Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler

Chip Jacobs. Rare Bird/Vireo, $15.95 trade paper (354p) ISBN 978-1-942600-24-4
Journalist Jacobs (The People's Republic of Chemicals) is an exceptional storyteller, and his lively look at the extraordinary career of Gordon Zahler (1926–1975) is a peculiar page-turner. Zahler, the author's uncle, achieved success on the margins of show business despite a spinal injury that left him using a wheelchair from age 14. Jacobs uses his investigative skills (while giving himself artistic license to invent dialogue and streamline the narrative) to craft an imaginative biography about this unusual figure, who carved out a distinct place in post-WWII Hollywood by repurposing the music of his father, Lee Zahler, a prolific film composer. Along the way, readers meet a colorful cast of characters, including animator Walter Lantz, actor Burt Lancaster, and fringe film directors Ed Wood Jr. and Samuel Fuller. Zahler's life was filled with difficulties, but Jacob refuses to frame his cantankerous uncle as a tragic figure and cleverly uses his story to expound on the larger history of his family. This fast-paced account of a life lived to its fullest is a triumphant tribute to Zahler as well as those who helped him through good times and bad. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Release date: 01/01/2016
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