Indie Book Awards 2018: Finalist, Autobiography/Biography Category
Best Book of the Year (2017) - Classic Images
Alan Sues, critically acclaimed actor/comedian, first appeared in a road tour of Happy Birthday before achieving attention on Broadway in Tea and Sympathy (1953-1955) with Deborah Kerr. Years of later work in films (The Americanization of Emily, 1964), on television (The Twilight Zone, 1964; The Wild Wild West, 1965; The Doris Day Show, 1968), and in theater led to his breakthrough appearances on the outrageously funny Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-1972).
Few knew about Alan’s heartbreaking struggle with personal demons, including uncaring and alcoholic parents, his own alcoholism and depression, and his secret sexuality as a gay man. He hid his struggles behind a mask of comical antics and charm, and he continued amusing audiences throughout his later career in national tours of Good News (1972), Sugar (1974), Sherlock Holmes (1975-1976), Sugar Babies (1987), and Singin’ in the Rain (1986-1987).
Alan’s story of survival and resiliency of spirit imbues Michael Gregg Michaud’s richly researched biography that draws from dozens of hours of recorded interviews with Alan and his own years spent caring for him until his death. Discover Alan’s time with Leonard Nimoy, Lily Tomlin, Sammy Davis Jr., Tiny Tim, Goldie Hawn, Paul Lynde, Phyllis Diller, Ricky Nelson, Lucille Ball, and Jonathan Winters; his candid tales of underground gay clubs in Hollywood during the 1940s; the legendary Manhattan nightclubs of the 1950s; Broadway, summer stock theater, and early television; and Alan’s memories of behind-the-scenes squabbles on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
378 pages. Illustrated with more than 100 photographs including personal, family photos, scenes from television shows including Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and photos of Alan’s many stage characterizations. Appendices include several never before seen scripts and television pilot proposals written by Alan.
About the author: Michael Gregg Michaud is the author of the best-selling Lambda Literary Award-winning Sal Mineo, A Biography, and co-author with Diane McBain of Famous Enough, A Hollywood Memoir.
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“Alan Sues was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Not just as a performer, but as a person.” – Ruth Buzzi
“When Alan dressed like me in curls, a boa, a dress and false eyelashes, he looked better than me.” – Jo Anne Worley
“Alan was so deeply, so genuinely funny that to just think of him makes me laugh.” – Barbara Sharma
“We all know how funny and bright Alan Sues was. What was more amazing to me was the sincere sweetness in his heart. He truly wanted to hand the whole world a big laugh.” – Joyce Van Patten
“Alan was a true comedy original.” – Fred Willard
“Alan was a very talented performer who everyone loved having around. He was hilarious. He was always funny, even when he wasn’t trying to be.” – Gary Owens
“Alan was a delight, a real upper. He was a happy force field of energy who had an outrageous look at life. He could take a straight line and make it funny as hell.” – George Schlatter, Executive Producer Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
"Watched by over 30 million people each week, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was the top-rated television show of 1969, and Alan Sues was one of its breakout stars. This compelling 378-page biography by longtime friend and colleague, Michael Greg Michaud, uncovers the complicated man beneath Sues’ manic persona, with the late comic actor (who passed away in 2011 at the age of 85) providing funny, vivid, and unflinching recollections about every imaginable aspect of his life and career, including horribly unsupportive parents, early showbiz ambitions, struggles with his homosexuality, and an ill-fated marriage, a string of odd jobs, and rat-trap crash-pads, plus the people he met, friends he made, and gay bars he frequented along the way. Alas, even early successes—his first Broadway role in Elia Kazan’s Tea and Sympathy, guest spots on The Twilight Zone and Honey West—couldn’t stem Sues’ personal problems with self-doubt, depression, overeating, and drinking. Of course, everything changed after joining Laugh-In for its second season and becoming an instant celebrity thanks to popular recurring characters like flamboyant sports announcer Big Al. But with this success came the difficulty in concealing is private life, behind-the-scenes conflicts and frustrations with the show’s increasingly homophobic humor. Sues’ post Laugh-In typecasting is also detailed, with years of crisscrossing the country in breezy regional stage shows and too-infrequent dramatic roles (e.g., Professor Moriarty in a Broadway revival of Sherlock Holmes), as well as his later failing health and final days. Filled with crazy anecdotes—like getting drafted into the Army and accidentally assigned to a “Negro” unit, or hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on live TV, accompanied by a foul-mouthed Mason Reese—this is a wonderfully engaging and touching tribute to Alan Sues’ rich and often troubled life. "
- Shock Cinema
At first, I thought the title Alan Sues: A Funny Man by Michael Gregg Michaud (BearManor Media, $24.95 softcover / $35 hardcover) was not only lame, but a bit pretentious. But, after reading this, I can't think of a better or more appropriate name.
Actor Alan Sues (1926-2011) was best known for his campy stint on TV's groundbreaking comedy series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1968–73), particularly playing the character of Big Al the sportscaster. Of course, there was much more to Sues, but he was always the type of underappreciated performer who rarely got his due.
This is the first biography about him, and thankfully an excellent one, written by someone who was a close friend and interviewed him. In fact, this almost reads as an autobiography, so extensively does Michaud quote Sues. The author also interviewed other friends and colleagues, as well as providing his own insights into Sues' complicated psyche, to paint a balanced picture of the man. There is a rollercoaster of emotions going on in this bio.
While the author was friends with Sues, this is not a whitewash – quite the contrary. At times the narrative, while never mean, is brutal. Sues, like many comedians, had a lot of sadness in his life and suffered from addiction (alcohol and overeating). Much of this stemmed from his family and his sexuality. While he grew up in affluence, his parents alternated between being emotionally distant to overly critical. Somehow, Sues found humor and a will to survive.
Most of his life Sues wrestled with his homosexuality. For about five years in the '50s he was married and the author interviewed his wife (and stage partner) about their relationship. Sues' attitude loosened a bit when he met female impersonator Charles Pierce, who took him to gay bars. (“Charles led me astray,” Alan said, “but he did it with style. And a sequined turban.”) One of the saddest quotes from Sues: “You could PLAY gay if it was funny and NOT sexual, but you couldn't BE gay.” This is a running theme.
He served in the Army during World War II and there is a hilarious story about how a mix-up sent him to the wrong unit—they thought he was African-American! Sues always had a wild sense of humor and that comes through loud and clear in this volume. I love that he wrote “F*** you” on the bottom of his shoes to distract his tennis opponents.
The show business stories are pure gold. The orange hair dye story and his audition for the road company of Mister Roberts is classic. As is the one where he put raw egg whites on his face to look younger for an audition but ended up resembling a “six-foot tall Spanky McFarland” with extremely tight, unmovable facial skin. His appearance on TV's The Dating Game resulted in a win for Sues, but when they went out to a restaurant on their date, he ended up loudly accusing her of peeing on his expensive shoes (she didn't, of course) and embarrassing the poor girl!
For fans of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes intrigue – some fun, some definitely not. The author interviewed cast members, including Ruth Buzzi and Jo Anne Worley. The latter made me laugh out loud with her statement that when Sues dressed in drag to imitate her, “he looked better than me.” The following page has a priceless photo showing this moment and it's my favorite in the whole book.
Marvelous stories abound about the different actors and actresses he worked with on screen and in the theater. When he tried to upstage Miriam Hopkins during a play, she slapped him backstage. (“My teeth clattered. I didn't try it twice.”) Former silent actress Enid Markey bit his hand so hard during a dance number, “it drew blood. And I thought, gee, this show business stuff is really rough.” He had a supporting part in Broadway's Tea and Sympathy with Deborah Kerr-John Kerr and then Joan Fontaine-Anthony Perkins and there are some great tales from those productions. His recollection of an exchange backstage between Fontaine (“She was a genuine broad”) and her sister Olivia de Havilland is superb. He recalls that Mickey Rooney and Shelley Winters almost got into a fistfight while recording their voices for Rankin/Bass' Christmas special Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979). Speaking of Rooney, my favorite story has to do with the outburst he directs toward Sues when they meet up years later.
Sues did a lot of theater, mostly stock, which surprised me a bit. Some venues weren't the best and his descriptions of these theaters are fun, especially the one with several mousetraps on stage. About his run in the musical play Singin' in the Rain: “This was a genuine road tour. I'm not sure I realized what I had gotten myself into. We traveled like a band of gypsies – without their flashy fashion sense.”
You kinda feel bad laughing at his experience hosting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade pre-parade show. The way he tells of the mishaps, it's uproarious, but it was ultimately very upsetting to him. Because of this, I won't look at Mason Reese the same way again. Horrifying and funny. Another side-splitting story about a child actor: He worked with Soleil Moon Frye on TV's Punky Brewster and he felt she was so obnoxious, he wanted to “kick her like a football out the door.”
Sues dishes about Deborah Kerr, Paul Lynde, Dom DeLuise, Vincent Price and his wife Coral Browne, James Coco, Janis Paige (wonderful), Leonard Nimoy, etc. There are a few boo-boos here and there (The Many LIVES of Dobie Gillis instead of LOVES, for instance), but nothing to truly distract from the book's enjoyment.
His ex-wife pretty much sums Sues up: “I think being homosexual was ... a big problem for him. In a way, he was ashamed of himself, and he was also on the defensive at the same time. He was very conflicted. It's a shame because he was so talented. So creative and artistic. He was incredibly funny. That's what I fell for, his sense of humor. He was a fabulous story-teller, and could take over a room. And no matter how much people laughed, he never thought he was good enough.”
Alan Sues: A Funny Man is more than good enough. It's well-written, very funny, poignant and insightful. Sues' voice is everywhere, commenting on all aspects of his life. Michaud is to be commended for writing this and helping us to understand and appreciate Sues better. One of the most enjoyable, can't-put-it-down books I have read.
- Laura Wagner/Classic Images