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Tenk You Veddy Much??

Best Friend Tells All?

In her review of "Andy Kaufman Revealed! - Best Friend Tells All" by Bob Zmuda, Francine Prose (New York Observer) offered this off-the-mark observation: "Having been more or less present at the creation of Kaufman's comic personae (Elvis; the befuddled Foreign Man, Latka, on the TV series Taxi; the obnoxious, audience-abusing lounge singer Tony Clifton), Mr. Zmuda is able to track the rise and fall of Kaufman's brief career." Unfortunately Ms. Prose didn't know that Andy Kaufman's comic personae was fully formed years before he met Mr. Zmuda, and Kaufman's multiple characters were created - and the foundations of his unique performance style firmly cemented - during his teenage and college years. And therein lies the principle problem with Mr. Zmuda's book, and how he has perhaps become the revisionist historian on the life and career of Andy Kaufman.

Many have said Mr. Zmuda's "Andy Kaufman Revealed!" was a rush job put out as a quickie "as-told-to" book to remind everyone of his importance, while others claim nobody was closer to Andy than his partner, and this book is the definitive Andy Kaufman biography.

The truth falls somewhere in the middle, and even though many slam Mr. Zmuda for his less than stellar skills as a biographer, readers do get inside scoop on many of Andy Kaufman's seminal performances. Strangely, "Andy Kaufman Revealed!" is as much about Mr. Zmuda as it is about Kaufman, and this oddity is compounded by the many inaccuracies and embellishments Mr. Zmuda throws into the mix. Coming from someone who loved Andy very much is an odd fact for a reader to ponder. Why would Mr. Zmuda be compelled to use this book to blow his own horn, and why couldn't he get the facts straight?

Consider this: There's something rather odd about a best friend who reveals intimate details about his friend's sex life in a tell-all book portrayed as a biography. One can only wonder what motivated Mr. Zmuda to betray Andy's confidence for all the world to see.

Truth be told: "Revealed" reveals nothing relevant about Andy's sex life, and nor do readers much care.

Another common reaction expressed by readers has been their uneasiness with portions of the book where Mr. Zmuda appears to take credit for much of Andy's act and career success. The Andy Kaufman Special (1977) was largely developed during Andy's "Midnight Snacks" run at the L.A. IMPROV, many months before Mr. Zmuda ever came on the scene, and yet to hear Mr. Zmuda tell the tale, Andy owed it all to him. The same is true for the "milk & cookies idea" and the Tony Clifton character, not to mention Mr. Zmuda's claim that he advised Andy not to do "Heartbeeps".

Perhaps Mr. Zmuda's finest moment of self-promotion can be found on page 144 when he writes, "Every time Andy looked at me that night, it was with total admiration, for only he and I knew the truth, that his success that night was a direct result of my writing and producing the show." And why does he need to push this "Mr. X" nonsense (pages 30-42, 45-49)? The truth be told, Norman Wexler was the infamous Mr. X., and the need to keep his identity a secret was trite and unnecessary, given the fact that the man died three months prior to the publishing of Mr. Zmuda's book. (Far be it for Mr. Zmuda to pass up the opportunity to create a buzz where none ever existed.) The truth is, Norman Wexler had little influence on Andy's career (or life) and the esteem Mr. Zmuda holds Wexler in is mystifying and unexplainable. Mr. Zmuda had many opportunites on his tireless promotional tour to set the record straight and reveal to all who Mr. X really was, but he slyly chose not to. So it's probably not surprising that Mr. Zmuda would have you believe his dear departed mother, Sophie also had grand influence on Andy's comedy stylings and his career in general (See the Chicago Tribune obituary, "Sophie Zmuda 80, Inspired Kaufman Antics" by Heather Vogell, August 24, 2000).

Perhaps what's most disturbing are the many inaccuracies in Mr. Zmuda's book. For someone who's breaking a twenty-year silence to reveal the truth, you'd think he could do better at getting the facts straight.

The "Howdy Doody tantrum" never happened like Mr. Zmuda explains it, although Mr. Zmuda loves to tell the story and he does so quite well on page 80 of his book. Andy never had a temper tantrum, just ask Burt Dubrow - just ask Mr. Zmuda. Sadly, Mr. Zmuda chooses to embellish the story for reasons unknown.

On page 123, Mr. Zmuda begins the tale of the night Andy and he performed at Chicago's Park West. The events on September 17, 1978, did not take place exactly the way Mr. Zmuda portrays, in fact Mr. Zmuda even mistates the correct date of the performance. The show he describes actually occurred some four years later (March 26, 1982). During his recollection, Mr. Zmuda claims that Rick Kerman pees his pants while under hypnosis. He didn't, just ask him. (It was actually Chicago DJ Steve Dahl, and he was under a box - not under hypnosis.) How could Zmuda get something this simple so wrong? And why wouldn't he have at least spoken with Rick (or Rick's wife Carol Kaufman-Kerman) to verify if his long-ago recollection was correct?

Mr. Zmuda's spin on the Kutsher's performance (incorrectly spelled "Kutscher's" in his book) is very silly (pages 179-181). The fact of the matter is that Andy was very unhappy with the audience's reaction and also very protective of his family. Andy was devastated at what occurred (once he realized what had happened), and Mr. Zmuda's theory on Andy's motivation (page 180) behind the performance is ludicrous.

On pages 196-199, Mr. Zmuda shares his memories of the nights when Andy (as Tony Clifton) opened for Rodney Dangerfield. The actual events took place on January 29-31, 1981 at the Warfield Theatre. (Where during one performance a knife-wielding audience member bounded on stage and attempted to stab Andy/Tony.) Unfortunately, Mr. Zmuda mixes fact with fiction and claims the show was at the Fillmore West and Bill Graham was involved. Bill was involved, but the show was not at his Fillmore West auditorium.

The portions of Mr. Zmuda's book (and there are many) that deal with psychoanalysis of Andy Kaufman are misleading. They are conjecture at best, not based upon fact and only supported by Mr. Zmuda's best friend, "Doctor" Joey Troiani. Without medical substantiation, readers can probably do without Mr. Zmuda's paint-by-numbers Freudian insight.

And sadly, it's not just the inaccuracies and embellishments that are unnecessary, but the fact that Mr. Zmuda fails to mention or give proper credit to several other people who contributed to Andy's life and career. Why did Mr. Zmuda conveniently forget the following individuals?

Mel Sherer
Merrill Markoe
Little Wendy

This is probably not as sad as it seems given that Mr. Zmuda was not around for large portions of Andy's life and career. And as mentioned earlier in this review, Mr. Zmuda did not know Andy during Andy's formative years. He never knew Andy Kaufman as a child, a teenager, or a college student. He was not involved with Andy as Andy made his historic performances on the original episodes of Saturday Night Live, nor was he close to the scene when Andy was voted off the show. Despite what many may think, Mr. Zmuda was not allowed on the set of Taxi, and wasn't a major part of Andy's last special (The Andy Kaufman Show) on Chicago's WTTW. So perhaps many of his omissions are unintentional.

God bless Bob, he is certainly a great storyteller, an ace showman, and promoter/producer extraordinaire, but let's hope when the paperback edition of his book is published he takes the time to revise the original text.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The paperback edition (now available) has not been updated, and does not contain corrections or new material.