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Underfoot in Show Business

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It's a book about show business, where fame is the stock in trade. Each year there are hundreds of stagestruck kids arrive in New York determined to crash the theatre, firmly convinced they're destined to be famous Broadway stars or playwrights.


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It's a book about show business, where fame is the stock in trade. Each year there are hundreds of stagestruck kids arrive in New York determined to crash the theatre, firmly convinced they're destined to be famous Broadway stars or playwrights.

30 review for Underfoot in Show Business

  1. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Helene Hanff recalls her ingenuous attempts to crash Broadway in the early forties. Full of gentle humor as Helene relates the ups and downs of life in the theaters. For many years Helene struggled to pay the rent and struggled just to have a place to rent. A real rags to rags story, but she did not give up as it was her love of show business that kept her going. I was pleased to read that her talents were finally recognized and so she became a successful screen writer. Enjoy! .

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alana

    Why I had never picked up this author earlier, especially with how short her books are, I have no idea; they are truly a joy to read. Hanff wrote with such spunk and dry humor, taking jabs at herself, her industry, the realities of trying to "make it" in show business (and failing miserably), and just ordinary life. I found her tales of TV writing in the 50s educational and comedic... I grew up watching I Love Lucy reruns with their silly twin beds, so I know it was a bit ridiculous, but the spec Why I had never picked up this author earlier, especially with how short her books are, I have no idea; they are truly a joy to read. Hanff wrote with such spunk and dry humor, taking jabs at herself, her industry, the realities of trying to "make it" in show business (and failing miserably), and just ordinary life. I found her tales of TV writing in the 50s educational and comedic... I grew up watching I Love Lucy reruns with their silly twin beds, so I know it was a bit ridiculous, but the specifics of what Hallmark banned from their stories and what network TV tried to censor were amusing at best, and disturbing at worst, from what they tried to dictate to their viewing public. "Hallmark was a biographical show--and you just wouldn't believe how many of the world's great heroes and heroines failed to live up to the moral standards of American television." And I had to just shake my head at Hallmark's specific criteria about not offending the British by avoiding doing anything about the Revolutionary War. I had no idea about all of the numerous flopped plays of the 40s or the Theatre Guild's attempts to bring in new playwrights... including educating young writers just about to death, while the year before they had simply given their scholarship money to two young writers and sent them on their way...and they turned out to be two of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century. One can, in fact, be over-educated! I think my favorite moment is right at the end with Helene's "shouted" (because she uses all caps) letter to her best friend, making absolute fun of herself in the best way: "Harpers wants me to write my autobiography how to get nowhere in the theatre...It turns out I spent all those years trying to write plays just so I could write a book about it afterwards..." 4.5/5 Pick up this author, you'll love her!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chas

    This is a book that lifts the spirits! Poverty there is, but also humour, beauty, outrageous behaviour and life in the raw, it's all there; or is it? Is Helene Hanff putting on a brave face for her readers and only telling us the funniest and least sordid bits of her life as a playwright, hack TV writer and all round back room girl in 'the industry' aka showbiz? A memoir and 'how to write' manual combined, I have placed this book on the Essential Shelf and the five stars are twinkling like sirens This is a book that lifts the spirits! Poverty there is, but also humour, beauty, outrageous behaviour and life in the raw, it's all there; or is it? Is Helene Hanff putting on a brave face for her readers and only telling us the funniest and least sordid bits of her life as a playwright, hack TV writer and all round back room girl in 'the industry' aka showbiz? A memoir and 'how to write' manual combined, I have placed this book on the Essential Shelf and the five stars are twinkling like sirens to lead all you future sailors onto the rocks of publishing, may your draught be shallow enough not to collide with them. Amen

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marybeth

    As if I didn't already adore this woman thanks to 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, she writes a hysterical memoir about her attempts to "crash the theatre" in the 1940s. I had already laughed twice by the second page and lost count before I got to the end.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margaret H. Willison

    There is just something about Helene's voice that makes her feel like my funniest friend. She just knows her way around a good story. While 84 Charing Cross Road will always be first in my Hanff-heart, Underfoot in Show Business is a very close second and should not, NOT BY ANY MEANS, be out-of-print. Hanff's stories about she and her friend Maxine* struggling to make it as a playwright and actress (respectively) in 1940s Manhattan are just hilarious. They make me profoundly nostalgic for that t There is just something about Helene's voice that makes her feel like my funniest friend. She just knows her way around a good story. While 84 Charing Cross Road will always be first in my Hanff-heart, Underfoot in Show Business is a very close second and should not, NOT BY ANY MEANS, be out-of-print. Hanff's stories about she and her friend Maxine* struggling to make it as a playwright and actress (respectively) in 1940s Manhattan are just hilarious. They make me profoundly nostalgic for that time period without ever overtly romanticizing it. Just the way that certain people have of making everything sound fun without every being dishonest about it, Helene's got that, in spades. She also has genuinely hilarious stories-- like my favorite, of Oklahoma! and its out-of-town opening, in the chapter "No jokes. No legs. No chance." If you love 84 Charring Cross Road, but haven't read any of Hanff's other books, start here. And if you haven't read either, MY GOD READER, what are you waiting for?? SNAP TO! *Who always makes me think of the line from When Harry Met Sally-- "People were always crossing rooms to talk to Maxine."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    UPDATE 27.12.15: While staying with my parents for Christmas, I rediscovered this book on their shelves and felt compelled to re-read it. It is just as much of a charming delight the second time around, as well as wonderfully easy to relate to some eighty odd years after events begin. I firmly believe that Flanagan's Law applies outside the theatre. ________________________________________________________________________ This book is an absolute delight and several times caused me to commit the so UPDATE 27.12.15: While staying with my parents for Christmas, I rediscovered this book on their shelves and felt compelled to re-read it. It is just as much of a charming delight the second time around, as well as wonderfully easy to relate to some eighty odd years after events begin. I firmly believe that Flanagan's Law applies outside the theatre. ________________________________________________________________________ This book is an absolute delight and several times caused me to commit the social faux pas of laughing to myself on public transport. I think I unsettled my train seat neighbour, who was reading Les Mis on a kindle. In any event, this autobiographical romp recounts Helene's adventures with her friend Maxine, attempting to get into show business and mostly doing terrible jobs for low pay. The sense of friendship, joy, and ingenious attempts to get things for free greatly appealed to me and reminded me of happy times as an undergraduate. Hanff is an extremely engaging writer, always witty and self-deprecating. I can hardly fault a book that fully distracted me from the annoyance of a cancelled train and one hour delay. Highly recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Persephone

    This is actually Helene Hanff's first book, published in 1961, a few years before she enchanted millions with her 84, Charing Cross Road. It's an episodic account of her years as a struggling playwright on Broadway, leading to how she ended up writing for television, and it overlaps (and never mentions) the period of her famous correspondence with Frank Doel and his staff at the London antiquarian book shop. We do meet a couple of friends who figure in 84, most significantly the irrepressible an This is actually Helene Hanff's first book, published in 1961, a few years before she enchanted millions with her 84, Charing Cross Road. It's an episodic account of her years as a struggling playwright on Broadway, leading to how she ended up writing for television, and it overlaps (and never mentions) the period of her famous correspondence with Frank Doel and his staff at the London antiquarian book shop. We do meet a couple of friends who figure in 84, most significantly the irrepressible and incorrigible Maxine Stuart, a flame-haired actress who can't hold a tune (and yes, that is important). I think my favourite chapter covers the how and why of being an "outside reader" which includes everything you need to know about The Lord of the Rings (warning: Hanff is not a fan). However, I recommend your reading it for yourself to find your favourite bits. A book you can put down and pick up again quite comfortably.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Hanff is a gifted memoirist. This book includes the timeline of 84, Charing Cross Road, which makes the story seem even more personal–as though the author is a friend writing you letters from an apartment smack in the middle of the NY writing scene. She never gets a play produced, but she tells us about the journey without bitterness, happy to be writing, even if it is for television for a few years. The chapter that reveals how she and her actress friend Maxine get into movies and plays for fre Hanff is a gifted memoirist. This book includes the timeline of 84, Charing Cross Road, which makes the story seem even more personal–as though the author is a friend writing you letters from an apartment smack in the middle of the NY writing scene. She never gets a play produced, but she tells us about the journey without bitterness, happy to be writing, even if it is for television for a few years. The chapter that reveals how she and her actress friend Maxine get into movies and plays for free is funny. "Meet me in front of Sardi's and don't wear a coat." Hanff wrote this first long book because a Harper's editor asked if she could/would, so she did. Made me nostalgic for more memoir that shares the excitement and gratitude for a life that gets close to living the dream, and reminds us that mostly that's what we all do.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Trelawn

    As usual I had a great time reading about Helene Hanff's life. This time she chronicled her failure to make her mark on Broadway. Her Oklahoma! and Lord of the Rings anecdotes alone make this worth the read but there is something romantic about her devotion to the theatre that draws you in. As well as being a Theatre Guild intern she worked as an assistant press agent, prop girl, outside reader and lots more. The stories of Helene and her actress best friend Maxine blagging their way into Broadw As usual I had a great time reading about Helene Hanff's life. This time she chronicled her failure to make her mark on Broadway. Her Oklahoma! and Lord of the Rings anecdotes alone make this worth the read but there is something romantic about her devotion to the theatre that draws you in. As well as being a Theatre Guild intern she worked as an assistant press agent, prop girl, outside reader and lots more. The stories of Helene and her actress best friend Maxine blagging their way into Broadway shows are endearing and you find yourself cheering for her when she finally earns enough money to move out of residences and garrets and manages to lease her own one and a half room apartment which she blows her savings decorating. I am immeasurably sad that I don't have anymore books by Miss Hanff to look forward to. She has been an interesting companion over the past few months.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Selah Pike

    How can Hanff have failed as a playwright? Her books are amazing!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jporter9

    Delightful and witty memoir of trying to make it in show business. Especially good if you've ever lived in NYC.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amy Roebuck

    LOVE Helene Hanff!!! So glad another friend is hunting up all her works--smart, funny, often thought-provoking--and not dated, despite the publication year!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lindsaygail

    Three cheers for Helene Hanff! I wish I’d been a starving theater wannabe in New York in the 50s so I could hang out with her and Maxine. The only sad thing is, I think I have now read all of Hanff’s books, and there’s just nobody else like her.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Diane Madlon-Kay

    5 stars

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I've said it before but now I'm firmly convinced - Helene Hanff was an American treasure and I love her.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    It was with a real sense of grief that I finished this book, the last of those written by Hanff that I had yet to read (and the first written by her). I first learned about Hanff after happening upon a Saturday afternoon showing of the movie 84, Charing Cross Road with Anne Bancroft. It was such a charming story and I did not know until then that it was a true story written by an author I had never of. Since then I have savored each of Hanff's books because there are only 6. Hanff is the classic It was with a real sense of grief that I finished this book, the last of those written by Hanff that I had yet to read (and the first written by her). I first learned about Hanff after happening upon a Saturday afternoon showing of the movie 84, Charing Cross Road with Anne Bancroft. It was such a charming story and I did not know until then that it was a true story written by an author I had never of. Since then I have savored each of Hanff's books because there are only 6. Hanff is the classic New Yorker who is not from New York. She truly loved the city. She is from an era where starving artists could actually live in Manhattan, a time that is sadly long gone. This book is a witty account of her early life as a struggling playwright and chronicles life in NYC in the 40's and 50's. A must read for those interested in NYC and Broadway theatre.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    This is a lovely book. A life well lived and so entertainly presented. Hanff is so funny about her adventures as an aspiring playwright with oodles of writing chops but no talent for plot. She's one of the first in the door writng for television and ultimately discovers her best material - her own life. Her best friend Maxine is a hoot. Loved her books 84, Charing Cross Road and Apple of My Eye (in fact must reread the latter). Loved the New York Setting. Wish I had known her.[

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is a memoir of someone who was living my ideal life, knocking around 1940's New York City with her eccentric actress best friend, trying to write plays and never succeeding but having a whale of a time anyway. I finished this book and immediately reserved another book of hers from the library. Helene Hanff is witty and self-deprecating and always manages to wrap her anecdotes into neat little packages, whether that's her bizarre, elderly neighbour becoming her landlady, or that time she had This is a memoir of someone who was living my ideal life, knocking around 1940's New York City with her eccentric actress best friend, trying to write plays and never succeeding but having a whale of a time anyway. I finished this book and immediately reserved another book of hers from the library. Helene Hanff is witty and self-deprecating and always manages to wrap her anecdotes into neat little packages, whether that's her bizarre, elderly neighbour becoming her landlady, or that time she had to add exclamation points to all of the opening night Oklahoma! programmes. This is a must-read for folks who love the theatre, love New York, or love memoirs of the little guy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Helene Hanff’s memoir of her attempts to become a Broadway playwright, which lead to a lucrative career as a television writer. Very funny! I especially love the story of the Theatre Guild, where Helene is working as a publicist making one last-ditch effort after years and years of flops – they open an “opera”, for which Helene does not even bother to attend the opening, since the out-of-town reviews have been so terrible. Resigned to her pending unemployment, she goes to bed early, as the openi Helene Hanff’s memoir of her attempts to become a Broadway playwright, which lead to a lucrative career as a television writer. Very funny! I especially love the story of the Theatre Guild, where Helene is working as a publicist making one last-ditch effort after years and years of flops – they open an “opera”, for which Helene does not even bother to attend the opening, since the out-of-town reviews have been so terrible. Resigned to her pending unemployment, she goes to bed early, as the opening bars of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” are being sung a few streets away. Why yes, the Theatre Guild was opening Oklahoma!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Les

    My Original Notes (1998): Boring! Not anything like her two other books. Skimmed a lot and don't recommend it at all. My Current Thoughts: No longer on my shelf and certainly no desire to read this one again.

  21. 4 out of 5

    David Crosby

    Excellent, I am truly captivated by dear Helene. These memoirs of her writing career were such a pleasure to read. I laughed, and laughed again, how did she do it? Well, this book highlights the genuine struggle she had in her chosen field, but she never seemed down. She saw humour in all situations and had the right response for any situation. Oh, how I wish she had written more books. There are some lovely anecdotes in here, and I will see Oklahoma! in a whole new light now. Thoroughly recomme Excellent, I am truly captivated by dear Helene. These memoirs of her writing career were such a pleasure to read. I laughed, and laughed again, how did she do it? Well, this book highlights the genuine struggle she had in her chosen field, but she never seemed down. She saw humour in all situations and had the right response for any situation. Oh, how I wish she had written more books. There are some lovely anecdotes in here, and I will see Oklahoma! in a whole new light now. Thoroughly recommended to all.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Julia Hendon

    A lot of fun to read. The author recounts her experiences as a stage struck young woman trying to make a living in the New York theatre world during the 1950s. Hanff describes the miserably paid jobs, the boarding houses, the summer camps, and the eccentric characters she meets with a light touch and a lot of humor. She and her best friend, struggling actress Maxine, do their best to enjoy life in the city on a budget so small it is effectively 0.00.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Five stars means amazing and I am amazed I awarded this book five stars. After reading 84, Charing Cross road for my book club last month, I purchased four more of Helene's (we're on a first name basis now) books. I am not a devotee of the theatre or show business but her anecdotes, such as the review of the opening of Oklahoma! are priceless. Helene is on my list of the "10 Souls I Want to Meet in Heaven". (That was our book club selection for this month.)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Liz marx

    Loved reading about her early life when she was trying to be a playwright. She wrote lots of plays that agents loved but could never get produced. Loved reading about her and her friend Maxine sneaking into all the shows at intermission. She Had to live in some pretty bad one room apartments and share bathrooms and kitchens. Not an easy life but she made the best of it! Loved learning about Flanagan’s law. No matter what happens to you it’s unexpected.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Happened to be talking about how much I loved 84, Charing and a coworker overheard and proclaimed, "Helene Hanff is my favorite author! You must read Underfoot! I'll bring it in tomorrow for you to read!" And she did and I read it that night. Just love Hanff's sense of humor and her tales about the theater world.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Felicity

    I can't remember when I read this but I know I have and I know loved it. I've read all six of Helene Hanff's books, all autobiographical in style. I must hunt them out from where they're hiding on my shelves and reread them all.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burge

    An endearing and life-enlarging book about failure, which ironically brought its author a wave of success. A must-read for students of theatre and playmaking. Hanff's honest portrayal of the brutal world of showbiz, and writing in general, is a salve for wanna-be's everywhere.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Very, very funny and totally charming, as well as being a fascinating look behind the scenes at NYC show business - and the beginnings of television! - from the 1930s to 1960. It left me wanting to read all of her other books, NOW! :)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Johnston

    Perfect! Who would have thought the funniest memoir I've read would wind up one of the classiest, too? Helene Hanff never back-bites--nor tells* too much, either. What a shame she spent so much time on plays and not on more of her fabulous books! * As in "tell all." March 11, 2019

  30. 4 out of 5

    Irene Moyer

    A gem I almost never give 5 stars. This book is an unknown gem. Honest, funny, at times poignant. I love Manhattan and that period of my mother's youth there, so there is also that aspect for me. How had I never heard of it before when I am a constant reader?

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