN in his highly original and hilarious new novel. Book Description SIGMUND "ZIGGY" BLISSMAN isn't the best-looking, sanest boy in the world. Far, far from it. But this misfit child of a failed husband-and-wife vaudeville team has one (and only one) thing going for him: He can crack people up merely by batting his eyelashes. And Vittorio "Vic" Fontana, the son of a fi. Bookseller Inventory # 0003211

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