Flip: The Inside Story of TV's First Black Superstar

Viking. Apr. 2013. 230p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780670025701. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101606087. TV
Cook (The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless '70s) traces the groundbreaking and ultimately heartbreaking career of Clerow "Flip" Wilson, the athlete TIME magazine called "TV's first black superstar." After an emotionally and physically scarring childhood and a stint in the Air Force, Wilson moved on to the African American-friendly performance venues known as the Chitlin' Circuit, where he took a scholarly approach to comedy. Successful television appearances (many on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show) led to The Flip Wilson Show, a wildly successful variety vehicle that allowed Wilson to spotlight both black and white entertainers. Despite his polished television performance, Wilson's life was rougher off camera. His family saw him mostly on television; the drugs that fueled his creativity also fed his paranoia; talent he launched, such as George Carlin and Richard Pryor, soon surpassed him with their edgier styles.
VERDICT Cook crafts a personal and tragic biography, drawing from Wilson's unpublished writings and input from Wilson's son Kevin as well as his contemporaries, including Lily Tomlin and Gladys Knight. Cook also contextualizes Wilson's life against the racially charged atmosphere of the 1950s through the 1970s; this makes the book an important and recommended piece of African American history.
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