August 11, 2014
Readers who’ve been around for a while may remember the original movie of “Miracle on 34th Street,” a sticky little Christmas story (though not nearly as ickily sticky as some of the treacle that Hollywood would go on to shovel out). One of the key roles is Santa Claus, Auld Beardie hisself, played by the British actor Edmund Gwenn (who won an Oscar for it). Gwenn in fact had a wide-ranging career, playing everything from Chekhov (with Katherine Cornell and Judith Anderson) to Hitchcock films, but he is best remembered as a fairly classy comedian. Gwenn died in 1959, and there’s a story – probably apocryphal, but it’s a swell story – that a friend came to see him in the hospital. Gwenn was lying there, festooned with tubes, surrounded by beeping monitors, and the friend was overcome. “Oh Ed,” said Friend, “Gosh, this is…I’m so sorry. Dying must be so hard.”
Gwenn thought about this for a moment. “Dying is hard,” he said. “Comedy is harder.”
There are many versions of that line – and, indeed, many versions of the story, some of which do away with Gwenn altogether and substitute actors from Edmund Kean to Groucho Marx. But the underlying point never changes: Funny is really hard work.
I’m thinking of this because I’ve been musing for some time now on why certain genres of fiction get more and less respect. Over the weekend I read a piece in the Guardian, which I’ll be posting shortly, on historical fiction – a genre that tends to get sniffed at a fair amount. The widespread belief, says Hillary Mantel, is that it’s essentially “chick-lit in wimples.”
Leaving aside the jaw-dropping…leaving aside the distressing aspect of a woman referring disdainfully to “chick-lit” (you don’t want to know what I think of women who call themselves and other women “bitches”), here’s my question: “Chick-lit” is assumed to deal with “light” themes (you know, the stuff that preoccupies the little ladies). And it’s often funny, or tries to be. Why does it get dissed so badly? I’ll repeat: FUNNY IS REALLY HARD WORK. And GOOD funny…is right up there on the list of the world’s blessings, alongside baby kitties and cheeseburgers and naps. Funny deserves some respect.
And the wimples? You know that famous line about Ginger Rogers doing everything that Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels? Well you try being funny while wearing a wimple. Or a corset and eight-button kid gloves. Lightweight requires heavy lifting, and triple that if you’ve grafted a historical theme on top of the hee-hee-hees.
In honor thereof, let us present two Felonies of the Week: Peter Lovesey’s deliciously silly (and lightweight. And funny) “Bertie” mysteries, in which the longtime Prince of Wales (would Queen Victoria ever pop her clogs???) plays sleuth. Villains everywhere were quaking in their boots. Not.
This week only, 25% off Bertie and the Crime of Passion and . Cheapest giggles in town.
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