Marty Feldman: “I am too old to die young and too young to grow up”

In 1969 Marty Feldman was quite successful, in the second year of his own hit skit comedy show, so BBC gave him an hour of prime time television for a reality-based show. The result was One Pair of Eyes, a personal look at comedy and writing, with guests including Barry Took, Peter Sellers, and Dudley Moore. In 2011, almost 30 years after Feldman’s death, BBC looked back at the forgotten legend and “missing link” between the golden age of BBC Radio comedy, the hothouse of 1960s television comedy, and finally Hollywood in the documentary Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation. For more, there’s The Official Marty Feldman (fan)site, which has a ton of great content, and has been posting television clips and movies from Marty’s career on Vimeo for almost a year.

Marty Feldman’s various careers had false starts until he turned to script writing for radio and TV with Barry Took. Together, they wrote a few episodes of The Army Game (1960) and much of the spin-off, Bootsie and Snudge (1960–62), then some Round the Horne (1964–67) for BBC Radio.

Feldman went on to write with others for The Frost Report, with such skits as the “Class sketch,” also known as “I Know My Place.” In 1976, Marty was a member of the cast of At Last the 1948 Show (YouTube playlist), the precursor to Monty Python and now considered a cult classic. Some skits were first aired on the 1948 show, including The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch (1948 show), which was later performed in Monty Python live at the Hollywood Bowl. Feldman’s success in this show paved the way for his own hit show, Marty, which had a 12 episode season, followed by a second season that was re-titled It’s Marty! in 1969. Much of the footage from those seasons was lost, but here’s an hour of material from It’s Marty!, and a playlist of 29 clips from both seasons. His favorite work came from this period, and his personal pick for the best bit was The Loneliness of the Long Distance Golfer, a piece of purely physical comedy, playing on the book title The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.

That same year, One Pair of Eyes let Marty revisit personal, historic locations and muse upon the relationships between comedy, acting and jazz.

His first thought was to do a film about one of his heroes. However, Buster Keaton had died and his second choice Louis Armstrong was in poor health. So Marty decided to stay local and centered the program around the creative process with guests such as Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Eric Morcecambe, Denis Norden and the jazz stylings of Kendick, Lambert and Ross.

In 1970, Marty Feldman appeared as a semi-regular guest on The Dean Martin Show, seen here with Dean in “The Restaurant”, and with Paul Lynde in “The Ballet Dancer.” His performances were a hit, as reported on both sides of the pond, which lead to a joint UK/US production, The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine (1971-UK, ’72-US). He also appeared on The Flip Wilson Show, as seen in “A Visit to the Vet, or a Beast in the Basket,” which Marty had performed previously in the UK.

Marty had at least three more self-referential skit shows, including Marty Amok (1970), Marty Abroad (1971) and Marty Back Together Again (1974). Together Again has the odd distinction of featuring Feldman and Derek Griffiths covering a few Tom Lehrer tunes together: Vatican Rag, National Brotherhood Week, and Pollution.

Marty dipped his toes into feature-length film in 1969 with The Bed-Sitting Room, an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical black comedy. A year later, he had a starring role in Every Home Should Have One aka Think Dirty, about an ad man trying to make a sexy new image for porridge while his wife has become involved in a campaign to “clean up” television.

But most people will remember Marty Feldman most fondly for his role as Eye-Gor in Young Frankenstein. From that, Gene Wilder wrote, directed and acted in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother the next year, because he wanted to work with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman again. Silent Movie came out in 1975, and is a satirical comedy film co-written, directed by, and starring Mel Brooks, serving as a thinly veiled joke on Gulf+Western’s takeover of Paramount Pictures.

Sex with a Smile (trailer) came out in 1976, and the Italian anthology film sex comedy featured Feldman in one of the five segments, which was filmed while scouting locations for the first of his five-picture deal with Universal Studios.

That film was The Last Remake of Beau Geste, a historical comedy film that didn’t do so well, but its “inexplicable success … encouraged the studio to humor Marty Feldman again,” which was In God We Tru$t, a biting religious satire, which bombed at the box office. Marty lost his bungalow at Universal, and his shot at directing major feature films was over.

In 1982, Marty starred in a comic science fiction film, Slapstick of Another Kind beside Jerry Lewis and Madeline Kahn. The story was based on the novel Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut, but the film, released in 1984, “circumvents everything that is intelligent about Vonnegut’s fiction” (Google books preview).

Finally, it all went down with Yellowbeard, the pirate comedy, which Roger Ebert wrote “seems almost to have exhausted itself with its casting. This movie contains half the population of most of the movie comedies of the last decade.” The worst part is that the cast and crew clearly had fun, as seen in the making of feature, and that includes David ‘Sharkfin’ Bowie who was impressed by the cast.

Marty’s final photo session took place in London on August 29, 1982. This was for an intended piece in the Daily Mirror in which Marty made the now famous quote, “I am too old to die young and too young to grow up.”

After his death, Marty’s image faded greatly worldwide. In 1995 Jonatan Ross, a popular British TV personality, pushed to have a selection of Marty’s TV show It’s Marty re-broadcast in prime time. The response was ecstatic according to a BBC executive. Here now is that same collection of sketches from 1968-69.

Also, let’s look back a year before his death in 1982, to when he was featured on The Muppet Show. Or enjoy an undated short titled “Marty in the Garden,” and almost 2 hours of other Marty Feldman rarities.

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