Sikov, Ed 1957–

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Sikov, Ed 1957–

PERSONAL:

Born January 11, 1957, in Natrona Heights, PA; son of Irving (a lawyer) and Betty Sikov; partner of Bruce Schackman. Education: Haverford College, B.A., 1979; Columbia University, M.Phil., 1983, Ph.D., 1986.

ADDRESSES:

Home—New York, NY. Agent—Edward Hibbert, Donadio and Olson, 121 W. 27th St., New York, NY 10001. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor in film, 1982-85; Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO, distinguished visitor, 1989-2000; Empire State College, NY, learning evaluator, 1991-94; Haverford College, Haverford, PA, visiting associate professor of general programs, 1995-2004. Adjunct lecturer in English, Brooklyn College, 1983. Interim Project Director, grant writer, and development co-chair, McGuire House, 1990-93. Has worked as a freelance journalist. Guest lecturer at colleges and universities, and guest speaker on television programs. Actor on stage, screen, and television, including the television series Frasier. Contributor of audio commentary to DVDs.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

Screwball: Hollywood's Madcap Romantic Comedies, Crown (New York, NY), 1989.

Faculty Guide for American Cinema, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1994.

Study Guide for American Cinema, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1994.

Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Premiere, Architectural Digest, Film Quarterly, Village Voice, New York Times Book Review, and the Brazilian edition of Cosmopolitan. Contributor to anthologies, including Friends and Lovers, NAL/Dutton (New York, NY), 1995, Boys Like Us, Avon (New York, NY), 1996, Queer Representations, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1997, and Citizen Sarris: American Film Critic, Scarecrow Press (Lanham, MD), 2001. Contributing editor, New York Native, 1983-88; assistant editor, Dial, 1983-86.

SIDELIGHTS:

Ed Sikov is a film scholar who specializes in Hollywood comedies from the 1930s through the 1970s. His first book, Screwball: Hollywood's Madcap Romantic Comedies, lavishly illustrated with black-and-white photo stills, argues against the commonsense notion that the madcap romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s were produced to alleviate the sufferings of a nation weighed down by the Great Depression. Instead, according to Sikov, the films were a direct response to the restrictions the government imposed on showing sexuality on-screen. The 1934 Production Code lead directors to replace sexual activity between romantically engaged characters with slapstick violence, according to Sikov's thesis. In language John Belton praised in Film Quarterly as "jargon-free," Sikov divides screwball comedies into three subgenres: newspaper screwballs like Nothing Sacred and His Girl Friday, screwball mysteries such as the Thin Man series, and films about screwball families—Bringing up Baby and My Man Godfrey are two prominent examples. Throughout, readers are treated to "the author's breezily perceptive opinions and succinct plot encapsulations," remarked a contributor to Publishers Weekly.

Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s picks up roughly where Screwball leaves off. The book is organized around the work of four central directors: Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Frank Tashlin, influential directors whose comedies "attack moral hypocrisy, satirize the powerful, and expose sexual repression and frustration," according to a Publishers Weekly critic. Sikov, who self-identifies as a gay critic in this volume, shows special interest in the ways in which the films he examines contend with gender and sexuality. He looks closely at the way women are represented, intimations of homosexuality, and the representation of the family unit within the best comedic films these directors produced, including Some Like It Hot by Wilder, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Hawks, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? by Tashlin. "At his best, Sikov is both provocative and delightfully funny," remarked K.S. Nolley in Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, recommending the book for all academic libraries.

Billy Wilder, who began life in 1906 as a Polish Jew and became one of the most influential film directors in Hollywood in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, moves to center stage in Sikov's next book, On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder. Although Wilder refused to be interviewed for this biography, and none of his closest associates would agree to talk to Sikov either, On Sunset Boulevard was praised by reviewers for its firm grounding in extensive research, which revealed in part that while Wilder was guilty of embellishing the truth about nearly every aspect of his life, the facts of his life story are fascinating in their own right. For a contributor to Entertainment Weekly, who eventually became somewhat impatient with Sikov's approach to tracking down the factual details of Wilder's life, "[Sikov's] monumentally research-heavy approach proves a curiously satisfactory foil to Wilder's more outlandish bits of exaggeration." On the other hand, wrote Steve Kurtz in Reason, Sikov manages to inject the story of Wilder's life with enough intriguing film commentary that so that film buffs will stay interested. "Sikov, to his credit, keeps the story moving but stops long enough to critique the movies, which, after all, are why we're interested. His analysis is generally insightful, and he catches things that most critics get wrong," Kurtz concluded. Robert L. Pela, a reviewer for the Advocate, noted Sikov's tenacious refusal to be convinced by Wilder's long denial of a homosexual undertone in many of his films, describing On Sunset Boulevard as "bursting with new anecdotes from Old Hollywood about one of its legendary geniuses."

Another notoriously hard-to-pin-down icon of Hollywood comedies is at the center of Sikov's next book, Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. Sellers was a British comedic actor who came to prominence on a seminal radio program called The Goon Show, which has been identified as the inspiration for the Monty Python players. He is perhaps best known for his role in the Pink Panther films as Inspector Clouseau, but critics single out stellar performances in genre-bending films such as Dr. Strangelove and Being There as more memorable work. Sellers died in 1980, and extensive interviews with the actor's friends and colleagues reveal that his uncanny ability to imitate others was perhaps the natural outgrowth of a person so pathologically insecure that even those closest to him felt as though they knew him not at all. His behavior, including bouts with drugs and alcohol, wife battering, and child abuse, is faithfully recounted, leaving a critic in Kirkus Reviews to speculate that "despite all the talent, readers will be happy to have known Sellers only as an image on the screen." While Gordon Flagg, writing in Booklist, complained that "Sikov devotes much of his text to amateur psychology," Flagg also added that "with the near-certifiable Sellers [this] seems almost inevitable." For a contributor to Publishers Weekly, on the other hand, "Sikov … treats Sellers with just the right mix of awe, irritation and sympathy, giving readers a clear-headed, respectful tribute to a disturbed genius."

Sikov presents the story of another screen legend in the biography Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. Davis was one of the brightest stars of the Warner Brothers studio. She worked there for eighteen years, making fifty-two movies for the studio. Davis was known for her contradictory character and her fiery, dramatic acting style. Her personal life was also full of drama. Davis had many public feuds with rivals and costars. Her marriages, divorces, and fights with studio bosses have been thoroughly detailed by other writers, including Davis herself, in her autobiography The Lonely Life. Er- rol Flynn and Miriam Hopkins were two of her costars at Warner whom she was known to loathe, and her hatred for Joan Crawford was also well-publicized. Sikov suggests that much of the tension with Crawford was the result of Davis's refusal to become romantically involved with Crawford, who was bisexual. This is the "juiciest revelation" in the book, according to Rex Reed in the New York Times Book Review. Reed found that while there is little new information in Sikov's biography, there is plenty of "readable stuff," and he said that the author's extensive research was evident. Reed stated that while Sikov's book "fails to analyze" what drove the great actress, it still provides a way to "pass the time pleasantly." He praised the author for seeing "through her sarcasm, jealousy, fear and self-delusion. And he doesn't whitewash her faults." Another reviewer, Jack Helbig, noted in Booklist that the author's "brittle, witty prose recalls Davis' prickly persona," and a Publishers Weekly writer called the book "perceptive and superbly written."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Advocate, March 2, 1999, Robert L. Pela, review of On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, p. 67.

Biography, January 1, 2008, review of Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, p. 175.

Booklist, November 1, 1998, Ray Olson, review of On Sunset Boulevard, p. 462; October 1, 2002, Gordon Flagg, review of Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers, p. 295; October 1, 2007, Jack Helbig, review of Dark Victory, p. 12.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May, 1990, W.K. Huck, review of Screwball: Hollywood's Madcap Romantic Comedies, p. 1513; March, 1995, K.S. Nolley, review of Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s, p. 1130; April, 1999, R. Blackwood, review of On Sunset Boulevard, p. 1465.

Cineaste, fall, 1999, John Belton, review of On Sunset Boulevard, p. 57.

Entertainment Weekly, December 11, 1998, "Wilder Than Ever," p. 69; October 25, 2002, review of Mr. Strangelove, p. 80.

Film Quarterly, spring, 1991, John Belton, review of Screwball, pp. 58-59.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Mr. Strangelove, p. 1206; July 15, 2007, review of Dark Victory.

Library Journal, September 15, 1994, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Laughing Hysterically, p. 73; October 1, 2002, Barry X. Miller, review of Mr. Strangelove, p. 98; September 1, 2007, Margaret Heilbrun, review of Dark Victory, p. 138.

Modern Maturity, October-November, 1989, Digby Diehl, review of Screwball, p. 84.

New York Times Book Review, November 4, 2007, Rex Reed, review of Dark Victory.

Publishers Weekly, November 17, 1989, review of Screwball, p. 42; August 15, 1994, review of Laughing Hysterically, p. 81; October 5, 1998, review of On Sunset Boulevard, p. 72; September 30, 2002, review of Mr. Strangelove, p. 62; July 23, 2007, review of Dark Victory, p. 51.

Reason, June, 1999, Steve Kurtz, review of On Sunset Boulevard, p. 70.

ONLINE

Ed Sikov Home Page,http://edsikov.com (July 1, 2008).