Cover image for Becoming Richard Pryor
Becoming Richard Pryor
Saul, Scott.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harper, 2015.
Physical Description:
xvi, 586 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN2287.P77 S38 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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A major biography--intimate, gripping, revelatory--of an artist who revolutionized American comedy.

Richard Pryor may have been the most unlikely star in Hollywood history. Raised in his family's brothels, he grew up an outsider to privilege. He took to the stage, originally, to escape the hard-bitten realities of his childhood, but later came to a reverberating discovery: that by plunging into the depths of his experience, he could make stand-up comedy as exhilarating and harrowing as the life he'd known. He brought that trembling vitality to Hollywood, where his movie career--Blazing Saddles, the buddy comedies with Gene Wilder, Blue Collar--flowed directly out of his spirit of creative improvisation. The major studios considered him dangerous. Audiences felt plugged directly into the socket of life.

Becoming Richard Pryor brings the man and his comic genius into focus as never before. Drawing upon a mountain of original research--interviews with family and friends, court transcripts, unpublished journals, screenplay drafts--Scott Saul traces Pryor's rough journey to the heights of fame: from his heartbreaking childhood, his trials in the Army, and his apprentice days in Greenwich Village to his soul-searching interlude in Berkeley and his ascent in the "New Hollywood" of the 1970s.

Becoming Richard Pryor illuminates an entertainer who, by bringing together the spirits of the black freedom movement and the counterculture, forever altered the DNA of American comedy. It reveals that, while Pryor made himself a legend with his own account of his life onstage, the full truth of that life is more bracing still.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* For all his autobiographical bravado on stage, Pryor was tight-lipped about his life when he was offstage. He had a proprietary sense regarding his life, wanting to tell his own story in his own way, according to music scholar Saul. Drawing on interviews with Pryor's family, wives, lovers, friends, and colleagues as well as documents from court transcripts and screenplay drafts, Saul delivers an intimate look at Pryor's life, from childhood to the late 1970s. Raised in brothels among characters he later brought to life in his gritty stage acts, Pryor took refuge in his ability to make people laugh. His life was his raw material, from a rough childhood to failed marriages and relationships, racial struggles, drug addiction, and regular human foibles all filtered through a crackling personality. Pryor ascended to stardom in Hollywood in the 1970s, bringing vitality and improvisation to his work on stage and in such films as Blazing Saddles and Blue Collar. Saul explores Pryor's creative process and the unpredictability that thrilled audiences and often horrified agents and directors. Saul portrays a complicated man, who reveled in the absurdities of life, tingeing harsh realities with biting, often obscene, humor, leaving an enduring mark on American comedy.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Drawing on interviews with family and friends, unpublished journals and court records, Saul (Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't) jauntily chronicles the year-by-year, and almost day-by-day, evolution of the young man from Peoria who developed into the man that Jerry Seinfeld called "the Picasso of our profession." Saul examines the forces that propelled Pryor to the top of his game in the late 1970s, tracing the comedian's early years being raised in a brothel and his introduction to improvisational acting by teacher Juliette Whittaker to his days in New York's Greenwich Village and Manny Roth's Cafe Wha? honing his skills. In his heady days in L.A. he played baseball with Aaron Spelling and Bobby Darin. Saul then documents Pryor's retreat to Berkeley in 1969, where he found himself part of the city's counterculture movement. Glaringly honest, Saul shines a light on Pryor's descent into drugs, his brutal treatment of his wives, and his fretful insecurities about his own abilities. In the end, Pryor emerges as a revolutionary stand-up comic who perfected the art of dramatizing his own imperfections, and the world's; a trenchant social critic, often called "Dark Twain"; and a crossover artist whose work in film often failed to achieve the incendiary raw power of his live comic shows. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

There are many things to praise about this title, not least of which that it is an exhaustive historical account of the legendary entertainer Pryor's life (1940-2005) and career up to the late 1970s. Saul (Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't) marshals more archival resources and personal interviews than any previous biographer of the comedian, providing a comprehensive chronology of his early years. The exacting detail is often painful reading. Pryor grew up in a brothel (a contested biographical detail until now), and even while striving toward themes of liberation in his work, he abused lovers and substances prodigiously. Yet the author demonstrates how Pryor's background and turmoil, as well as larger social and political forces of the 1960s and 1970s, fueled his creativity and willingness to take artistic risks. For now this book serves as the final word on how its subject rose to occupy a singular spot in the American comedy and cinema landscape. VERDICT This essential book for Pryor enthusiasts will be equally valuable to scholars of modern American history and popular culture.-Chris Martin, North Dakota State Univ. Libs., Fargo (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. xi
Prologuep. 1
Part 1 Up from Peoria
Chapter 1 Dangerous Elementsp. 7
Chapter 2 The Backside of Lifep. 20
Chapter 3 The Law of the Lashp. 37
Chapter 4 Glow, Glow Worm, Glowp. 59
Chapter 5 The Bootp. 75
Chapter 6 The Measure of a Manp. 92
Part 2 Man of a Thousand Rubber Faces
Chapter 7 In Search of Opennessp. 111
Chapter 8 Mr. Congenialityp. 128
Chapter 9 An Irregular Regularp. 147
Chapter 10 The Person in Questionp. 166
Part 3 In the House of Pain
Chapter 11 The King Is Deadp. 187
Chapter 12 Black Sun Risingp. 209
Chapter 13 Irreconcilable Differencesp. 225
Chapter 14 I'm a Serious Motherp. 245
Part 4 King of the Scene Stealers
Chapter 15 The More I Talk, the Less I Diep. 273
Chapter 16 Black Goes Firstp. 299
Chapter 17 Be Glad When It's Spring, Flowerp. 318
Chapter 18 Number One with a Bulletp. 336
Part 5 The Funniest Man on the Plant
Chapter 19 Every Nigger Is a Starp. 361
Chapter 20 Hustlingp. 384
Chapter 21 A Man of Partsp. 404
Chapter 22 Giving Up Absolutely Nothingp. 427
Chapter 23 Can I Speak to God Right Away?p. 448
Epiloguep. 471
Acknowledgmentsp. 489
Notesp. 493
Indexp. 565