Book Review – John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars by Eve Golden

It’s only in recent years that I’ve developed an appreciation for silent film, much less for the people who made up of the world of early Hollywood.

John (“Jack”) Gilbert was one of silent film’s success stories but also one of Hollywood’s great cautionary tales. He was a real star. But not the kind affixed in the firmament. Gilbert was more like a shooting star; a man who toiled unnoticed for years, slowly climbing his way up, until he flashed brilliantly across the screen for a handful of years before experiencing a sad descent. Continue reading “Book Review – John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars by Eve Golden”

Book Review – A Twist of Lemmon by Chris Lemmon

Can you believe that it is only in recent years that I have gained a deep appreciation for Jack Lemmon’s skill as an actor? And yet despite my new found sense of awe, I really don’t know much about the man himself.

You would think this would lead me to discover more about him through a typical biography or documentary, but no. Instead,  I picked up a book written by his son Chris Lemmon.

A Twist of Lemmon is exactly the type of book I love to read about a celebrity I respect. Just about anyone willing to diligently research can write a good biography. But it is rare to get the personal perspective from the subject’s friends or family, which is exactly what I’m interested in. And it is a quick little read at under two hundred pages. Continue reading “Book Review – A Twist of Lemmon by Chris Lemmon”

Book Review – Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp

I blame Melanie Benjamin. It was my discovery of her fictionalized portrayal of the friendship between Mary Pickford and Frances Marion in The Girls in the Picture, that sparked my interest in Marion. In a serendipitous moment, I also just happened to watch the Marion directed, Pickford starring silent film The Love Light around the same time. Recently, I happened across Cari Beauchamp’s biography of Marion and that spark has now grown into a flame. Continue reading “Book Review – Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp”

Book Review – George Cukor: A Double Life by Patrick McGilligan

The Philadelphia Story, Camille, My Fair Lady, The Women, It Should Happen to You, it surprised me to learn how many of the films I love shared the same director. When I realized how many of George Cukor’s films were favorites of mine, I actively started seeking out his pictures and have now seen the majority of them. But still, I didn’t know much about this film legend who is often known as the “women’s director.” I recently happened across a copy of Patrick McGilligan’s biography George Cukor: A Double Life and took it as a sign that it was time for me to learn more.

All drama, Cukor thought, ought to be tinged with comedy. That was how he viewed life. pg. 145

Continue reading “Book Review – George Cukor: A Double Life by Patrick McGilligan”

Book Review – Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman

Grant was to romantic comedy what Fred Astaire was to dance–he made something that is extremely difficult look easy. pg 128

INTRO

Cary Grant is a silver screen legend whose popularity endures even today. He is remembered for his onscreen persona, sartorial elegance, troubled marriages and his medical use of LSD. Lesser known is his well-disciplined business sense and financial prowess.

Grant has always been my favorite actor and I’ve seen almost all of his films, multiple times. (I still haven’t been able to find  Singapore Sue). I’ve also read  the majority of the books written about him. Over the years, I’ve learned that if you really have an interest in a famous figure, the best way to get a well-rounded view of them is through reading more than one book about them. Authors generally approach their subject through their own perspective and understanding, as much as they try to be objective. So when Scott Eyman released the latest book about Grant, I snapped it up.

REVIEW

“Everything starts with pretense,” he would say later in life. “One pretends to do something or copy someone…until it can be done confidently and easily in what becomes one’ own manner” pg 47

As mentioned, there are many books written about Cary Grant’s life. Eyman’s is the first to present a psychological analysis of the man.

The trauma of Archibald Leach’s early childhood created a ripple effect which influenced the rest of his life. The disappearance of an over protective mother, his father’s subsequent lies about that disappearance and emotional neglect created a void in his life. This led him to invent the public identity of Cary Grant, behind which Archie Leach could safely hide.

“His childhood was like a black cloud hovering over him.” Ray Austin, pg 336

This schism of identity affected him both personally and professionally. In his personal life, it led to Grant’s constant need for love and acceptance while eventually pushing away anyone who got too close or dependent on him so they wouldn’t have the opportunity to reject him. His early years of not just emotional but material deprivation also eventually motivated him to take enough risks to become very financially successful, while also acting very frugally and even stingily towards others when the old fear of lack reared its’ ugly head.

Professionally, these same emotional and material needs affected his career, even to which directors he would choose to work with  and which films he made.

Grant’s shying away (from Billy Wilder) derived from an intense dislike of any personality that might even be potentially abusive. Grant liked charmers–Leo McCarey–or cool collected customers like Hawks and Hitchcock–men who never raised their voices.

After working hard to build the well-loved public construct of Cary Grant, Grant found that audiences of his day didn’t want to see him in roles which didn’t uphold that image, even if they were closer to the Archie Leach that Grant really was. So he accepted the public’s edicts and quit taking onscreen risks.

“The only time I played myself was in None But the Lonely Heart and nobody wanted to see the real me. So I put Archie Leach away and went back to being Cary Grant.” pg 212

While this made him very popular and wealthy, and his films very commercially successful, it also potentially kept him from being regarded as a critically talented actor.  Grant learned to see himself as a commodity and always struggled with the dichotomy between how he was viewed by the public and how he viewed himself privately.  Even his co-stars recognized this disconnect between the private man and the public persona.

“When he exhibited himself,” said (Stanley) Kramer, “he was Cary Grant’ – the handsome leading man, star-incarnate. Grant never gave the appearance of being ‘commercial,’ and he was probably as commercial an actor that ever lived.” pg 373

MY THOUGHTS

I chose Eyman’s book because I love Cary Grant and wanted to learn something new about him. And while Eyman did share some new details I had not been aware of before (such as a possible theory of what he REALLY did during WWII), what he did with his book is force me to see my favorite actor from a new perspective. Although Eyman is a talented writer and more than adequately supports his title thesis, I sometimes found it hard to take. It shattered a few of my notions about Grant and also challenged me to look beyond that actor’s persona that I’ve always admired.

Thanks to my prior readings (and lifelong obsession), I already knew quite a bit about Grant. However, I was surprised to read Eyman’s theory of Grant’s war time activities.  Grant was one of a few healthy male stars that didn’t actively serve during WWII. However, Eyman theorizes that Grant may actually have been part of a British spy ring headed by Hungarian turned British director Alexander Korda  (which also included fellow Brit Reginald Gardiner). Whether this is true or not, no proof exists, but it is very possible.

I also enjoyed learning more about his relationships with people like playwright Clifford Odets, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and particularly Katherine Hepburn. As his films with her are among some of my favorites, it was particularly gratifying to know they maintained a life long friendship, especially since I have never been able to find much proof of this in his public statements.

Many of those who worked with Grant praised him, his kindness, his professionalism and onscreen genius, his thoughtfulness. But just as many mentioned his driving perfectionism and lack of self-confidence which caused him to dither over his decisions.

Eyman presents a nuanced and not always pleasant picture of Grant. And often I found myself hurt and heart-broken on Grant’s behalf, finally realizing what his public image must have cost his psyche. I also found myself upset with Grant at times for the way he treated the people who cared about him while realizing it was a protective mechanism he used as an escape.

It was also interesting for me to see the developing pattern of Grant’s need for control as his career became more established. The more successful he was, the less he was willing to take professional risks. Eventually, this led to Grant’s career decisions being made on the basis of financial and commercial success rather than  choosing satisfying or challenging work.

“Speaking as Archie Leach, I’m not ungrateful for all that being Cary Grant has done for me.” pg 479

For fans of Cary Grant, Eyman’s book gives the detail on the actor’s career and personal life that we all crave. And it is the only book to delve deep into Grant’s emotional and mental state. In fact, it is the only biography of any public figure I’ve ever read to do so.  One would expect that such an exploration would make Grant feel more relatable. But for me, it made him feel further away and I think that is partially because Eyman does such a great job showing how truly insular, insecure and self-protecting Grant was.  Because of this, it will not be my favorite of the books on Grant, but it is definitely one worth reading in order to understand the man behind the mask.

It was a brilliant disguise; he could present himself as Cary Grant at will, and because his audience found him to be more or less like his screen self they relaxed and took him at face value, without bothering to wonder about his affinity for and sympathy with other people’s emotional distress. pg 454

Overall, Eyman succeeds at what he sets out to do with his biography of Cary Grant and I’m very glad I read it.

 

 

 

2019 Book Year in Review

Well, 2019 was a slower year for me as far as reading goes. Compared to last year’s triple digit stats, I only read about 75 books. Due to some life changes I didn’t have as much time to read as I have in the past. But I’m not complaining.

For the first time ever I was part of a book club in 2019. I was only able to attend three times unfortunately. But because of this I read books I might not have otherwise; The Wedding, The Quiet Game, The Getaway Girls. I also participated in an online book club. The book choice was Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, which I didn’t like nearly as well as Jane Eyre. But I did enjoy discussing it with others online. Continue reading “2019 Book Year in Review”

Audrey Hepburn Blogathon – Enchantment by Donald Spoto

Audrey Hepburn

From the moment she burst onto the scene and even decades after her death, Audrey Hepburn has been an international star. Even now, she still receives more media attention than many of our current celebrities. Hepburn achieved fame as a film star, fashion icon and even a humanitarian.

But even though I’ve seen most of her films, read many articles about her public persona, I realized recently that I knew very little about the private Audrey Hepburn. The real Audrey. Who was she? I knew only the most basic of facts, which is why when the opportunity arose to participate in The Audrey Hepburn Blogathon, hosted by Janet at Sister Celluloid, I decided to review Donald Spoto’s biography, Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn. Continue reading “Audrey Hepburn Blogathon – Enchantment by Donald Spoto”

Book Review -Clark Gable: A Biography

ABOUT GABLE

Clark Gable is one of the few actors of the Hollywood Golden age whose name is still widely recognized today. Much of the credit for this goes to his role as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, which is known even by those who aren’t classic film fans.

Gable was one of the luckiest stars of that era, a fact which he always admitted to. Though he wasn’t without talent, a large part of his popularity had to do with his public image as a man’s man and his onscreen magnetism. Men admired him and women panted after him.

No star in history had ever risen so fast or with such impact. Of course, it was a simpler time when no other entertainment medium—not even radio—had the star-creating power that movies did. He was also a beneficiary of the Depression era, which needed new heroes and role models. He was handsome, magnetic, and aggressive. On-screen at least he pushed people around, including women, but he always got what he wanted and without being evil or detestable.

Continue reading “Book Review -Clark Gable: A Biography”

Book Review -Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart

BACKGROUND

Henry Fonda and James Stewart are acting legends from Hollywood’s golden age. Today both men are still highly respected for their body of work and for careers which they managed to sustain for decades. But unbeknownst to many, they also maintained a lifelong friendship beginning prior to their years on the screen which spanned the course of their lives. This book explores that friendship as well as their personal lives and individual careers.

Due to their difference in politics, Stewart was a Republican and Fonda a lifelong Democrat and their onscreen personas some might be surprised that they were able to form such a close and lasting relationship. But at heart they were very similar and those similarities greatly outweighed their differences. Continue reading “Book Review -Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart”

Book Review -A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea

SUMMARY

The harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit. Continue reading “Book Review -A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea”