Humorist, screenwriter, biographer, magician, novelist

Sid Fleis­chman

I’ve just fin­ished read­ing Sid Fleis­chman’s new biog­ra­phy, Sir Char­lie, Chap­lin: the Fun­ni­est Man in the World. It’s due to be pub­lished in June by Green­wil­low Books. I nev­er had the hon­or of meet­ing Mr. Fleis­chman, but through his books, par­tic­u­lar­ly his biogra­phies, I have a sense of the man. His inter­ests were wide, his obser­va­tions keen, his humor at once gen­tle and broad, his sense of the world embraced won­ders that attract­ed read­ers like a mag­net.

Mr. Fleis­chman died on March 17th, one day after he turned 90. What a life he led. He wore all of the descrip­tions in the title of this piece. I did­n’t know that he first wrote nov­els for adults … nov­els so inter­est­ing that movies were made out of them, includ­ing Blood Alley, star­ring Lau­ren Bacall and John Wayne. Mr. Fleis­chman wrote the screen­play in 1955.

He pub­lished his first book, Between Cock­tails, a book “for magi­cians only,” in 1939, co-writ­ten with his part­ner in mag­ic. One of his obit­u­ar­ies states that the book, pub­lished by Abbott Mag­ic Nov­el­ty Co., is still in print, but I could not find evi­dence of that.

A pro­fes­sion­al vaude­vil­lian, his obser­va­tions and under­stand­ing of the times and cul­ture inform his writ­ing in a way that I find endear­ing. It is his biogra­phies that I find most fas­ci­nat­ing, not only for their sub­jects but for the biog­ra­pher’s voice. He wrote about sub­jects which swirled around his life: Escape! the Sto­ry of the Great Hou­di­ni and The Trou­ble Begins at Eight, a Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. Mag­ic, humor, film, show­man­ship, genius. Reveal­ing a good deal about the biog­ra­ph­er as well as the sub­jects, all three books are high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. Be sure to read the back mat­ter, par­tic­u­lar­ly the end notes, for they are filled with Mr. Fleis­chman’s per­son­al­i­ty.

Mr. Fleis­chman’s writ­ing is so adept that I will seek out Char­lie Chap­lin’s films (I’ve nev­er watched one … I know … no lec­tures, please) to bet­ter appre­ci­ate the com­plex per­son­al­i­ty described in Sir Char­lie. So strong is Mr. Fleis­chman’s mag­ic that he bares illu­sion and still man­ages to weave a spell.

Read more about Sid Fleis­chman on his own web­site and in these remem­brances by the staff at Green­wil­low Press.

We all hope that our favorite writ­ers will go on and on … instead we must appre­ci­ate, and be sat­is­fied with, the extra­or­di­nary gifts they have giv­en us.

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