Apr 26, 2007

Gone with the Bind

It seems I'm always reading. Celebrity autobiographies, vintage movie magazines, heavy, photo-laden coffee table books: I'll gladly pore over all of them, stumbling over decades-old love affairs, soaking up sartorial elegance splayed across yellowing pages, and discovering backstories of Tinseltown in its glory days, as told by those who lived it themselves (or by those who, like me, yearn to live it vicariously).

Some reads, like Lauren Bacall's By Myself and Katharine Hepburn's Me: Stories of My Life, have proven to be well-written self-portraits of fascinating personalities, penned with far more depth than is traditionally attributed to, or anticipated from, "celebrity autobiographies"; others, however, are in desperate want of the research and passion necessary to craft engaging stories as unforgettable and dynamic as their celebrity subjects (Lana Wood's trashy homage to her sister, Natalie, for example, should be considered an affront to both Nat and to literate persons everywhere).
In keeping with my tradition of sifting through the tripe and presenting you with the best of the best, then, I present to you three of the most recent pieces to take up residence on my film library bookshelf:

Rita Hayworth: A Photographic Retrospective by Caren Roberts-Frenzel
Let's face it: Love Goddess or not, Rita Hayworth and her iconic pin-up presence is inarguably one of the most beautiful ever to grace film. Sultry or demure, blond, brunette or devastatingly red-haired, she is sizzlingly iconic of the 1940's, but few know of her painful shyness and insecurities, of the dissolve of five marriages, or of the devastating toll that Alzheimer's disease began to take on the Spanish beauty as early as the 1950's (Hayworth died of the disease in 1987). Author Roberts-Frenzel displays a dizzying array of photographs of the star's life culled from her own collection, one of the world's largest - and as sweet and telling as the photos are, equally valuable are the detailed captions paired with each pic, unearthing a side of Rita that the camera never picked up.

Selected works by Truman Capote - Paring off the shell of adulation that encases most biographers' writings, Capote instead crafts his portraits with keen observations and recollections of his esoteric interactions, both formal and informal, with the erstwhile celebrities he focuses on. These particular portraits follow no particular format or length (many were serialized and published in popular publications of the day); some are, in fact, comprised largely of conversation between the author and subject, the dialogue interspersed with recollections of most unconventional meetings between the two: he chaperones Marilyn Monroe to a funeral, visits Elizabeth Taylor at the apartment she shares with then-hubby Eddie Fisher, and spends a late evening in Tokyo listening to Marlon Brando vocalize his life's philosophies. The element that Capote employs that authors of similar work, like Peter Bogdanovich, do not, is his uncanny ability to absorb these people in their most natural and unguarded states; he comes to them an extrinsic party and leaves brimming with anecdotes that he so vividly translates into these portraits.For stunningly candid insights into selected stars, detailed and written in Capote's dramatic style, seek out these unflinchingly honest literary snapshots that are, perhaps, as notable as the author's 1959 novella-cum-blockbuster "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

*I recommend Capote's "The Duke in his Domain" (1957) on Marlon Brando; "Elizabeth Taylor" (date unknown); and "Beautiful Child", a portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

Debbie: My Life by Debbie Reynolds and David Patrick Columbia - One would not be hard-pressed to dig up dozens of accolades for the divine Miss Debbie here at Hillary's Classic Cinema, such a favorite of mine is she - whether she's singing, dancing, or deftly deferring the advances of any of her amorous male leads on the silver screen, I just adore her. It is without bias, though, that I can unequivocally call Debbie: My Life a thorough and most captivating read for any fan of classic cinema.
My Life includes an impressive array of Hollywood characters as they came to intertwine with Debbie's on varying levels of professional and personal reasons, but set to the tone of Debbie's narration
- candid, compassionate, naive - her story resists treading the touchy waters of a tell-all (Esther Williams' 2003 autobiography, in comparison, spares no details in dishing the dirt on anyone and everyone's personal goings-on). But the tale here is Debbie's very own, an engrossing portrait of the gifted comedienne who came from poor Texas family and entered movies with no serious intentions of ever becoming the legendary performer she is today.

Reynolds' trademark tenacity is intact from the very first page, evident as she survives a lonely childhood as a scrappy tomboy; struggles with being deserted by her first husband and the father of her two children, Eddie Fisher, for her former Hollywood classmate and box-office rival Elizabeth Taylor in 1958; through desperate financial situations, familial strains and the lifelong undercurrent of longing for unfulfilled normalcies of a non-celebrity life. Don't be mistaken, though - this ain't no sob story, it's an honest, humorous, often heartwrenching story of a young girl's rise to near-instant stardom and her tenuous, tenacious efforts to remain connected with the audience that keeps her buoyant in her fifth decade of fame. Now that's what I call unsinkable.

All of the above books are available at reasonable rates on Amazon.com, but for those with a stricter budget, I recommend browsing eBay, Half.com, or your local library for these titles. Betterworld.com, an online used-book seller, offers low prices, free shipping, and benefits charitable organizations at local and worldwide levels - I highly recommend it.

For more of my book recommendations, please click here.

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