Gottfried, Martin 1933-
GOTTFRIED, Martin 1933-
PERSONAL: Born October 9, 1933, in New York, NY; son of Isidore (a book dealer) and Rachel (Weitz) Gottfried; married Judith Houchins (marriage ended); married Jane Lahr (an artist), April 15, 1968; children: Maya. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1955, attended law school, 1955-57. Politics: Independent.
ADDRESSES: Home—17 East 96th St., New York, NY 10028. Offıce—1290 Avenue of the Americans, New York, NY 10020. Agent—William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Journalist, critic, and author. Village Voice, New York, NY, music critic, 1960-62; Fairchild Publications, New York, NY, editor, 1962-63; drama critic for Women's Wear Daily, 1963-72, New York Post, 1973-77, Saturday Review, 1977—, and Cue/New York, 1978—. Also drama critic for WPAT radio. Military service: U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, 1957-59.
MEMBER: New York Drama Critics Circle, Dramatists Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1966-67, 1967-68; George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, 1968, for A Theater Divided: The Postwar American Stage.
A Theater Divided: The Postwar American Stage, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1968, with a new introduction by Gottfried, 1969.
Opening Nights: Theater Criticism of the Sixties, Putnam (New York, NY), 1969.
Broadway Musicals, Abrams (New York, NY), 1979.
Jed Harris, the Curse of Genius, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.
In Person: The Great Entertainers, Abrams (New York, NY), 1985.
Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Men and Their Music, Abrams (New York, NY), 1988.
All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
More Broadway Musicals: Since 1980, Abrams (New York, NY), 1991.
Sondheim, H. Abrams (New York, NY), 1993, revised edition, 2000.
Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
George Burns and the Hundred-Year Dash, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.
Also author of play The Director, 1972. Contributor to national magazines.
SIDELIGHTS: Martin Gottfried has been covering the Broadway beat since 1963 for such periodicals as Women's Wear Daily, the New York Post, and Saturday Review. He is an unabashed fan of the musical in particular; he saw his first, Oklahoma!, as a youngster in post-war New York. Years later, Gottfried told Chicago Tribune columnist Richard Christiansen: "I get the same kick in the pants when I hear that overture or listen to the walk-out music. I'm ten years old again and still getting a bang out of it." Gottfried's books include surveys of American popular theater and biographies of leading entertainment figures.
Gottfried's admiration for what he calls America's "one major contribution to the theatre" led him to write Broadway Musicals. A lavish, oversized compilation of historical information, criticism, and summary, illustrated with nearly four hundred photographs from every era of the musical, Gottfried's book "looks like the ultimate coffee table object," noted Christiansen, "but [the author], who says he only wants to write 'book books,' has tried to make his text a lot more than gray wrapping paper for the color photographs." Indeed, Gottfried's devotion to musicals does not affect his view of the modern Broadway scene. "Producers today are becoming merchandisers, which I do not like. They're more concerned about their television commercials for the shows than they are about the shows themselves," he stated to Christiansen.
"Still, even with these gloomy thoughts," observed Christiansen, "Gottfried manages to be enthusiastic about almost any aspect of the Broadway musicals he loves." Said the author: "Writing the book was an education for me, and I guarantee that anyone who reads the chapter on lyric writing will get an education, too. Just think of that great mystery of making the words match the music. . . . And the wonder is that you even have some composers like [Irving] Berlin and Cole Porter and [Stephen] Sondheim who write the words and the music. That's absolutely amazing!"
Twelve years after the publication of Broadway Musicals, Gottfried came out with More Broadway Musicals: Since 1980. Reviewing a decade marked by escalating production costs and a diminishing number of new musicals, Gottfried nevertheless finds reason for optimism. He praises the contributions British and French composers have made to Broadway musicals and spotlights American talents such as Sondheim and director-choreographer Tommy Tune. In a Chicago Tribune Books critique, Christiansen noted that Gottfried "pays tribute to the old . . . but, a fan as well as a critic, he rushes to meet the future."
In Person: The Great Entertainers, another oversized, lavishly illustrated book, is devoted to the singers, dancers, comedians, and others who appeared in such live-performance venues as vaudeville, music halls, and nightclubs. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, assessing the volume for the New York Times Book Review, deemed it "carefully planned and well-written" as well as "a surprisingly objective telling of the stories, with all the truth that is sometimes available, of many very talented artists."
Gottfried also has written several books about individual entertainment figures. Jed Harris, the Curseof Genius centers on the life and career of one of the most respected—and hated—Broadway producer-directors of the 1920s and 1930s. In a Washington Post review of the work, Jonathan Yardley observed that Harris "pioneered what quickly became the Broadway style, described by his biographer as 'clever, tense, urban, dynamic and, above all, contemporary.'" Associated with such landmark productions as The Front Page, The Royal Family, and Our Town, Harris was known not only for his almost unerring instinct for matching the right talent with the right material, but also for his legendary hot temper and "compulsive meanness," as Yardley put it.
Jed Harris, the Curse of Genius noted Yardley, "is fascinating less as a show-biz biography than as the chronicle of a man who spent virtually his entire adult life bringing gratuitous grief to others and destroying himself in the process." While noting the author's concentration on Harris's stormy personal life, Yardly nonetheless found the book "oddly compulsive reading," and "filled with one vividly recalled horror story after another; though some may find [the work] to be merely one long sick joke, others will be, as rather against my better judgment I was, hugely amused by it."
Gottfried focuses on another troubled show-business legend in All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse. Fosse was an acclaimed Broadway director and choreographer whose credits include Sweet Charity, Pippin, and Chicago; he also had success as a film director, with Cabaret, for which he won an Academy Award, and the semi-autobiographical All That Jazz. "Fosse went out of show business the way he came in: full of an inexhaustible appetite for success and self-annihilation," remarked Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Stefan Kanfer, who termed Gottfried's book an "intelligent anecdotal study." In the New York Times Book Review, Ronald Bryden asserted that "the cardinal virtue of Mr. Gottfried's biography is his intimacy with the show-business scene that was Mr. Fosse's chrysalis." However, only somewhat convincing, Bryden added, is Gottfried's suggestion that "inside Fosse at the pinnacle of his career . . . lurked a jeering, self-hating small-timer insisting that his achievements were fraudulent."
Gottfried's Sondheim focuses on the subject's art, not his life. Some critics noted that the richly illustrated book contains not only beautiful pictures from Sondheim's shows, but also valuable insights into the composer's work. "The author helps us simple folk understand . . . how a genius tortures word and music into being," wrote Daniel Selznick in the Christian Science Monitor. In Tribune Books, Christiansen praised Gottfried's "comprehensive view of Sondheim's working method and aesthetic."
In Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye, Gottfried explores some less-than-admirable traits of this multi-talented star of Broadway, films, and nightclubs. Published seven years after Kaye's death, the book "spares no detail in establishing Kaye both as an entertainer cherished for being a comic genius and as an isolated, withdrawn egomaniac capable of selfish malice in matters great and small," observed Desmond Ryan in the New York Times Book Review. Spectator contributor Roger Lewis found Gottfried's characterization less than convincing. "Though Gottfried does his (obligatory) best to portray [Kaye] as a manic depressive, consumed with ambition and sullen if opposed, there is no evidence to support this," Lewis contended. An important aspect of the biography, according to some critics, is that it contradicts reports that Kaye and acclaimed actor Laurence Olivier were lovers. These assertions, put forth by Donald Spoto in his biography of Olivier, are "convincingly discredited" by Gottfried's work, said a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
George Burns and the Hundred-Year Dash is written in a somewhat different vein than the Kaye book, as Gottfried makes clear that he holds his subject in high esteem. The biography, which came out when veteran comic Burns turned one hundred, is a "well-written, good-natured, admiring book," remarked Robert Klein in the New York Times Book Review. Still, Gottfried does not ignore Burns's failings, such as his unfaithfulness to his wife and longtime comedy partner, Gracie Allen. "Gottfried pays homage, but he's also honest," reported Faye Bowers in the Christian Science Monitor. Just the same, added Bowers, the book is "a fine tribute."
The subject of Gottfried's Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury is a well-known and versatile star of film, stage, and television. While many fans recognize Lansbury as the lead in the television series Murder, She Wrote, the actress had been a character role-player in Hollywood and on Broadway for decades, and created the role of Auntie Mame on Broadway in 1966. As an authorized biography, BalancingAct does not challenge Lansbury's own assessment of her life; indeed, "Lansbury's voice is heard throughout," to quote Rosellen Brewer in Library Journal. Brewer commended the biography as "a candid examination of an extraordinary life." While some critics faulted the work for its careful attention to the actress's version of events, others felt that it would fill a void for those who admire Lansbury. In Booklist, Mike Tribby, for instance, concluded: "This literate account of a very able actress' career will please her fans."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 1998, Mike Tribby, review of Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury, p. 619.
Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1979.
Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 1993, p. 17; March 12, 1996, p. 14.
Library Journal, February 1, 1999, Rosellen Brewer, review of Balancing Act, p. 89.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 18, 1990, p. 2; December 1, 1991, p. 8.
New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1984; December 8, 1985, p. 17; December 16, 1990, p. 17; November 13, 1994, p. 7; January 21, 1996, p. 11; March 21, 1999, Andrea Higbie, review of Balancing Act, p. 20.
People Weekly, January 18, 1999, Joanne Kaufman, review of Balancing Act, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, September 26, 1994, p. 48; December 11, 1995, p. 65.
Spectator, December 17-24, 1994, pp. 78-79.
Time, November 5, 1967.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 20, 1991, pp. 6-7, 9; December 5, 1993, p. 5.
Washington Post, December 28, 1983.*