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Overweight Sensation

The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman

Mark Cohen

Publication Year: 2013

Allan Sherman was the Larry David, the Adam Sandler, the Sacha Baron Cohen of 1963. He led Jewish humor and sensibilities out of ethnic enclaves and into the American mainstream with explosively funny parodies of classic songs that won Sherman extraordinary success and acclaim across the board, from Harpo Marx to President Kennedy. In Overweight Sensation, Mark Cohen argues persuasively for Sherman's legacy as a touchstone of postwar humor and a turning point in Jewish American cultural history. With exclusive access to Allan Sherman's estate, Cohen has written the first biography of the manic, bacchanalian, and hugely creative artist who sold three million albums in just twelve months, yet died in obscurity a decade later at the age of forty-nine. Comprehensive, dramatic, stylish, and tragic, Overweight Sensation is destined to become the definitive Sherman biography.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Cover Page

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pp. C-iv

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Prologue: Overweight Sensation

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pp. xi-xvi

On October 26, 1962, it still wasn’t clear everything would be okay and the Cuban Missile Crisis would not lead to nuclear war. There were two days to go in the thirteen-day showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union. Missile construction in Cuba charged ahead, and Fidel Castro urged the Soviets to bomb America if the U.S. invaded Cuba. It was a good day to ...

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Introduction: Humpty Dumpty

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pp. 1-7

By September 1936, Allan Segal was an eighth grader who had been around. Just shy of turning twelve, he was already on his second last name, third father, and fourth school, and he still had one more name and four high schools ahead of him. But for now the years spent rambling between Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York were over and he was settled in Los Angeles, a city he first saw ...

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1 | Witz-Krieg!

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pp. 8-32

Among the two million Jews who left Europe for America at the turn of the twentieth century was a passel of Lustigs. Between 1906 and 1920, siblings Anna, Abraham, Fanny, and Saul Lustig arrived in Chicago as single adults in their late teens and early twenties. Their sister Esther joined the family exodus in 1909, but she left Stashev, in Russian-ruled Poland, as the twenty-six-year-old ...

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2 | College in Sex Acts (Printer's Error)

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pp. 33-57

In the fall of 1941, Sherman wrote a letter to the editor of his college newspaper decrying the lack of a student humor magazine. The University of Illinois had one once, but it had folded four years before. Sherman heard it was considered too risqué. That was more than he could bear. He was just one month into his freshman year and not yet seventeen years old when he opened fire in the ...

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3 | I've Got a Secret

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pp. 58-82

After getting everything he wants Sam Noodleman is miserable, and that is the moral of The Golden Touch. Better known as Cheesecake Sam and owner of a New York delicatessen of the same name, Noodleman curses the day he was tempted by riches and glamour to go upscale and French. He made a lot of money, yes, but is he happy serving paté? The question answers itself because,...

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4 | There is Nothing Like a Lox

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pp. 83-102

On the evenings of September 21 and September 28, 1957, two consecutive Saturdays that conveniently fell just before and after the Jewish New Year holiday, Vernon Hills Country Club in Eastchester, New York, presented an amateur variety show starring Allan Sherman and other members called “Handicaps of 1957.” The event was held in the club’s theater, which the “Handicaps” program ...

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5 | Ollavood!

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pp. 103-120

In the summer of 1961, Allan Sherman met Harpo Marx, the meeting blossomed into a friendship, and the friendship produced one of the moments that helped Sherman launch his comedy career. “My dad just thought he was a genius” said Harpo’s son, Bill Marx....

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6 | My Son, the Folk Singer

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pp. 121-144

On August 6, 1962, Joe Smith of Warner Bros. Records was out to dinner in Los Angeles with his wife and father-in-law when he played a tape of Sherman’s first album, My Son, the Folk Singer, recorded earlier that day.
“A guy at the next booth said, ‘What is that? I want twenty-five of those. I’ll write you a check,’” recalled Smith. “We thought we had something.”...


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pp. A-N

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7 | My Son, the Celebrity

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pp. 145-169

“Do you think we did it in there, in the control room?”
By the time Sherman asked the recording engineers if the My Son, the Celebrity album session was over, he had dutifully followed a friend’s instructions to “get loaded.” On outtakes from the session a shell-shocked and tipsy Sherman tells the assembled audience, “I don’t understand the whole thing. I...

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8 | My Son, the Nut

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pp. 170-187

Reports of 1960s music fans “actually breaking down doors” of record stores to buy a star’s latest hit song sound like news about a teen sensation, but in the summer of 1963 they were about overweight sensation Allan Sherman’s smash single, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A letter from camp).” The song was a hit as a single record, and when Billboard on July 27 reported on the behavior...

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9 | Allan in Wonderland

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pp. 188-206

On February 9, 1964, the New York Journal-American ran a profile of Sherman while he toured England. International concerts were the logical next step. Over the past year he had blanketed the American market with an extensive tour and television appearances, and he had fans in London, Leeds, and Manchester. My Son, the Folk Singer sold 200,000 records in England and...

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10 | Peyton Place, U.S.A.

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pp. 207-221

“I’m not supposed to be Jewish,” Sherman told the New York Times on the eve of his first television special. “I was Jewish three seasons ago. Then it was avant-garde. I have to come out like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and forswear my forefathers. NBC felt that it was all right for a few million records, but they want me to be understood by thirty million viewers in Council Bluffs.”...

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11 | Oddball

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pp. 222-235

“He wanted the divorce,” Sherman’s ex-wife Dee Golden remembered. “He was in love with a girl. It came to a very sad end. She left him abruptly. He had several girlfriends and he never remarried.”
In 1966, Sherman ended his marriage and followed in the self-defeating footsteps of his unbalanced parents. To try and apply the brakes to his downhill ...

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12 | Hallowed Be Thy Game

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pp. 236-250

Sherman’s rightly forgotten musical is preserved only in works such as Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, but at least one of its songs is worth remembering.
The Fig Leaves Are Falling opened on January 2, 1969, at New York’s Broadhurst Theater and closed after four performances. The idea for it was lifted ...

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13 | Hail to Thee, Fat Person

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pp. 251-260

By the time Sherman died, his descent from stardom was complete. All of his albums were out of print. In the early 1970s, after a tumultuous decade of mass peace and civil rights demonstrations, riots, political assassinations, and the public spectacle of Watergate the country could not respond to his clever but nonabrasive comedy and was ready for the hard stuff. Richard Pryor...


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pp. 261-264


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pp. 265-283


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pp. 284-323


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pp. 324-339


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pp. 340-354

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684278
E-ISBN-10: 1611684277
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611682564

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013