Cover image for A conversation with the Mann : a novel
A conversation with the Mann : a novel
Ridley, John, 1965-
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Publication Information:
New York : Warner Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
433 pages ; 24 cm
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An evocative novel of an aspiring black comics rise to near-fame and fortune during the Rat Pack era, by the author of Everybody Smokes in Hell and Stray Dogs.What do you want?I want the Ed Sullivan Show.At the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, like a lot of black Americans, comedian Jackie Mann wanted to be somebody. And for him there was only one way to achieve that: to make it big. Make it, no matter the cost: friends, family, ones own self-esteem and self-respect. This is the story of a young mans journey from Harlem to stardom, a story of Hollywood royalty, New York glitterati, Vegas Mafiosi, Northern bigotry, and Southern racism. This is a story of love, honor, betrayal, and redemption; of fame bought and paid for by any means necessary. It is the story of one mans desire and an entire races demands, and the incredible moment when the two came together as one. This is the story of Jackie Mann.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

When does responsibility to society supersede our responsibility to ourselves? In Ridley's new novel, black standup comic Jackie Mann is lashed with a fury to succeed. Raising himself and his abusive addict father in Harlem, by the late 1950s he is a young man determined to use his gift--making people laugh--to rise to the top of a society that has kicked him down. Sublimating his rage into ambition, he doggedly pursues a single goal: an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. That will make white America accept him. Even as black Americans begin marching--and in spite of the urging of both radical black and well-intentioned white friends--Mann shies away from incendiary racial material, more desirous of power than self-respect or artistic credibility. But when the sacrifices of others cause Mann 's self-interest to pale, the question becomes whether it's too late for him to change--and if he does, can he still make a difference? In drawing the trajectory of Mann's life, Ridley incorporates real people and events to render the milieu brutally vivid (think James Ellroy set in the nightclub circuit). The author uses fine strokes, however, in examining the complexity of his characters' choices. This fascinating book serves as a history of standup comedy, a refresher on the struggle for civil rights, and a primer on duty to self and society. It's also a cracking good read. --Keir Graff

Publisher's Weekly Review

Written by novelist (Stray Dogs), screenwriter (Three Kings) and TV producer (NBC's Third Watch) Ridley, who began his career as a stand-up comedian, this affecting and provocative roman clef is set against the backdrop of 1950s-1960s Hollywood, Rat Pack Las Vegas and the Civil Rights movement. The fictional narrator is a mordant, world-weary Harlem-raised black comic, Jackie Mann, who irreverently recounts a journey from poverty to his symbol of success, an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a path strewn with compromise and degradation. Mann's long-suffering mother dies when he is barely school-age, and he grows to young adulthood struggling to survive his alcoholic father's abuse while fulfilling his mother's prophecy: "You're a special one, Jackie Mann." Given an opportunity to do stand-up comedy late nights at the rundown 14th Street Theater, Jackie finally catches the eye of a smalltime agent. After escaping death at the hands of redneck bigots in Miami, a chance encounter with mob kingpin Frank Costello leads to Jackie's ensuing sponsorship by Sinatra. What follows are broken vows, blackmail, murder and bookings at flashy hotels where he is denied a room and must use the kitchen entrance. Ridley vividly brings to life noirish panoramas of high-stakes show business, as well as the myriad humiliations endured by a black man trying to win fame in segregated America. The novel is a veritable "who's who" of well-known showbiz personalities and includes fictional characters diabolically calculated to keep readers guessing their real-life counterparts. (June 6) Forecast: A major publicity campaign (including a five-city author tour, a satellite tour to 25 markets and advertising in African-American publications and the New York Times Book Review) and Ridley's Hollywood connections should ensure this novel makes a sizable splash. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved