Art Carney: A Biography Review

Capering into fame as Jackie Gleason's sidekick in The Honeymooners, Art Carney proved later that he was no mere television personality but a real actor. He originated the part of neurotic Felix in Neil Simon's 1965 Broadway smash The Odd Couple, and his dual role in Brian Friel's Lovers garnered a 1968 Tony nomination; he won an Academy Award in 1974 for his poignant performance in Harry and Tonto. Michael Seth Starr traces this varied career with perception and empathy, revealing a hard-drinking, introverted, extremely private man totally unlike the blithely goofy Ed Norton.


From Booklist

The story of Carney's career as a funnyman overlaps the story of his battle against alcoholism. Starr's workmanlike account of Carney's dual life adopts a friendly tone that jibes with Carney's comfy-old-shoe acting persona, which so well fit his role as a great second banana to Jackie Gleason that people were surprised when he became a star in his own right. Starr dismisses rumors that Gleason plotted to deny Carney recognition--indeed, dismisses them so often that you start to wonder. Carney's battle with the bottle furnishes a better clue to why proper recognition eluded him. Then again, even with the alcoholism, he won six Emmies fairly early in his career and later an Oscar and a Tony nomination. Because he created three classic comic characters--Ed Norton while with Gleason, The Odd Couple's Felix Unger, and Harry Combes in Harry and Tonto Carney demands a good biography. Starr's fills the bill very adequately, though not flashily.  Mike Tribby


From Kirkus Reviews

TV's beloved ``Ed Norton'' finally gets his due in a breezy, often incisive biography. Considering the fact that Art Carney's creation in The Honeymooners shows no signs of diminishing popularity more than 40 years after his debut, and that his work outside the series has shown extraordinary range from low comedy to darkest tragedy, peaking in his Oscar-winning performance in Harry and Tonto, it's startling to realize that no book on his life has been published until now. Perhaps it was the actor's own shy and reclusive nature that prevented other attempts. But Carney is fortunate to have found his biographer in Starr, TV columnist for the New York Post. This is a brief book by current standards but so densely packed with information that it's hard to imagine what might have been missed. Starr traces Carney's professional career from his days as an impressionist and radio actor, to stardom on The Jackie Gleason Show, and on to his emergence from Gleason's shadow into a remarkable solo career. Starr also turns a sensitive eye to Carney's rockier personal life: Public triumphs were constantly undermined by alcoholism and bouts of deep depression. Starr appears to have talked to virtually everyone who ever knew or worked with Carney (though not Carney himself), and he wisely lets these friends and acquaintances tell their own stories. He keeps his own voice clear but refreshingly impartial. Art Carney emerges from these pages as a kind, gentle man who, tragically, has seldom found the love for himself that his millions of fans give him without qualification. Starr's perceptive biography presents its subject as a man who became legendary, not through hype or self-promotion, but through the sheer force of his talent. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


From The New York Times

... a clear and well-written portrait of a superb performer and a wonderful human being, with emphasis on the word "human." -- The New York Times Book Review, Sonja Meyer


art carney, fromm, applause, comedian, ed norton, honeymooners

Bobby Darin: A Life


From Publishers Weekly

In this straightforward biography, New YorkPost entertainment columnist Starr (Mouse in the Rat Pack) relates the abbreviated life of singer and mid-century youth icon Darin (1936–1973). Born Walden Robert Cassotto, Bobby was a sickly child eventually diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease. As Starr explains, Darin was propelled to stardom by the knowledge that his life would be short: by 22, he had worked his way out of the South Bronx and recorded his first hits, "Splish, Splash" and "Dream Lovers"; the following year he transformed his teeny-bopper image with the swinging, finger-snapping tune written by Kurt Weill and first popularized by Louis Armstrong, "Mack the Knife." He topped the song charts, appeared in movies (the first of which, Come September, starred his soon-to-be wife, Sandra Dee) and hosted his own variety show. He could be charming, arrogant and sometimes cruel: as a nightclub entertainer, he "shattered [the Copa's] old attendance record held by Frank Sinatra"; as an embittered son he died leaving nothing to his immediate family. Though it lags in spots, Starr's solid biography offers colorful quotes from Darin's friends, family and music business associates. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



A quick and fluid read, Starr's book succeeds at bringing Darin the human being to life. (James E. Perone Library Journal)

Starr's solid biography offers colorful quotes from Darin's friends, family and music business associates.
This book will serve as a tribute...excellent. (

Starr succinctly tells the story, warts and all, of the meteoric career of this highly talented entertainer. (Tampa Tribune)




Editorial Reviews


*Starred Review* The thing about a biography of a celebrity who's slipped under the radar (comedian and TV star Foxx died in 1991) is that, if you do it right, you can, in effect, bring back to life a fascinating character. Starr, who's also written bios of Art Carney and Raymond Burr, does it right. This biography of the Sanford and Son star is full of things you probably don't know, like the fact that Foxx's character, Fred G. Sanford, was named after his older brother (Foxx was born Jon Elroy Sanford); that Foxx used to hang out with Malcolm Little, before he became Malcolm X; that, in the 1950s and '60s, Foxx was a wildly popular stand-up comedian (and a huge star in the comedy-album business). His postSanford and Son career never had the same impact, mostly involving failed business ventures, personal problems, and a string of canceled TV shows. Still, Starr refuses to paint Foxx as a pathetic has-been, the way some observers were doing at the time, preferring to show him as a supremely talented man whose own failings (gambling and drugs, primarily) drove him to make a series of unfortunate choices. For Starr, Foxx's 1991 death of a heart attack, on the set of yet another television series, was the tragic culmination of a life and career that had peaked two decades earlier. An excellent biography, respectful and compassionate about its subject and revealing and perceptive about American popular culture. --Booklist, Sept. 1, 2011

Biographical information on John Sanford (1922 91) better known as Redd Foxx is scarce, and this book returns life to a well-deserving comedic legend. Journalist and biographer Starr (Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr) covers Foxx's early days in St. Louis and Chicago, his struggles after his mother abandoned him, his jazz band, and his time in New York's Harlem, where he took the nickname Foxy and became best buddies with the future Malcolm X. Foxx perfected his natural comedic skills when he joined the Chitlin' Circuit along the East Coast. According to Starr, Foxx's dependence on cocaine, alcohol, and women kept him from continued success. Generous to a fault, he also trusted the wrong people and spent money as quickly as he made it. Still, Foxx became a Vegas superstar and after the creation of the TV show Sanford and Son, a household name. Verdict Starr reconstructs Foxx's life in a raw, honest manner, interspersing fascinating historical facts along the way. This well-presented biography will be especially valuable to those who were not around when Foxx was at the top of his game. Recommended for anyone interested in TV and African American history. --Library Journal Xpress Reviews, Aug. 12, 2011


Redd Foxx, Sanford and Son, della reese, black Comedian, The Redd Foxx Show
bobby darin, musician, sandra dee, hollywood, singer, mack the knife, las vegas


Mouse In The Ratpack:

The Joey Bishop Story

Reader Comments:


I must admit, I did not become interested in the life of Joey Bishop until after his recent death. I was not yet born when the Rat Pack was at their peak, nor was I old enough to know what a great comedian Mr. Bishop was.

I found this book to be an excellent read. It was not very lenghty and repetitive and it was extremenly informative. I had to admire Mr. Bishop's charitable contributions. I did not however, admire the way he treated his staff. Unlike his fellow Rat Packers, Mr. Bishop remained married to the same woman for 58 years and raised a son, Larry with her.

The author included some really cool photos of Mr. Bishop as a very young man along with some archival photos of the Rat Pack. I would recommend this book for any Joey Bishop fan.





Mr. Starr should be complemented for taking the time to write a book about a comedian that has been long forgotten. I would have preferred a longer book but perhaps Mr. Starr was afraid of being redundant. One reason that the book is not longer, I assume, is that Joey's career does not really lend itself to a study of a body of work.

Joey--when he was at his best--had the ability to snap a very witty one-liner. However, while not stated in Mr. Starr's book--I believe that Joey's real downfall was the laziness he exhibited on his late-night talk show. He never really took the time to do a monologue or prepare any post-monologue comedy bit. Instead, he let Regis share the opening spot with him and then he went right to his guests. That would never sell today and it didn't sell in the sixties.

Mr. Starr takes the time to indicate how Joey was unbearable to much of his staff, somewhat reminiscent of various accounts of how Eddie Cantor treated his radio staff. But Joey and Eddie do share one extremely admirable trait--a dedication to charitable causes (as set forth by Mr. Starr) and for that alone, Joey deserves our respect.

Incidentally, Mr. Starr's recounting of one Joey Bishop joke about the Texan who goes to Israel is one that I'll be telling people for a while.



If your a big fan of Joey Bishop you will devour this book. Michael Seth Starr does an outstanding job chronicling the life and career of this legendary entertainer. You will join Joey as he climbs the show biz ladder from small clubs in Philadelphia, to the Copacabana and the Sands, to movie sets, tv studios, and to Broadway. Frank Sinatra dubed him as the "hub of the wheel" performing with the Rat Pack. You will not be able to put this book down. "Mouse in the Rat Pack:The Joey Bishop Story" is a great read and a must have for his fans.

joey bishop, rat pack, las vegas, the joey bishop show, regis, oceans 11,frank sinatra, peter law ford,
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© 2015 by Michael Seth Starr