Picks and Pans Review: Name-Dropping: the Life and Lies of Alan King
The man who has made a career of dissing the phone company, the insurance business and the airlines is proud owner of a photo from the late tennis star Arthur Ashe inscribed, "If you had a backhand as big as your mouth, you'd be at Wimbledon."
It's a mighty mouth, all right—good news for readers of this very funny, sometimes touching memoir populated by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Jack Benny, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, Harry Truman, assorted Kennedys and Billy Crystal, who once plaintively asked King if he knew any unimportant people.
King, née Kniberg, grew up poor and bellicose in Brooklyn, working as a boxer and nightclub doorman before getting his first break. The comedian-actor-Broadway producer, 68, has survived a tax scandal, cancer of the jaw and several lousy movies with his sense of humor unsinged. He can deliver a punch line on the page nearly as well as he can onstage. King once took his mother to a performance of Fiddler on the Roof. "My mother was born in a village very like Anatevka, the setting for Fiddler," he writes. "And when the show was over and we were back out on the street, I said, 'Ma, how did you enjoy it? Did it bring back memories?' 'It was wonderful,' she said. 'Only I don't remember so much singing.' "
King once attended a royal command performance that was followed by an audience with Elizabeth R. "How do you do, Mr. King?" said Her Majesty. "How do you do, Mrs. Queen?" replied the comic. "And she stared at me, and then Prince Philip laughed. Thank God Prince Philip laughed." You will too. (Scribner, $23)
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