Cover Image: Don Rickles

Don Rickles

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I read this ARC for an honest review
All thoughts and opinions are mine

The subject is a name I know but know very little about
Well researched = this was great and as a result of reading this I have discovered You Tube cliips of him
This was a great read
Was this review helpful?
This is an outstanding biography of the beloved comic. It has lots of detail on his professional career, both successes and failures.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting to learn about the 1950s and 60s entertainment industry. Although after a while it seemed like the author was just dropping names, and they were always the same people. However I would recommend this book to anyone who ever liked Don Rickles comedy act.
Was this review helpful?
Don Rickles is a legend and I appreciated that behind the scenes look at the life of one the funniest comedians to have ever existed.
Was this review helpful?
Don Rickles was a shy, self-conscious, and easily embarrassed boy, with a talent for making people laugh. His incredible career, which spanned sixty-plus years, made him the world’s most famous “insult comic,” where no one from average men and women to presidents and the biggest A-list celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Milton Berle (Don’s idol) were safe from his barbs. “Some stars returned to the firing line five or six times, hoping for that very public badge of honor: a tongue-lashing from Rickles, the more vicious the better so their fans could read about how they laughed at the zingers thrown their way (even if they were boiling inside).” (Kindle location 739 of 5344) “He made fun of everyone—everyone, no matter what their income, social status, religion, ethnicity, color, gender ... it was all fair game.” (Kindle location 777 of 5344) His biggest secret, however, was that Don was beloved, a loving and generous husband, family man, mama’s boy, and was best known by everyone who was acquainted with him as “the nicest guy in the world.” After a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Cyrene (making his shipmates laugh), Seaman First Class Rickles was honorably discharged upon the decommissioning of his motor torpedo boat tender. He returned home to his parents in Jackson Heights, Queens in need of a job. He tried and failed at many, including his father’s insurance business, and was accepted into the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts with the hope of becoming a serious actor. He had “all of ambition but none of the luck when it came to landing a part.” (Kindle location 325 of 5344) While working as a busboy in The Hollywood Hills Hotel, Rickles was called to entertain on their stage when the scheduled talent was a no-show. In March of 1952, he finally saw his name “in an ad for the Lamplighter in Rhode Island.” (Kindle location 374 of 5344) He was billed as, “Don Rickles, Madman of Comedy.” He found comedic success at the many nightclubs in which he performed, with such nicknames as “The Insultin’ Sultan” and “Merchant of Venom” among others. (His good friend Johnny Carson called him the “Planned Parenthood Poster Boy,” and Don’s favorite nickname, “Mr. Warmth.”)“…Don was not a joke-teller. His humor was observational, in an aggressive kind of way…The balding comedian…crossed so many lines in his act that no one could possibly take him seriously. If they did, Don would soften them up at the end of the act, launching into a spiel about he was really a nice guy who loved everyone, that his caustic observations and put-downs of Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Asians, fat people, homely people (the list goes on) were just part of the act and can’t we just all get along and laugh at ourselves? …Don said. ‘I never intend making a speech about brotherhood or preaching about it when I start the night’s work, but I can’t help it. There is always someone who just refuses to believe that other people are entitled to the same respect that they get.’” (Kindle locations 572-585 of 5344) Of course, like every controversial performer, Rickles had his detractors, but …[T]he vociferous Rickles bashers were in the minority.” (Kindle location 739 of 5344) Michael Seth Starr’s comprehensive, unvarnished biography covers Rickles’s early life through the rise of his 1950’s early career, through his television and movie career, including his late-in-life Toy Story voice-overs as Mr. Potato Head, and celebrity improv interview specials “Dinner With Don.” It concludes with his and his beloved best friend and wife’s death, in 1997 and 2001, respectively. 

I have a confession to make. I absolutely love curmudgeons. You know who I mean—those crusty-exteriored people who have marshmallow inside, the people who are rough and gruff, but melt when you touch their hearts. My father, my childhood idol, was the original curmudgeon in my life, and because of that, when I first saw Don Rickles as a child, I loved him immediately. Underneath his on-stage persona, I could see the loving human inside, the barbs a result of possible low self-esteem (which I am very familiar with as well), and the feeling of, well, if I can make someone laugh with me, they’re not laughing at me. I found a kindred spirit in him. I found myself making people laugh, a lot, actually, and my sense of humor was the type that I somehow found humor even in my poor health and horrible diagnoses, which I made fun of often as a way to deal with my reality. “I have my own theory on humor,” Don said in one of the many profiles of him published during this frenetic time in his career. “‘It’s very simple—there’s humor in everything, even the most sacred things. Even in the midst of the most profound grief, there is always something funny that happens. This is the saving grace of the human animal. …You take truths and exaggerate them for laughs. But you must never really sting anyone. You must always know where to draw the line…I have a sixth sense. I know where the fine line is,’ he explained. “‘I, being a sensitive person, am careful not to come on too strong.’” (Kindle locations 2291 & 2304 of 5344) I couldn’t agree more. I understood Don Rickles and he understood me—he was my spirit animal. By poking fun at everyone, he essentially made fun of no one. I truly enjoyed this biography, and was so interested to read the details of Rickles’s life of which I was previously unaware, including his ups and downs as a showman, his family life, his famous friends, and his many hardships, such as the tragic death of his cherished son Larry just shy of his 41st birthday, and Don’s battle with necrotizing fasciitis, the “flesh-eating bacteria.” He handled tragedy as well as he handled comedy, with humor, grace and class, always with Barbara at his side and standing with him, his beloved wife and best friend. Through thick and thin, “there was a gentleness to his harshness, if that makes sense. Because you realize that he is not going for the throat, he is going for the funny bone. And that was the key.” (Kindle location 4906 of 5344) May Mr. Warmth rest in peace forever.
Was this review helpful?
A copy of “Don Rickles “ came to me through Net Galley, the publisher and author. Thanks to all for the chance to learn more about a iconic comedian .
 Like most people, I am most familiar with Don Rickles for his appearances on TV, often on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast  program or as a guest on The Tonight Show. He was funny - in small doses. I wanted to read this bio of Rickles to get some insight into where he got his “shtick” , that style of barbed insults that sent him from being an obscure barroom humorist to a celebrity “King of the Insult” , “ 
Mr. Venom, “ earning six- figures for a weeks’  long stint in Vegas.
  Michael  Seth Starr attempts  that in his biography, relating a common enough story of a Jewish kid from NYC who wanted to be and studied to  be a serious actor , but who, despite who despite having an acknowledged talent for the craft, never broke through. He liked performing so much that he started doing one of the things he did best, telling jokes.  , Rickles  did not start to get noticed  until he began snarking back at hecklers with his own barbs. For him, outrageous worked . 
 The book is filled with a catalog of the years of hard work being  funny , and working his way around the nightclub scene. Rickles’ yearning to be noticed was not going very far, very fast.  His big breakthough happened on night when he spotted Frank Sinatra in the crowd.Rickles insulted Frank, the same Frank who was known to retaliate to an  insult with a fist- but Sinatra laughed and Don Rickles career of insulting the stars was born. It was enough to carry him on to fame and fortune. 
   The author notes that Don insulted everyone, whether a famous star or a nobody who , for some reason drew Rickles’ venom.  Although the author relates how Don ended every show with a blanket apology to all comers , it did not ring true to this reader  that  Rickles’ telling the fans, he loved everyone and that his humor was “ not personal  was anything but honest.  It is impossible to me that one who spews so much hate  could just turn it off. If one is on the receiving end , a verbal slur is definitely personal. Don Rickles always said we should learn to laugh at ourselves, but sometimes people laugh to hide the hurt. After finishing the book, I wondered at the hurt deep inside Don Rickles. 
That is the biggest flaw in the book. Though long , it is mostly because it is like a itinerary  of Don Rickles of club dates, guest shots on TV , cameo appearances on sitcoms and movies  that even the author calls forgettable. Biographies of movies stars are sometimes fawning.The best biographies reveal the character behind the public face That this book failed , in my opinion, to do that can only mean that there was no character to be revealed.
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Kensington Books for an advance copy of this biography on a legend in insults and comedy. 

I never slept much as a child, so staying up late on school nights and watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or Late Night with David Letterman was a common thing. I got to see the greats, the not-so-great, the odd and the never- would-bes, when watching late night television seemed fun, and daring. That was my introduction to Don Rickles. The hosts would be in tears, fellow guests would be falling off chairs, the audience roaring. Myself not so much. I appreciated the rapid fire jokes, but the insults just seemed easy. Though when he made fun of Johnny I thought that was good. I got to appreciate him more in movies, and in longer interviews when he got to sit and just talk about his life. And you can't help but respect the hustle. Michael Seth Starr in Don Rickles: The Merchant of Venom: a Biography captures the man in full his early beginnings taking low billing in burlesque houses to selling out Vegas and becoming a legend.

Growing up in New York Don was a shy boy with an insurance selling father, and a mother who wanted the best for her son and was not afraid to tell others. Don was also aimless, not wanting to mix with people, though he did have ideas about being a star. After a stint in the Navy Don tried selling insurance like his father, but found out quickly that the nine-to-five world of selling was not for him in the slightest. Still thinking of acting Don attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts alongside such film legends as Anne Bancroft, Jason Robards, Jr., and Grace Kelly. Finding that acting roles wanting more than a shy, balding lead, Don turned to stand up, to make some cash and stay as close to any limelight he could. Don worked the lowest rungs he could, moving up not because of his jokes, but because of the insults he would hurl at hecklers. Stalking the stage, wiping the sweat from his bow, Don was an elemental force of wisecracks, racial jokes, insults and more. Frank Sinatra caught his act, laughed at his insults and urged his celebrity friends to come and get roasted. Soon Vegas was calling, movies, television albums, and the star of the Merchant of Venom, or Mr. Warmth began to rise. 

A biography about a guy who seemed at a loss of what to be, yet knew he wanted to be a performer. A shy kid who could call someone a hockey puck, and people would laugh. Who gave off an aura that no matter, well there were a few exceptions a few celebrities, mob guys and others, who could say the most hurtful things, yet pay for dinner later. What I never knew was his career studying acting and who he went to school with. Plus that Don was a ladies man, which I never would have suspected. The stories and anecdotes are funny, and there are plenty of them. I wish there was a little more about the man. I have heard numerous stories about Don being the nicest guy on Earth from Bob Newhart and others, but there were few stories about that, and plenty about insulting celebrities. 

A look at a bygone age of comedy, where insults made up the act, and not how comedians feel insulted when people tell them they are not funny or cruel. There can never be another Don Rickles, nor a time like the one he made his bones in comedy in, small shows in tinier clubs, with exotic dancers, and a jazz quartets. An interesting look at an age, and a man who made fun of the world and in turn made others laugh too.
Was this review helpful?
I’m a Don Rickles fan from way back, and this enjoyable book brought The Merchant of Venom back to life. Well-researched and well-written, the treatise was an easy read that offered incredible insight into what made Rickles lovable and funny to people of my generation.
Was this review helpful?
I didn't enjoy this biography of comedian Don Rickles at all. I would have been interested in reading an explanation from this author as to why he decided to write this book. Maybe that would have helped me understand why it is constructed the way it is. From the beginning of Rickles' career there are minutely described appearances by him in clubs trying for his big break. Years and years of his work at clubs with what seemed like daily (or rather, nightly) appearances on stage filling page after page after page. Rickles quickly zeroed in on being an insult comedian and practiced his act every chance he got with the author doing his darndest to include each and every insult. Once Rickles began appearing at larger, more important venues the author included any well-known person in the audience and how Rickles managed to add material about that person to his act. It is quite obvious that people were mostly delighted to have Rickles single them out for shredding, but it quickly became too much for me since that is virtually all that was being included in the book. So, this book follows the path Rickles took with regard to the clubs he played and the famous people in attendance and the barbs thrown at them by the Merchant of Venom. Scattered throughout are attempts by Rickles to become a Hollywood movie star with, again, lists of practically everybody appearing in the movie and previews of the plot which went on much longer than necessary. And speaking of previews and reviews, one after another of the reviews of the Rickles performances were included here until it seemed as if I had read every item appearing in a newspaper about Don Rickles.

There was just too much stuff about the Don Rickles career but too little about Don Rickles. The author kept saying that Don Rickles was a different man than the one who appeared on stage in his act but there was precious little to show that sentiment was true. This was the most boring biography I've ever read, and I still have no idea for why the author wanted to write it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington for an e-galley of this book.
Was this review helpful?
Don Rickles covers the life and career of the insult comic known as " Mr. Warmth!" The author takes you through a meticulous and at times repetitious history of the decades that Rickles performed. Rickles had great success in Las Vegas and many other locales. Despite several attempts over many years, his ribald brand of humor did not do well in situation comedies. As a long time fan of Mr. Rickles, I was surprised to read that he was a warm and friendly man when he was not on stage insulting everyone in the audience.
Was this review helpful?
I saw Don Rickles years ago in Vegas. He was so funny! I loved him! I was excited to find this book. This was like a slow march through who’s who in Hollywood. It reminded me of shows he was in I had forgotten about and told me about some I never knew he was in. It does seem to drag a bit at times. I still enjoyed it and I’m sure his fans will too. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the early copy
Was this review helpful?
This title, "Don Rickles: The Merchant of Venom” is a biography of Don Rickles.  I applaud the author for keeping the golden age of comedy, and stories about the stars when there were really stars.  The reason I requested this book is that I'd heard a few times that Don's comedy was nothing like the man in real life.  This book showed the reader that he was more than his brand of humor.  I really enjoyed learning more about Mr. Rickles.  Kudos to the author for delving into research to make a good biographical read.
Thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.  

#NetGalley #DonRickles #TheMerchantofVenom #GoldenAgeOfComedy #KensingtonBooks
Was this review helpful?
Some people like him, some people don’t. Don was known for being irreverent and funny. I enjoyed reading about him and the other comedians who were making their way at the same time and their different styles of comedy. 

All words and opinions are my own. I was given a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I always loved watching Don Rickles on TV and always thought he was like that in real life. Not so. This biography is very thorough and there were many surprises about his life. He was actually a very nice person and somewhat shy. His life was filled with hard work to make it in show business. He became famous first in Las Vegas doing his one man comedy act. Always made jokes at the expense of his audience, However, not everyone was amused. Since much of Vegas was run by the mob he had to be comfortable with who he insulted. 
I highly recommend this book if you enjoy reading about people in sgow business. I think it will surprise you how his personal life played out.
Was this review helpful?
“Don Rickles: The Merchant of Venom” is a biography of Don Rickles, a comedian, by Michael Seth Starr. I was not - and still am not - a fan of Rickles’s sense of humor, but I find the “golden age of comedy” an extremely interesting timeframe. If you don’t know who Rickles was, keep in mind that he was an equal opportunity basher - no one (and seemingly nothing) was off limits. Overall, I found this an interesting book - comparing Rickles’s rise to fame to those of Mel Brooks, Jack Benny, and George Burns it’s rather interesting how much all had in common but also how much their careers differed. Mr. Starr goes into extreme details at times mentioning and, where available, describing canceled pilots and projects Mr. Rickles’ filmed or was was considered. A real fan of Rickles might enjoy that level of detail, but it didn’t always read well for me. I applaud Mr. Starr’s research and organization. This book has a lot of detail about Mr. Rickles - on and off the stage and screen.
Was this review helpful?
I'm a huge Rickles fan and saw him live 5 or 6 times. I loved seeing a book of him was coming ad tickled to get access via I got to it as quick as i could. I was mighty disappointed in the results. Especially after reading the somewhat quirky, yet very good, autobiography of animator Don Bluth, that far outshines this book.

There is information included in this volume of Don Rickles that is not otherwise easy to acquire. Making this worthy for that included. Trouble is that there is far more inclusion of critiques than anything else in the book. There are also startling errors I hope are fixed before publication. This book is more a birds eye view of Don Rickles than anything intimate.

The first fifth of the book is best as the early days of Rickles is documented and he makes his way through Jackson Heights, WWII and begins performing. After that the book has far too many Media reviews of whatever can be and had been reviewed. Trouble with views is the limited perspective. The author rarely points that out as he's clearly relying on the entries to fill his book. The book would've been far stronger with 2/3rds less reviews. There are so many, the author could've just created a book of Rickles reviews, the last two words would've made a the title.

Otherwise the author chronicles Rickles rungs of the entertainment ladder. Pretty standard stuff and written well enough. there's missing an overall objective perspective of what is going on in entertainment swaying Rickles options. Instead the view is through the prism of the author's claim is Rickles great need to perform and, especially, to make a mark in film and TV. That is a misstep. That and odd author exclamations, such as "Ouch!". Instead, how about filling in omissions.

The omissions bugged me. I've always heard of the closeness of Rickles and Newhart and the background of that I hope to learn in the volume. Instead there is really only one very brief mention of a Rickles & Newhart trip late in the book. With that absent, what else was missing? Why? If the author couldn't get learn about the claimed yearly travels, why not mention that?

Something else is the reviews chosen are pretty harsh of Rickles. Especially as the book continues. The writing of Starr also gets harsher and harsher to the point I have to wonder if Starr was just filling a contractual obligation and really didn't care much for Rickles.

The constant error of Rickles birthday really caught me. How on earth does anyone create a book and constantly states the wrong date? Especially as the author marks the date connecting to events in Rickles' life. Was it the date stated or Rickles' birthday? There are only a few other errors I noticed. However that has to make me question all other information in the book. 

There are also language errors. One is ' a caged tiger ready to uncoil." How did that get as far as this??? There are also many entire sentences repeated over and over again. Hopefully editors can pare these.

As I earlier wrote, the writing is initially fine. As the book continues there is a feeling of being rushed. That and the coarseness of the later writing and piling in reviewer filler  gave me the impression the author was sick of the whole subject of Rickles and just wanted to get it done with.

The Florida parts: I knew all about the Murray Franklin tale. I was surprised all author Starr included of so much involving the State of Florida. Of course, with glaring errors, i'm not sure what is true.

Hope all is fixed before publication. 

I've only seen the digital version. Seems to me the print version would work far better if asides, like the Rickels horses stories, were boxed and set away from the rest of the actual body of the book. Same with the reviews.

The bibliography bugged me as so much was taken from 'Rickles Book' that is presented in Starr's book with mostly criticism. The many, many newspaper and magazine reviews referenced really tells the lacking of the overall book.

Based upon this preview version:
I don't recommend this book. 4 out of ten points.
Was this review helpful?
A well written biography with tongue in cheek to spare, Starr has done an admirable job of attempting to capture the life of Don Rickles. The problem is that Rickles' humor is a challenge to translate to the page. Starr has mostly succeeded in this regard and come out with an entertaining, informative read. I would consider this book a fine companion to 'Mr. Warmth-The Don Rickles Story', the Emmy-winning documentary on Rickles (currently streaming in Amazon Prime). However, if the reader is not familiar with the work of Rickles, then go diving into an internet rabbit hole in order to gain more appreciation for this singular practitioner of comedy.
Was this review helpful?
A very detailed book about the life of Don Rickles. Starr has a great deal of details here, but it appears that most of the book is based on existing literature and interviews. You don't necessarily get an idea that Starr has come across new information or even connects existing information in a new way. I would have liked to have seen more about his relationship with Sinatra and the Rat Pack, especially since he was included in so much of their time in Vegas during the Ocean's 11 filming.
Was this review helpful?
What a terrific and insightful look at a truly good man and comic. Although his style was misunderstood and not appreciated by some, he was a great comic. His career spanned over 60 years and he never gave up even when things went against him. His life was truly inspirational. 

Thank you to #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of, Don Rickles, by Michael Seth Starr.  Don Rickles was a hard worker, the infamous insult comedienne. His jokes were not always funny, but he kept them coming. Working in Vegas to having his own show, Don has done it all, his way.
Was this review helpful?