Louvish, Simon 1947–

views updated

Louvish, Simon 1947–


Born April 6, 1947, in Glasgow, Scotland; son of Misha (a translator) and Eva (a teacher) Louvish; married Mairi Macdonald (a television programmer), October 12, 1979. Education: Attended London School of Film Technique. Politics: "Left."


Home—London, England. Agent—David Grossman, 118B Holland Park Ave., London W11 4UA, England. E-mail—[email protected]


Freelance documentary film producer and director, 1970-76; London International Film School, London, England, tutor and lecturer, 1978-86; film historian and writer/producer of motion pictures, 2000—.



A Moment of Silence (autobiographical novel), Martin Brian & O'Keeffe (London, England), 1979.

The Therapy of Avram Blok, Stein & Day, 1985.

The Death of Moishe-Ganef, Heinemann (London, England), 1986.

City of Blok, Heinemann (London, England), 1988.

The Last Trump of Avram Blok, Heinemann (London, England), 1990.

Your Monkey's Schmuck, Flamingo (London, England), 1990.

The Silencer, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1991, Interlink Books (Brooklyn, NY), 1993.

Resurrections from the Dustbin of History, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1992, revised as The Resurrections, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1994.

What's Up, God?, Gollancz (London, England), 1995.

The Days of Miracles and Wonders, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1997.

The Cosmic Follies, Institute of Contemporary Arts/Blokbooks (London, England), 2004.


Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.

Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo with Added Gummo, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1999.

Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2001.

Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2003.

Mae West: It Ain't No Sin, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2005, St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Cecil B. DeMille and the Golden Calf, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2007.

Coffee with Groucho, Duncan Baird (London, England), 2007.

Also author of the unpublished manuscripts City of Mirrors and The Governor's Show.


Simon Louvish has written several novels of political satire as well as biographies of famed film comedians W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. He once told CA that his books on the modern state of Israel "reflect an unpopular (non-Zionist) point of view, mostly by the medium of satire. I feel that the breach of closed minds by means of jokes, rather than bombs, might be a contribution towards the alleviation of those conflicts. Is this the usual writer's delusion?"

Louvish's A Moment of Silence was described by Spectator reviewer Edward Mortimer as "an account of [the author's] own progressive disillusionment" from the time he spent in Israel during the 1960s to his return some years later to a state "which has fallen ever further away from the socialist and humanist ideals of the original Zionists."

The Therapy of Avram Blok is the story of a young Israeli who wanders from dissidence through apathy into madness. In the New York Times Book Review, David Finkle called the novel "the hilarious wail of a stand-up comic delivering punch lines from the rubble." As Finkle added: "Louvish has enough combustible talent linked with Jewish spiritual and kabbalistic compulsion to earn the comparisons with Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and [Jonathan] Swift that have come his way."

In The Death of Moishe-Ganef, asserted Jonathan Keates in the London Observer, Louvish means to "infuriate those for whom the Arab-Israeli conflict is a simple matter of trumpeting national loyalties or rubber-stamping magic peace formulas." During the course of the novel Louvish assaults Middle-Eastern politics while a television critic—a former intelligence agent—finds himself solving the mystery of his childhood friend and army comrade's death. Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Martyn Goff judged Louvish's descriptions of war-torn Lebanon "a thousand times more telling than any TV documentary." Praising Louvish as a "born story teller" with a "rare and rich" style, Gillian Reynolds of Punch assessed: "Simon Louvish has the talent and the stamina to set him in a place of his own." Concluded Keates, "Louvish comes into his own as a satirist rather than as a standup comedian, with an enviable gift for making hardened Zionists and PLO leaders squirm."

In The Days of Miracles and Wonders Louvish continues to deal with Lebanese and Middle-Eastern politics, this time via the tale of Petros Angelopoulos, a Greek doctor who is abducted by Syrian agents while visiting friends in the town of East Lothian. Reviewing this work for the Literary Review, John Murray remarked on Louvish's knowledge of Lebanese politics, noting that it is "impressive the way the author manages to incorporate lengthy political discussions" into the "fabric of the novel." Writing for the Scotsman, Ian Bell also commended Louvish's exuberant style of writing, categorizing this work as "deserving high praise" as a work in which Louvish "is at the height of his considerable powers."

One of the most acclaimed comedians of the twentieth century is the subject of Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields. Fields—born William Claude Dunkinfield—was a former vaudeville performer who achieved film stardom in the 1930s with the persona of a lecherous, drunken curmudgeon who detested even dogs and children. Louvish debunks some myths that Fields promoted about himself; for instance, Fields claimed his early life was one of poverty and delinquency, but actually he was a fairly well-behaved boy from a middle-class family. Louvish also contrasts the real Fields with his screen personality. "Although Louvish claims that Fields's deficient personal life gave his characters their sting … he also reveals that Fields's miserable marriage had its soft side," related Katharine Whittemore in the New York Times Book Review, adding that "Fields doted on his grandchildren, and once planned to open an orphanage," Newsweek contributor Malcolm Jones, Jr., reported that Louvish shows Fields to be "much more mysterious than the fatuously bibulous clown. He was a great drinker, yes, but he was also a great gardener, a fact that he took great pains to hide." Whittemore lamented the dearth of information about Fields's films but liked the book's many Hollywood anecdotes, and she commented that "Louvish does a heroic job of filling in Fields's life."

Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo with Added Gummo traces the brothers' journey from impoverished children of immigrants to leading funnymen of stage and screen, with such films as Animal Crackers, A Day at the Races, Monkey Business, and Duck Soup. Louvish quotes many Marx Brothers routines and also details the difficulties the siblings faced in real life, including anti-Semitism, excessive gambling, and failed marriages. Times Literary Supplement reviewer Howard Jacobson thought that Louvish treats the Marxes' personal problems a bit too lightly. "I am not sure whether Louvish cannot or will not take measure of his material, but throughout this book one is conscious of more cruelty—cruelty felt and cruelty given—more extremity of feeling, more harshness of behavior and more pain, than Louvish ever seems to register," Jacobson remarked. "I would have him consider the lives of the Marx Brothers as more tragically disarranged than he paints them." Literary Review contributor Humphrey Carpenter, however, was bored by the biographical detail. "The Marxes don't need deconstructing," he asserted, "and they don't need a biographer, because the ‘real’ Leo, Arthur and Julius seem to have done nothing other than become Chico, Harpo and Groucho…. The only proper way to celebrate them is to unearth forgotten Marx Brothers jokes. Fortunately, Louvish has plenty of these."

Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett presents readers with the life of Mack Sennett, an early film comic and noted anarchist who was also the genius behind the comedy routines of the Keystone Kops. Louvish tracks Sennett's career, from the first inspiration that set him on the road to success to his eventual failure due to poor handling of his finances and the advance of talking pictures. Gregory McNamee, in a review for the Hollywood Reporter, remarked: "Louvish brings Sennett's era to life in these pages, and Keystone fans and novices alike will learn much from the great anarchist's successes—and failures." Library Journal contributor Barry X. Miller dubbed the book "an excellent work that should find a place among other Keystone canon classics."

Although Louvish's biography of actress Mae West, Mae West: It Ain't No Sin was one of several to be written in the years following her death in 1980, it stands out due to his unprecedented access to an archive of West memorabilia. While Louvish covers the events of West's life and career, he also presents readers with a wonderful array of quotes and quips. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that "Louvish's research cements West's reputation as the definitive siren of suggestion." A critic for Kirkus Reviews called the book an "enlightening, exhaustively comprehensive look at an entertainer who unapologetically shimmied sexuality into the mainstream." Michael Arditti, in a review for the Independent online, found parts of the book dull, but concluded that "Louvish's biography is meticulously researched and finely crafted. Theatrical and cinematic history are skillfully related to the wider social and political background."

Louvish more recently told CA: "Delusions as to the contribution of fiction towards the alleviation of conflicts have been abandoned, in favor of art for art's sake."



Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 27, 1986, Martyn Goff, review of The Death of Moishe-Ganef.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 19, 1997, Suanne Kelman, review of The Days of Miracles and Wonders.

Hollywood Reporter, February 27, 2004, Gregory McNamee, review of Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2006, review of Mae West: It Ain't No Sin, p. 824.

Library Journal, February 1, 2004, Barry X. Miller, review of Keystone, p. 90.

Literary Review, November, 1999, Humphrey Carpenter, "That's Them All Right," review of Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo with Added Gummo.

Newsweek, October 13, 1997, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Man on the Flying Trapeze, p. 78.

New York Times Book Review, November 17, 1985, David Finkle, review of The Therapy of Avram Blok; September 21, 1997, Katharine Whittemore, "Philadelphia Story."

Observer (London, England), June 8, 1986, Jonathan Keates, review of The Death of Moishe-Ganef, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, July 10, 2006, review of Mae West, p. 61.

Punch, May 15, 1985, review of The Therapy of Avram Blok, p. 62; June 4, 1986, Gillian Reynolds, review of The Death of Moishe-Ganef, p. 52.

Scotsman, April 12, 1997, Ian Bell, review of The Days of Miracles and Wonders.

Spectator, June 2, 1979, Edward Mortimer, review of A Moment of Silence, p. 22.

Times Literary Supplement, January 21, 2000, Howard Jacobson, "Resignation Letter," review of Monkey Business, p. 20.


Independent Online, http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/ (October 28, 2005), Michael Arditti, review of Mae West.