King of Comedy – Mack Sennett
I like Hollywood autobiographies, ghostwritten or not, because the funny stories are easy to read. The stories might even be true, but I don’t care as long as they make me laugh. Sometimes, however, there are provocative nuggets such as this, slapstick king Sennett quoting James Cagney:
It’s the naïve people who become the true artists. First, they have to be naïve enough to believe in themselves. Then, a performer – especially an actor or an actress – must be naïve enough to keep on trying, using his talent, in spite of any kind of discouragement or double-cross. He doesn’t pay attention to setbacks. In his ingenuousness he doesn’t know a setback when it smites him. Money doesn’t concern him.
Cagney was a college man for a semester, but he probably got his vocabulary – ingenuous, setback, smite – from reading.
Anyway, movie buffs, historians of comedy, and Hollywood mavens would enjoy this book, first published in 1954. It’s coarse in places, rubbing our 2013 sensibilities a bit raw, but then so are the transcendent shorts of Roscoe Arbuckle. What would be really be interesting is an edited version of this book, telling us where Sennett is misremembering, misrepresenting, mischaracterizing, and getting it plain wrong, for whatever reason.
Sad the eyewitnesses are all gone.