Picks and Pans Review: In Person: the Great Entertainers

updated 01/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Martin Gottfried

The main attraction of this book is its photographs: Fred and Adele Astaire in 1905 at 5 and 6, done up in their performing clothes; Milton Berle as a young radio comic; Gypsy Rose Lee doing her genteel striptease; Elvis Presley in mid-twitch. Gottfried and his picture editor, John Crowley, have gathered a fascinating array of photographs of performers on stages, in nightclubs and doing radio shows. Those photographs are beautifully reproduced and displayed. Gottfried, a New York-based drama critic, adds running text that when it doesn't indulge in amateur psychoanalysis is often enjoyable. In his history of vaudeville, for instance, he recalls the singing Cherry Sisters, who were billed as "The World's Worst Act" and performed with a net across the stage to stop eggs and tomatoes. Then there was the team of Marguerite Webb and Jack Connelly, who played the piano holding pieces of fruit; Charlie Chase, who ate lightbulbs; and even Helen Keller, who had an act in which she read the lips of audience members using her fingers. Gottfried's history of more recent events is less encompassing. He all but ignores heavy metal rock, for example, and that's a stage phenomenon if ever there was one. On the other hand, whom would you rather read about, Will Rogers or Iron Maiden? Nobody under 18 is allowed to answer that. (Abrams, $49.50)

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