Fame Becomes Martin Short

Martin Short 2006 AP

According to Martin Short, to be a celebrity requires a colossal fall from grace, rehab, divorce and withering tabloid headlines. All of which he has woven into a satirical Broadway musical called "Fame Becomes Me."

It's a one person show that features six different characters — some of his memorable alter-ego such as the excitable inner man-child Ed Grimley, bawdy vaudevillian tunesmith Irving Cohen and the fawning star-reporter, Jiminy Glick who at each performance invites an audience member for an impromptu interview. On opening night, Glick talked to Jerry Seinfeld.

Short met The Early Show anchor, Harry Smith for a conversation at the famous restaurant Sardi's, where the walls of Broadway caricatures include a portrait of Short himself.

Short said that he was inspired to create his show from the tension between the truth and the desire to create drama.

"And I thought about it. And I thought, 'Well, you can't do that. Because you have to have angst and pain in modern day — you have to expose. And I'm not, you know, I'm too Canadian to expose much truth.' And then I thought, 'Well, maybe that's what it is. It's a guy who feels pressure to expose but doesn't have any drama to expose.' So, he creates it," he said.

Short has been happily playing in a fantasy world since he was a child. Short was born the youngest of five children in an Irish-Catholic family in Hamilton, Ontario, just north of the U.S. border. He said the proximity drew him to American culture.

"I watched American television," he said. "It used to drive me insane; 'cause there were two products I always wanted to get, Bosco, which you could not get in Canada, and Charmin. The first thing I did when in the United States is I went to a supermarket. Squeeze it. Hey, it is soft, you know?"

Short said he was entertaining from an early age. He made his own albums, things like "Marty Sings of Songs and Loves Ago." He recalled imitating Frank Sinatra's "September of My Years," at age 13 and recording his version with a tape recorder.

"My mother would listen to them sincerely and adjudicate them, 'cuz she was a violinist," Short told Smith. "She was the concert mistress of the symphony. So, she would say, 'Well, son, a little flat here.' My father would listen to it, and it was never laughed at. It was never, 'Why aren't you playing baseball?' It wasn't that. No. It was always considered odd, but acceptable."

It's a scene from his childhood Short has faithfully brought to the stage for his family.

"I would do 'The Martin Short Show,' he said, "and we were on every other Tuesday, not every Tuesday, because I didn't — couldn't make that commitment to the network. They wanted it. But, you know, I needed time for my imaginary film career."

"I had two tape recorders going," Short said. "I'd say, 'And now ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Tony Bennett.' And then I'd go to my other tape recorder. And I had an applause record. So, turn that off. Then I'd go to my record player, put on, 'Forget your troubles. Come on, get happy.' He'd sing that. So, now we have 10 minutes of a show. And I'd build that show. It'd be an hour show."

As the much loved youngest in the family, Short had the foundation for stability and he would need it soon enough. When he was 12, Short's brother David died. At 17, his mother passed away from cancer. At 20, his father died from a stroke.

"So by the time I was 20, just turned 20, three…of the seven family members had died within seven and a half years," he said. "I think I was in a way handed a life lesson just earlier, and it empowered me to be freer, to be less concerned about judgment and not so fearful of the admiration of strangers."

Short planned to become a doctor and considered social work, but in college he strayed into acting.

In 1972 short took a role in the Toronto stage production of the musical "Godspell" joining a cast that included future stars Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Victor Garber, Andrea Martin, Paul Shaffer and Nancy Dolman, who would become his wife. The couple has three children.

Since then short has made a career of being the daffy chameleon, creating celebrity parodies like his Jerry Lewis or oily lawyer Nathan Thurm on "Saturday Night Live," and in films like the "Three Amigos" and "Father of the Bride," as Franck the fussy wedding planner.

"The thing that has fueled me more than anything in my career is being a Canadian-slash-British actor which is, you look for interesting work," Short said. "And it doesn't matter at all what the medium is. So, when I first made a movie, I didn't say, 'Oh, now I've made it. That other stuff was a stepping — ' No. I think you're always kind of saying, 'I'm doing this thing now. I wonder if it will totally fail or kind of fail.'"

More than anything, Short said he has learned over his last several decades in show business to not take things personally.

"What takes courage is to be in Fallujah," Short said. "I think to be on stage doing — because again I am freed up by this awareness that when you do comedy there are going to be people who will passionately love it, and then people will say, 'I don't get it,' and neither group is wrong. And so, to me, it's exhilarating and it's daunting. But the fear of not everyone loving me, I don't love everyone, so it works out just fine."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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