I read Suzy Soro’s “Celebrity sTalker” the other day and enjoyed Suzy’s hilarious and embarrassing celebrity anecdotes, which are quite good and - rare these days - improve over the course of the book rather than front-load it. Get it, enjoy it. Read it poolside or in the comfort of your cabana. Read it in your cubicle for all I care. But do read it. (http://www.amazon.com/Celebrity-sTalker-Stories-Thinks-Celebrities/dp/0615741320/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355971527&sr=1-1&keywords=suzy+soro) But what also struck me is that something about her inventive and digressionary style put me in mind of another writer, someone I hadn’t read in over thirty years. Let the wavy lines drop here as harp music falls like rain and come with me, friends, on yet another trip to YESTERYEAR.
The funny thing about being a kid is that you’re convinced every feeling you have is the most important feeling ever and that no one has ever had that feeling before. Your friends are spear carriers in this tragedy you call life and your parents - just look at them! - have obviously never felt anything in their lives. This is what I call the isolating pleasure of extreme narcissism.
Well, that was me. I did like to read, though, so I had that going for me, and if I was ignored long enough I’d get on my hands and knees, head sideways, reading the spines on people’s bookshelves.
Yes, I was awkward. Groan. Yes, I was gangly. Yawn. Nobody understood me. Eyes blink twice, slowly. I didn’t fit in. Except I did. But I didn’t feel like it. I wanted to fit in with those people over there, not with these ones here. These chuckleheads who don’t UNDERSTAND me.
Let’s just say I hadn’t found my niche and leave it at that.
In my grandparents’ house on a weekend stay, I found a few paperbacks by Jack Douglas. I believe they were “Shut Up and Eat Your Snowshoes” and “The Jewish-Japanese Sex & Cook Book and How To Raise Wolves.” Everything else on their shelves was about nice, but unimaginative men founding leper colonies and becoming saints, or about this other nice fellow who was pulled to pieces for his faith and now has box seats in heaven. On the landing of my grandparents’ stairs was a little alcove for religious statuary and…you get the picture.
My grandfather never, ever discussed religion. God bless him for that. I think he was along for the ride.
Anyway, these books were a revelation for a boy stuck in a house with his early-to-bed, early-to-rise pious grandparents where I can still hear the clock ticking and see the dust motes floating more slowly than can be believed in my mind’s eye. The books I’d read up to that point had been dull tracts about virtuousness by narrators who talked down to the young reader. Jack talked across to you as if you were sitting with him in his living room and you both had your feet up on the coffee table and whiskies in your hands.
They were very conversational books, very digressing, very funny. There is the aging comedy writer settling down in Canada with his Japanese wife Reiko, baby Timothy and pet wolves. All while he’s writing and sending jokes back to Laugh-In and other television shows.
There was inside dope on show business, insider stories about the comedians and actors of the time, memories of writing for this one or that one, and plenty of fish out of water stories in the present tense about a Hollywood man living in the woods and being greatly misunderstood by the hayseeds, and vice versa. The locals always seem to get the better of him. This becomes a theme across the books, particularly in ‘Benedict Arnold Slept Here” where he purchases and runs an inn in Connecticut.
I asked my grandmother if I could take them home and read them. She waved a nonchalant hand as if to say “Someone brought that trash to my house, you may take that trash away.” There was no leprosy in them, you see, and certainly no one being pulled into fifths by horses.
When I got home I went to the library and got out the rest of Douglas’ output, which was considerable, and I studied them minutely like a monk in a stone tower. What the librarian must have thought I cannot guess. I tried to think like the author, to try on his worldview. It felt much more gratifying than the swill I’d read up to that point, Tom Sawyer excluded. I began to work some of JD’s conversational gambits and observational kind of comedy into my banter, with positive crowd results. I felt a warm glow spreading over me. I know what I want, I said to myself. I want to make people laugh.
Why hadn’t I thought of this before? This was, perhaps, the germinating seed in my becoming a writer, a private comedian. My hat has always been off to you, Jack Douglas.
I haven’t gone back and re-read any of them because I fear there’d be a certain amount of sag when viewed through all that’s happened in comedy and comedic writing and the world since then. There would be a certain amount of corniness and of-its-time-ness and some of his premises would doubtless be seen as hackneyed by today’s readers, but for the time he wrote, he was pretty hot stuff. He could go on the Tonight Show and make Jack Paar wet his pants. He wrote jokes for Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Bing Crosby, George Gobel, Woody Allen, Jimmy Durante and was on the staff of a bunch of shows.
I often had to push a pillow into my mouth as I screamed with laughter at two in the morning so my parents wouldn’t know I was up late reading yet another Jack Douglas memoir with a flashlight. He could be that funny with a phrase or an observation. So maybe I will go back and read them.
So, Suzy, when I tell you that you remind me of Jack Douglas? I hope you take it as a compliment.