Book Reviews

There's Mel, There's Woody, and There's You
My Life in the Slow Lane

Bruce Kimmel

Review by Bob Gutowski

There's Mel, There's Woody, and There's You As Shakespeare might have put it, "What a piece of work is Bruce Kimmel!" Even if you only know him from the pun-filled, stream-of-consciousness mini-dramas on his website, or his posts on All That Chat and other discussion boards you're, no doubt, aware of his many professional accomplishments. Now Kimmel, who has already published three novels which were fictionalized accounts of his boyhood, has written this memoir of his adult years in the real world of show-biz—if that's not an oxymoron.

The title of the book, a compliment (referring, of course, to Mr. Brooks and Mr. Allen) and a bit of a put-down at the same time, is an actual quote from a former high mucky-muck at Paramount. Kimmel has made great, ironic use of it, adding the phrase "My Life in the Slow Lane."

I'm resisting the urge to give away Kimmel's credits, for much of the fun of the book is learning (or, for those of us of a certain age, being reminded) of where Kimmel, a compulsively creative Candide, ended up as a result of his various journeys. You'll discover which young actress (now a veteran TV performer) took a sudden liking to Kimmel and gifted him with her agent. You'll learn about how Kimmel, with a quick mind and talent, became one of the ubiquitous faces of 1970s series television. You'll read Kimmel's anecdotes about the many unexpectedly generous stars with whom he worked, and you'll cringe at the behavior of a couple of biggies who were out and out stinkers.

In the book's main section (and this volume only covers up to 1993, when Kimmel went through a "complete life change" and became a record producer), you'll find out just about everything you ever wanted to know about how an ongoing office gag about a proposed porno flick with songs became the 1976 cinema cult classic The First Nudie Musical, starring Stephen Nathan and Cindy Williams. Kimmel wrote the script and the songs and co-directed (with Mark Haggard). Kimmel also appeared in a supporting role as the boyish, clueless nudnik of a director forced upon the creators of the film within the film by their seedy producers. Here's a section I especially enjoyed, in which Kimmel, out of desperation, makes a discovery about how comedy in film works:

And then we came to my speech, the speech that was so wonderful on paper, the speech that had played well on the soundstage, the speech that had laid there like a lox in dailies. We cut the entire sequence together ... we screened the reel for friends. Everything before and after the speech got laughs. The speech laid there like a lox. We went back to the cutting room. I was so despondent that I was ready to just cut it out of the movie. "I am so sick of this thing and seeing me die," I said ... "just cut away from me—go to other people, please—get me off the screen." So, we put in two cutaways to people sitting there listening to the speech. We screened the reel again. Laughs. Blessed laughs ... and in that wonderful moment I figured it all out. It wasn't about seeing me say the speech, it was about the people listening and reacting to it. We went back to the cutting room and put some more cutaways in ...

Throughout the book Kimmel emerges as a likable everyman, that buddy of yours who was a lot quicker or funnier than the rest of your friends. His story doesn't come without disappointments and wrong turns, naturally, but Kimmel never stops learning, and subsequently profits from it. His songwriting has been a life-long passion, and along with the book he's included a CD featuring samples of his work through the years, as mentioned and discussed in the text.

There's Mel, There's Woody, and There's You is not only an entertaining self-portrait of an unstoppable (if genial) force of nature, but it works as a diary of a time when (as is made clear in the book's Introduction) show business was not nearly as complex an animal as it is today.

Show TunesThere's Mel, There's Woody, and There's You My Life in the Slow Lane
Bruce Kimmel
AuthorHouse, 2010
624 pp
Hardcover. 414 pages. Illustrated
MSRP $19.95
ISBN: 978-1452011165

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