Bob Redmond's Reviews > Hubert's Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus

Hubert's Freaks by Gregory Gibson
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Dec 26, 10

bookshelves: americana
Read in December, 2010

Hubert's was a tiny theater on 42st street in New York City that, on its last legs in the post-war era, presented a flea circus, dime museum, and freak show. It closed up in the mid-60s but not before serving as a slummy institution for the counterculture, including photographer Diane Arbus.

Arbus and her short life is one narrative thread of HUBERT'S FREAKS. Another is the story of Bob Langmuir, an eccentric and rare book-dealer from Philadelphia. A third is that of Charlie Lucas, an African American performer who was the last manager of Hubert's.The star of the show, however, is Lucas' collection of memorabilia and photographs which ended up abandoned in a storage unit some 40 years later.

The story and characters prove that truth is stranger than fiction, and author Gibson does a creditable job with the tale. Mainly this is the story of the collector Langmuir, who finds the treasure trove, and his quixotic quest to convince some of the world's most prestigious museums and auction houses of its worth. Gibson has the same uphill battle with his plot: Langmuir has to be center stage, and yet how do you keep the historical heavyweight Arbus, not to mention the fascinating Lucas, as sub-plots?

It makes for some narrative dissonance,and the ending--being true to life--is a little unsatisfying. Nevertheless, overall it's a fascinating look at the lost era of the freak show, the high-end art world, and the artists and collectors who manage to bridge the two.

*

WHY I READ THIS BOOK: A book review in a publishing trade announced it a few years ago; I got a copy and it languished on my shelf until recently when I was sorting some books to purge, and it caught my eye.

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