About this book
About the Book
The story of the most hilarious nonagenarian you never met.
Who is this Irving Brecher? What was it like to be the only man ever to write two Marx Brothers movies by himself? To be the last of the great MGM roundtable of screenwriters? To be the famous unknown who wrote vaudeville and radio shows for Milton Berle, punched upThe Wizard of Oz, and created “The Life of Riley”—on radio, in the movies, and as the very first television sitcom!
Once Hank met Irv, questions like these dogged him. And Hank dogged Irv. He couldn’t get enough of Irv’s rapid-fire patter and acid wit. This book is the product of 6 years of Hank’s tagging along with Irv, splitting pastrami sandwiches, and hanging on Irv’s every word.
Irv convinced Judy Garland to star in Meet Me in St. Louis, wrote Bye Bye Birdie, and gave Jackie Gleason his first TV series and a new set of teeth. The “Wicked Wit of the West” (as Groucho dubbed him) tells juicy tales about Hollywood legends John Wayne, L.B. Mayer, Jack Benny, George Burns, Ann-Margret, Ernie Kovacs, Cleo the bassett hound, and of course, Groucho, Harpo and Chico.
At 94, Irving Brecher finally gets the last word.
“I define wit as Irving Brecher”
“One of the three fastest (along with George S. Kaufman and Oscar Levant), with the one-line impromptus”
“Irv of the incomparable wit!”
“If you’re interested in real ‘groundbreaking television’ look no further than Irv Brecher (creator of the first sitcom.etc..) — a real pioneer, funnyman, and historical treasure. Thank God for this book—at 94, Irv is truly the last of the Joke-hicans.”
—Liz Tuccillo, writer for Sex and the City and co-author of “He’s Just Not That Into You”
“I don’t like to quote myself but unfortunately everybody I know who should be quoting me is dead.”
About the Authors
Irving Brecher was the last of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio writers from the “Golden Age” of the 1940’s. His screenplay for Meet Me in St. Louis was nominated for the 1944 Academy Award. He wrote seven musicals at MGM, including scripts for Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Fred Astaire, and Red Skelton. He wrote The Shadow of the Thin Man and two Marx Brothers features. He began his movie career by punching up comedy material for The Wizard of Oz when the words “punching up” hadn’t even been invented yet. His final screenwriting credit was Bye Bye Birdie, starring Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke. Irv also created “The Life of Riley,” the first sitcom ever filmed for TV. He originally wrote “Riley” for the radio, a medium Irv started working in at the age of 19 as a writer for Milton Berle. He wrote for numerous vaudeville acts. He forged storied friendships with many of the comedians he wrote for: Berle, George Burns, Jack Benny, Ernie Kovacs, Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Cleo the bassett hound from “People’s Choice,” a sitcom Irv created (starring Jackie Cooper) in 1953.
He died in 2009, just as this book was published.
Hank Rosenfeld wrote comedies for the Bond Street, DaK, and H.E.A.P. theatres in New York, touring with productions to the Netherlands, Berlin and New Jersey. Hank was on staff at Spy Magazine in NYC. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, the NY Post, Premiere, PAPER, the Jewish Forward, and the Shambhala Sun. Currently a storyteller on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “Marketplace,” “Weekend America” and “Off-Ramp,” he has produced comedy shows for KSAN in San Francisco and K-ROCK (WXRK) in New York. He wrote jokes for the long-running Broadway show, Catskills on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, and lived as a deejay on the pirate-radio ship, The Voice of Peace, broadcasting “from somewhere in the Mediterranean.” While writing for the Athens Times, Hank was arrested for robbing the National Bank of Greece. Found innocent, he was kicked out of Greece after receiving a beating and a wonderful recipe for tzatziki. He is also the as-told-to author of MEMORIE: Journey from Belgrade to Minneapolis by Benjamin Mandil.
“A comedic genius with wit and timing that can’t be beat. Altogether delightful, this is an incredible reminiscence by a remarkable man. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“Irreverent brilliance… brimming with delectable anecdotes… like leafing through a scrapbook with your favorite crotchety uncle.”
The Boston Globe
“If you love vintage show business, this book is a must-read!”
“The funniest man you never heard of…Brecher comes across as funny and cranky, joyful and philosophical. His career is interesting, because he knew so many giants and because he reveals his own fears and failings. “The Wicked Wit of the West” portrays a man who, despite decades in a vicious industry, stayed generous of spirit, clear-eyed and, most important, funny.”
“It’s only January, but the odds on any other book coming out this year being funnier than this are very slim….If, looking at the book’s cover, you recognize only Judy Garland and Groucho Marx, you owe it yourself to complete your comedy education. Let this book be your guide.”
“One of the funniest and most poignant books of the year about life and death. A must read book.”