Books: Eccentric's Eccentric

MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING (277 pp.)—Gene Fowler—Viking ($3.75).

Who was Sadakichi Hartmann? Even his cronies found him hard to define. To John Barrymore, Sadakichi was "a living freak presumably sired by Mephistopheles out of Madame Butterfly." To his biographer Gene Fowler, he was "a bamboo bridge connecting the art of the 1880's with . . . our own time." His short-time employer Douglas Fairbanks Sr. called him "an intelligent spittoon." W. C. Fields, who insisted he understood Sadakichi best, steadfastly referred to him as "a no-good bum."

Whatever Sadakichi was when he began, by...

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