Monday, 4 September 2017

Niagara Falls All Over Again - Elizabeth McCracken

American vaudeville, early talkies and double acts.  That's the subject here, isn't it?  Well yes and no.  Certainly, the double act Carter and Sharp (think Abbot and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) have a winning formula - one is a funny man, one a straight man and once they meet, this takes them on a money-making career path, through vaudeville theatre, and when that starts to dry up, into the movies.  It's a love hate relationship, they are very funny together, but when not "on", they fall out several times.

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If I said this was an in depth analysis of a double act it might be true, but it is deep in a different way;  we find out about Sharp's early life, but nothing about Carter's.  This is because Sharp is telling the story, and so we start at his childhood and move throught his entire life, encompassing the partnership with Carter.  Of Carter's early life, indeed, much of his life until he and Sharp meet is never spoken of, and Carter is always the funny man.  Always. On stage and off.  The pair drink, party, seduce women, get married, have children:   but for both men these things are not quite so important as fame and the trimmings that go with it.

McCracken did  a lot of research to get this book right (there are acknowledgements at the end of the book), and possibly it took her a long time to write it, but how wonderfully she describes down town Iowa; touring vaudeville theatres; Hollywood in the dearly days of movie making - the houses, the parties, the booze etc. There are also losses, when women move on, or take new partners, or die.  All of these things will have an affect on the duo.   Little known in the UK, this is a book about a certain time and type of American.  Deserves to be read.