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11.01.09

Marty Feldman: Dead Cool

Where has all the ugly gone? The Daily Beast’s Simon Doonan praises the Young Frankenstein star for his magnificent hideousness.

What happened to ugly? Where did all the Calibans and Quasimodos go? In our ultra-looksist culture, everyone has been systematically bewitched, buggered, and Botox’d into some annoying approximation of attractiveness-slash-hotness. There is no longer any room for those with sub-optimal looks. Sayonara, Sam Donaldson. Bonjour, Anderson Cooper.

I, for one, desperately miss the Peter Lorres, Charles Laughtons, and Margaret Hamiltons. And I really, really, really miss that super-cool, ugly bastard Marty Feldman!

Marty Feldman’s face was a horrible example of what can happen when a thyroid complaint, a dash of botched surgery, a car crash, and endless rounds of nose-mangling pugilism all converge on one human being. The result? A work of masterful hideousness.

Marty Feldman’s face was a horrible example of what can happen when a thyroid complaint, a dash of botched surgery, a car crash, and endless rounds of nose-mangling pugilism all converge on one human being.

Marty’s visage was seen at its best in Mel Brooks' 1974 cult classic Young Frankenstein. Playing the hunchbacked Igor—pronounced “Eye-gore”—Marty is clearly having a ball. During filming, he is alleged to have kept himself amused by moving his hump (a prop pregnancy pad) to random spots on his back and waiting to see if anyone noticed. His finest moment comes when Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) yells, "Damn your eyes!" Feldman stares cheekily into the camera, smiles coquettishly and says, "Too late!"

Marty said: “Money can't buy poverty.”

Marty was born poor working class and Jewish in England in 1933. Unsurprisingly, his first job entailed scampering around the Dreamland Fun Fairground at the seaside town of Margate.

Marty said: “The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.”

Somehow he managed to blunder and claw his way into a career as a comedy writer. Here he found his true métier. His surreal anarchic wit inspired the subsequent scribblings of the Monty Python Crew. A prolific collaborator, he penned, amongst many other shows, the legendary and outrageously homo-hilarious Julian and Sandy skits for the radio show Round the Horne.

Marty said: “Comedy, like sodomy, is an unnatural act.”

Though he had a genuine empathy with the marginalized freaks of the world, Marty was ferociously straight bloke. In 1959 he married the love of his life, a dolly bird named Lauretta Sullivan. They lived for many years in a gothic creepy Victorian pile in Hampstead which now belongs to Boy George.

By the mid-'70s, Marty had won BAFTAs and become a comedic star in the U.K. Like many Brit wits before him, Marty set his sights on the U.S. His Hollywood assault was only partially successful: He lensed a bunch of movies— Silent Movie and The Last Remake of Beau Geste being the most notable—but it never quite clicked. Marty was too witty and too ugly for Tinseltown. Six packs of fags a day finally took their toll and Marty died of a heart attack at the age of 49 while filming in Mexico.

Let’s take a breather from our relentless focus on cuteness and hotness and remember the majesty of Marty’s mangled physiognomy. Marty was cool because he took his hideousness and, with a brilliant wit and oodles of self-knowledge, he flaunted it. He waved it at us, daring us to recoil and challenging our prosaic pre-conceived ideas about beauty.

There was an intrinsic generosity to Marty’s schtick. His mug was a gift to the viewer: By owning his unattractiveness, he generously allowed the rest of us to feel less ugly. We need a Marty to come and challenge our Ryan Seacrest-ian obsession with bland physical perfection. Bring back the jowls and warts and general hideousness! Bring back Rumplestiltskin. Let’s start lowering the bar on physical perfection instead of continually raising it. Let’s return to a world where we can turn on the telly and, instead of feeling grody and sub-Angelina, we can declare, “I may be a bit naff-looking but at least I don’t look like THAT!”

See below, the parody of Bette Davis Eyes written by Bruce Baum.

Her head is growing bald
Her feet are twice her size
She says it's not her fault
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

She'll turn the sprinklers on you
And dry you off with her thighs
She'll confuse the hell out of you
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

And she'll woo you
Then she'll moon you
And forget to pull her pants up
She's obnoxious
And she knows it
And she knows how to blow her nose up
All the boys think she's fried
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

(Do it dirty!)

She's ferocious
Narcaleptic
Ambidextrious
Supercalafragalisticexpialadocious
Bogus
Vegamatic
(she slices and she dices!)

All the boys think she's a guy
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

You're so lame
You probably think this song is about you
You're so lame
You're so lame, yeah

Jimmy Durante's nose
And Jimmy Walker's lips
Liberace's clothes
Shelly Duvall's hips
She's got Willy Nelson legs
And Nancy Reagan's spleen
Dolly Parton's lungs
She's got Leon Spinks' teeth
Bob Seger's pancreas

All the boys think she's some kind of guy
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

Another by someone called Silly Willie:

Her hair is gray and old
Her lips chapped and dry
Her hands are always cold
She's got Marty Feldman eyes
Her once good looks are gone
She'll no longer entice
A big mole on her nose
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

She'll unease you
She has fleas too
And she has Hodgkin's disease too
She's atrocious
Sometimes she forgets to make the toilet bowl flush
She's got Kirstie Alley big fat thighs
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

She's from a mental home
You know her mind's not right
Her hair she doesn't comb
She's got Marty Feldman eyes
She'll scream or mumble at you
Repeats everything twice
She's got a few loose screws
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

She's an old shrew
And she's been to
Other planets in a U.F.O. too
She's atrocious
And she knows just what it takes to make you go nuts
All the boys think she's a guy
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

She'll impede you
And deceive you
All the better just to leave you
She's atrocious
When she scrubs her back she'll use the toilet bowl brush
All the boys think she's a guy
She's got Marty Feldman eyes

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Writer, fashion commentator and window-dresser, Simon Doonan is known for his provocative Simon Says column in The New York Observer. He has written four books: Confessions of a Window Dresser, Wacky Chicks , a memoir entitled Nasty, and a tongue-in-cheek style guide entitled Eccentric Glamour to be published in paperback in mid-April. A comedy TV series entitled Beautiful People , produced by Jon Plowman, will debut on LOGO in May.