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.

Everett Collection

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.

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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.