Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Autobiographical Notice

I haven't been active here since August, except for the occasional lurking [which sounds spooky]. I guess I put it down to writer's block. I've tried a few times to type out something only to resign after a few sentences.

One thing I've been getting hooked on lately is autobiographies. I'd been meaning to start this habit about two or three years ago, but my local library never really had what I wanted to read and I wasn't willing to make blind buys either. So in comes university, and the realisation that I can borrow from other libraries, and well the access to star autobiographies begins.

Self Portrait: Gene Tierney - This was a very interesting read. It solidifies Gene Tierney's intelligence, that she was certainly more than a pretty face. Gene's book has its share of heartbreak, notably being let down by her father, the birth of her first child, marriage failure and then her subsequent breakdowns. I guess such a summary makes it sound like a potboiler of a book, but in truth Gene's story is frank and open, not sensationalised. I find the book is more about her depression than her film career, which isn't a bad thing, because it reaches out to all those out there with mental illnesses. Gene doesn't sound ashamed at what she went through, and her book endorses \better nurture towards mental illness.

Still Gene does explore other elements of her life, including her relationships with Howard Hughes, Prince Aly Kahn and JFK. Out of the actors she worked with, you get the vibe that she found Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark as the most easy to work with. Of her films, she of course mentions Laura in some detail. She had nice things to say about Leave Her to Heaven - I figure it might be the one she's most proud of - and she says words to the liking that Edmond Goulding, the director's confidence in her helped along her performance. I was a tad disappointed to find she didn't think much of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, as I'd rank that among her finest films and performances. It's a minor disappointment as ultimately, the book is compelling and presents an extra domension of Gene outside of her onscreen characters.

The Moon's a Balloon: David Niven - I heard that Gregory Peck couldn't write his autobiography after realising that he could never top Niven's writing skills. Fair enough, after all Niven is indeed one talented writer. His autobiography (first of two memoirs) is thoroughly full of comical anecdotes, all of which are seamlessly put together. There's a bit of sadness though. After the death of his first wife Primmie, there feels a shift in tone and even though Niven finds Hjordis, you can't help but feel the earlier tragedy has marred the rest of his life. Still, Niven got by, probably with more than a little help from friends. He appeared to be one of the most likeable men in Hollywood, and his list of celebrity friends is enviable: Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Ronald Colman, the Astaires to name a few.

As for Niven's acting career, you get the sense that it had a few bumps along the way. He signed with Samuel Goldwyn in the late 30s, a relationship which built up some friction near the end of it. Some of his films Niven doesn't appear too proud about [he doesn't really talk much at all of late forties and early fifties films, at a time when he was written off as being washed up]. But he seemed happy to have gotten the role of Phileas Fogg, although today Around the World in 80 Days is seen as one of the worst Best Picture winners. Of course the icing on the cake is his win for Separate Tables, but if I remember correctly he seemed modest about it and felt that the screenplay was actor-proof, that it was impossible to stuff it up.

It's a great read, very difficult to put down at times. I look forward to Bring on the Empty Horses.

Life's a Banquet: Rosalind Russell - A very good read, and Rosalind keeps it somewhat light, never going into detail about her battle with cancer. The book lives up to the title, and Roz seems like the kind of person who seizes the day. It's evident that she's a go-getter from the beginning of her story, detailing lengths she'd go to stand out, and then of her embarkment towards an acting career. She speaks of how after a string of 'Lady Mary' roles - where she momentarily stole Gable or Powell from Harlow or Loy - she graduated to dramatic leading ladies, and then stepped out as a comedienne. Her time spent with great directors like George Cukor and Howard Hawks is great to read for gaining insight into their working habits.

The book turns a leaf when Roz meets future husband Freddie Brisson, who on board a ship to America saw that Roz's Sylvia Fowler from The Women was playing almost everywhere, thinking in his head that he'd either murder or marry that woman. They turned out to have one of Hollywood's more successful marriages.

The book is full of little funny scenarios, similar to Niven's book, and it's interesting hearing Roz brush shoulders with several people through it. One of the highlight, if not my favourite moment, is when Freddie and Roz plan on having a 25th anniversary, but don't want to have too big a celebration, because somebody always gets left out. Well Frank Sinatra, one of their friends, takes it into his hands to organise the anniversary. It is settled that there will be 25 guests, including the Sinatras, the Dean Martins and the Cary Grants among others. Roz recalls it as one great night that nobody involved would ever likely forget.