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1940's Biographies


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Don't know who you're interested in but I've read two excellent books lately, Dietrich by Ean Wood, and Behind the Screen - How Gay and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969 by William J. Mann, that represents fascinating reading, particularly Mann's work that highlights what really went on behind the Hollywood of the Golden Age, with much detail about the 1930s and 1940s--figures like Mitchell Leisen and Laird Cregar. Goldwyn by A. Scott Berg is a virtual history of Hollywood and a very enlightening glimpse into one of the giants of the period. There's so many of them but, as you allude to, they're hidden amongst the fluff, which is generally written by Charles Higham.

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about the glamorous Gloria Grahame, if you can find it.

 

I've seen it on Amazon, but may be out of print. It is an excellent biography of the movie queen, detailing her many loves and losses.

 

Here's the old listing I had of it, of books that friends of mine were searching for:

 

"Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame"

by Vincent Curcio

 

* Hardcover: 319 pages

* Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st ed edition (October 1, 1989)

* ISBN: 0688067182

 

 

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Don't know who you're interested in but I've read two excellent books lately, Dietrich by Ean Wood, and Behind the Screen - How Gay and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969 by William J. Mann, that represents fascinating reading, particularly Mann's work that highlights what really went on behind the Hollywood of the Golden Age, with much detail about the 1930s and 1940s--figures like Mitchell Leisen and Laird Cregar. Goldwyn by A. Scott Berg is a virtual history of Hollywood and a very enlightening glimpse into one of the giants of the period. There's so many of them but, as you allude to, they're hidden amongst the fluff, which is generally written by Charles Higham.

_____________________

 

I would be wary of all gay biographers including Ean Wood and William J. Mann and Higham. They all come to their subjects with a gay agenda which means they tend to ignore such niceties as real research or providing sources for their opinions.

 

A truly great biography about a 40s icon is the biography of W.C. Fields by James Curtis. Curtis is probably one of the best biographers around.

 

Ariel

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sagebrush522, as a university English major, I am well accustomed to referencing texts with documentable facts. Behind the Screen is a very well-researched book with 365 references cited and an extensive bibliography. Maybe gay writers do come with an agenda but Wood's book on Dietrich is light-years beyond Maria Riva's or Donald Spoto's or practically anything else I've read on her. Mann's book reveals a darker side to Hollywood that many people just want to ignore, which is preposterous. Ever seen No Time for Love? And I was trying to slag Higham but I guess it didn't come off well. Either way, anything you read about the period comes with an agenda. In fact, everything you read comes with an agenda.

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Mann is a great one for using 'pseudo' sources. They look like legitimate sources but they are mostly 'he said/she said' statements that no one can corroberate. Have you read his book about William Haines? Some of it comes from actual newspaper articles but then he 'quotes' articles that it turns out don't exist. For instance, in the book he claims that in a L A Times gossip column Carole Lombard was quoted saying something about the sexuality of a male actor. I knew that those kinds of statements weren't published in newspapers (or anywhere else) in Lombard's day and I have access to the historical L.A. Times so I looked for the comment. Needless to say, it wasn't there. Mann is probably the worst of his ilk because he is clever enough to make his books like he's done research but when the 'facts' aren't titillating enough he just makes it all up.

 

Both Riva's and Dietrich's own books are the best sources on Dietrich. And, of course, Higham is beyond the pale.

 

Ariel

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Ariel, I haven't read Mann's book on William Haines. I bought up Behind the Screen for $6.99 and found it a decent read but why would he produce a book and cite sources with page numbers that don't exist? Does Mann really want to join the league of notorious gossips like Higham? That said, maybe that's why I bought it for $6.99 and maybe I'm just that much more gullible than the next guy but, if given the time necessary, I'll check on Mann's sources. The same discount rack, in a different month, also had the Riva book that I received as a present years ago. I'm suspicious of daughters' (or sons') extensive recollections of a parent, especially when discussing the years before their birth or when learning to walk or talk. Dietrich's own book, her 'autobiography' and not Marlene Dietrich's ABC, which I think is superb, reminds me of Chaplin's autobiography in that as much as what is included is left out. Autobiographies should rarely be considered when trying to examine a 'star'---except maybe Winston Churchill's Second World War series. One of the sweetest books about a film personality written by a daughter that I've read is Victoria Price's Vincent Price - A Daughter's Biography, more of a loving memoir than an academic work. Also, an enjoyable book to flip through is Maria Cooper Janis' Gary Cooper Off Camera, a must for any Cooper fan.

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To begin with, you are making a common mistake which is assuming that if something is sourced to another book, it's fact. How do you know that the other book got it right? What is that other book? As I recall, Mann cites Hollywood Babylon a lot? Do you figure that what's in that book was properly documented? I can assure you it wasn't. I think people have been reading this garbage for so long that they forget, or never knew, what a properly documented biography is. Among the things that are not proper documentation are oral histories that weren't recorded (preferably tape recorded) and then even those are highly suspect. Citing rumor as fact. Citing other books as fact. It's not just gay writers who are guilty of this. The entire field of celebrity biography is rife with incredibly shoddy work by amoral opportunists. Mann, Wood and Higham have plenty of company. Say what you want about autobiographies, but there are far more reliable than the average biography.

 

Ariel

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Mann doesn't cite Hollywood Babylon at all in Behind the Screen. He does cite Turner Entertainment, Kevin Brownlow and James Curtis, whom you approve of, among others (unfortunately, Higham's Kate is one of them). I'm not trying to stand up for the book, and I am well aware of the problems in referencing other suspect books, but I come from a background where I generally reference academic journal articles and historical documents over movie star biographies. However, I submitted a paper to a very demanding (of quality research) history professor examining Joseph Goebbels, Dietrich and the decline of the German cinema during National Socialism and included references to both Sabine Hake of the University of Texas and Ean Wood because sometimes pertinent facts come disguised as garbage. I love film but my library is composed of books like The Warner Bros. Story and The Films of Cecil B. DeMille because I am more interested in who edited what 1929 film than what Cecil B. DeMille ate for breakfast in 1929. I found Mann's book interesting because I haven't read too many similar books and gay culture was so much a part of the period and I didn't have anything else to read and felt I'd rather spend $6.99 on the book than on a few bad coffees at Starbucks. There are certain things I would disagree with, but I think this type of book is entirely acceptible to read when examining movie history because the whole kit-and-kaboodle is make-believe nonsense anyway. The BEST book I've ever read about the world of make-believe nonsense is Pierre Burton's Hollywood's Canada, in which Burton hilariously details how Hollywood has never got poor Canada right. Highly recommended and everything in it's the absolute truth, though it's not a biography.

 

I only wanted to suggest to original poster of this thread, which I didn't, that reading anything possible about the period, including Suicide Blonde, is necessary. It all makes for a big mess it takes interested parties years to wade through to find the facts. If you wanted to learn about Errol Flynn, I would highly recommend Higham's crap because it's important to be aware of in understanding the motivation behind other works. Does that make any sense, or am I grasping at straws?

 

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Garson Kanin's TRACY AND HEPBURN was very interesting. He knew both of them for quite a spell and drew on his memories for stories about their relationship.

 

Miss Hepburn was none too pleased when the book debuted --she did eventually speak to him again -- but for many years did not.

 

You can probably find it at your local library -- or maybe do a search at AMAZON.COM.

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"Mann doesn't cite Hollywood Babylon at all in Behind the Screen. He does cite Turner Entertainment, Kevin Brownlow and James Curtis, whom you approve of, among others (unfortunately, Higham's Kate is one of them)."

 

You're right. Mann cites Hollywood Babylon I AND II in his book about William Haines but not Behind the Screen. However, I think that you can appreciate that anyone who cites such a book in any of his own books, is not in any sense credible.

 

"I'm not trying to stand up for the book, and I am well aware of the problems in referencing other suspect books, but I come from a background where I generally reference academic journal articles and historical documents over movie star biographies. However, I submitted a paper to a very demanding (of quality research) history professor examining Joseph Goebbels, Dietrich and the decline of the German cinema during National Socialism and included references to both Sabine Hake of the University of Texas and Ean Wood because sometimes pertinent facts come disguised as garbage."

 

So how did you separate "pertinent facts from garbage" in Ean Wood's book?

 

"I found Mann's book interesting because I haven't read too many similar books and gay culture was so much a part of the period and I didn't have anything else to read and felt I'd rather spend $6.99 on the book than on a few bad coffees at Starbucks. There are certain things I would disagree with, but I think this type of book is entirely acceptible to read when examining movie history because the whole kit-and-kaboodle is make-believe nonsense anyway."

 

The history of film is not "make-believe nonsense". Why would you say that it is? It's an art form and it has a history that can be told truthfully. Why are you writing about the subject if you think it's nonsense? Why would you recommend to someone else that they read books about film that are badly and inaccurately written? What do you think anyone gains from that?

 

 

Ariel

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Ariel, I suppose I am just not stating my opinion clear enough. I sometimes don't. I absolutely did not mean to imply that the history of film is make-believe nonsense but that film is make-believe nonsense, and it is, however enjoyable and however much I, or you, or anyone else on these pages love it. Of course, it's a art form; it's my favorite art form. But most of it---westerns, sci-fi extravaganzas, gangster sagas, historical epics and romantic pictures are nonsense, though occasionally excellent and artful nonsense. Take My Darling Clementine, generally regarded as a superior example of filmmaking, and supported on the fact that Ford spent time with Wyatt Earp in his youth, yet Doc Holliday did not die at the O.K. Corral, nor did Earp fall in love with a girl named Clementine. The film is nonsense. Casablanca is a model of implausibility and inaccuracy but is regarded as the second greatest film Hollywood has produced. The recent Flynn boxset contains films that are worthless as history yet are extremely entertaining films along with a flabby documentary that provide but a glimpse of Flynn, the man. Should I not recommend them because they are not entirely accurate or perfect? I think I originally stated that Behind the Screen is a very entertaining book, and it is.

 

Much of what has been written about film is nonsense and I am interested in facts and truths and I entirely believe that even in ostensibly dumb books there might be something of worth. Call me silly, if you will (and you can quote me if you want to). There are facts in Wood's book about Dietrich and Goebbels that are corroborated by other texts, because I looked (though I'm probably walking the plank here and hereafter) and, if you want an example of separating pertinent facts from garbage, look at Higham's Errol Flynn - The Untold Story---it is full of ridiculous suppositions but it contains the best recounting of Flynn's rape-trial in any book I've read on Flynn. And I do appreciate that anyone who cites from Hollywood Babylon is not credible but I do not see any problem in recommending inaccurate books because if someone wants a well-rounded education of the history of cinema then they need to be aware that those books exist, read them, then read other books and develop an independent opinion. I don't agree with every review Leonard Maltin writes but I read him anyway. You might disagree with a book, or believe it's inaccurate but that's up to individuals to decide. I would recommend Chaplin's 'autobiography' but would also recommend David Robinson's Chaplin--His Life and Art for a better glimpse of his life. I would recommend Hollywood Babylon to anyone for a good laugh as much as I would recommend Ed Wood movies over films I respect by Lang, Hawks, or Murnau. I would recommend Behind the Screen and leave it up to the person to decide; I generally don't like to tell people how to interprete books or films, just provide the source itself or the avenue for expression.

 

Does this make sense?? Either way, I am grateful for this discussion and appreciate your candor.

 

John

 

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As you know, we were talking about books about films not about the films themselves. Do you always have so much trouble staying on topic?

 

The original poster said "I'm looking for some books that have biographies of the movie stars of the 40's and 50's. I don't want the fluff, but the actual lives they lived." Why recommend to that person trash like Hollywood Babylon?

 

I haven't read Higham's book on Flynn but I'm willing to bet that Higham didn't do much of a job relating the story. It's was well reported in the newspapers. Did you compare Higham's account to the newspaper accounts? No, I don't suppose you did so why claim that Higham's is the "best accounting".

 

I agree that David Robinson's biography of Chaplin is terrific and I certainly recommend to the original poster. As for other books, it's a very difficult proposition to find any actor/actress biographies that are worth a damn. James Curtis, Scott Eyman, Joseph McBride, Gavin Lambert, Patrick McGilligan (but avoid his Clint Eastwood book) are all good. Writers to avoid: Lawrence Quirk, James Robert Parish, William J. Mann, Charles Higham, Anne Edwards, Barbara Leaming, Donald Spoto, Alex Madsen, Kenneth Anger, Hector Arce, and other too numerous to mention.

 

Ariel

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Fourbll, when you return to your thread, I'd recommend the following books (that's if you havn't already read them):

 

"Will There Really Be a Morning" Frances Farmer

 

"Hattie" Hattie McDaniel

 

"Marlene Dietrich" written by her daughter Maria Riva

 

"Hot Toddy" Thelma Todd

 

I found these books to be most interesting.

 

Mongo

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Deja vu, Ariel. I suppose I didn't stay on topic because I was attempting to make a comparison between bad film history books, which are not acceptable in your opinion, and bad movies about history, which are acceptable in most people's opinion. What's the difference and why so much of a problem with that? I didn't recommend Hollywood Babylon; I recommended Behind the Screen, which I don't think is in the same league and, incidentally, cites Curtis, Eyman, Lambert, McGilligan from your approved list and Quirk, Higham, and Arce for your disapproved list. I was attempting to let the original poster know of a couple of books that sprung to mind that I found interesting. I'm not one for telling people who to avoid and who not to, just what I found interesting, and I believe I only stated what I thought and not what they should think. I don't live in Los Angeles and, when examining Flynn's rape trial, I have had to depend on published works to assemble what I consider what happened during that period. I'd love to have the opportunity to peruse the contemporary papers but I don't so, if I've made a statement that is insupportable in your eye, I stand corrected. And I agree with you that most biographies aren't worth a damn. That's probably why I don't own many. As I've already stated, I don't really care what Cecil B. DeMille ate for breakfast, and I don't know what came over me to buy Behind the Screen, but I did, and I would still recommend it to anyone as an interesting read and leave it up to the individual to decide if it's garbage. Perhaps you should be writing biographical film books, if you don't already, if, in your opinion, there are bad ones "too numerous to mention" in an attempt to correct the problem. You could put your research to good use. I would certainly give the result, or results, the once-over and recommend them to others because I don't try to censor what people read or see, except for my children who are too little to understand much beyond Dora the Explorer.

 

John

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"I would be wary of all gay biographers including Ean Wood and William J. Mann and Higham. They all come to their subjects with a gay agenda which means they tend to ignore such niceties as real research or providing sources for their opinions. "

 

Really? All of them? Huh, well that's interesting, thanks for letting us know. This makes me want to read Tab Hunter's upcoming autobiography, in which he directly addresses his own professional career and personal life and how the studios (and he, of course) choose to cover his homosexuality and his affair with Anthony Perkins in order to make himself into a big movie star.

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I'm not normally one to drag things out, and I think I've gone off on a rant here, but richardny4me reminded me of a point I don't think I made that I probably should. I think anyone these days should take offense to a comment that "all gay biographers....come to their subjects with a gay agenda which means they tend to ignore...real research or providing sources for their opinions." This suggests a person's sexuality determines whether or not they are capable historians, which is an outrageous accusation. To me, that also implies gay filmmakers should be avoided because they come to their subjects with a gay agenda...so avoid Cukor's films, Leisen's films, especially Derek Jarman's films, and countless others. I don't think so. Gays have been dealt a crummy deal for too long to be dealt a slam like this. I didn't realize, or care, whether Mann and Wood are gay; I just read their books and found them interesting.

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I'm not normally one to drag things out, and I think I've gone off on a rant here, but richardny4me reminded me of a point I don't think I made that I probably should. I think anyone these days should take offense to a comment that "all gay biographers....come to their subjects with a gay agenda which means they tend to ignore...real research or providing sources for their opinions." This suggests a person's sexuality determines whether or not they are capable historians, which is an outrageous accusation. To me, that also implies gay filmmakers should be avoided because they come to their subjects with a gay agenda...so avoid Cukor's films, Leisen's films, especially Derek Jarman's films, and countless others. I don't think so. Gays have been dealt a crummy deal for too long to be dealt a slam like this. I didn't realize, or care, whether Mann and Wood are gay; I just read their books and found them interesting.

 

______________________________________

 

Making films on gay topics is entirely different from trying to rewrite history to advance a gay agenda. Do you think there's someone around just waiting to write "Behind the Screen, How Straights Shaped Hollywood"? William J. Mann isn't even interested in films, per se. His interest is in advancing gay culture. I expect it's simply an attempt at self-validation. If you can claim that a whole bunch of other people are gay, especially famous people, then you feel less marginalized. I can understand the psychology but the problem is that it means that people like Mann are using unacceptable and, in many cases, non-existent research to advance their cause. There isn't an alternate standard for research that only applies to gays.

 

Ariel

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"If you can claim that a whole bunch of other people are gay, especially famous people, then you feel less marginalized."

 

Ariel, gays and gay culture, regardless of your sexuality, are only marginalized by statements such as this. Question: Mann had to write a book about William Haines along with a book about (no surprises here) James Whale, Edmund Goulding, George Cukor and Clifton Webb, among others, to make himself feel better about being gay, provided he is? (I take your word; I don't know him.) Do you believe Simcha Jacobovici produced his documentary Hollywoodism, along with his many other productions, to make himself feel better about being Jewish or was he simply trying to enlighten people? (Sorry about bringing a film into discussion.) I was under the impression there were avenues to be explored in history, gay culture among them and, sure, some come with an agenda, and I can respect your point about non-existent research, but I would like to know if I'm imagining whether this is 2005 and not 1965. Clearly stating "all" gay-writers' historical books on film, or film personalities is something I have hard time swallowing, especially when you haven't read the book in question. I just want to know how you feel comfortable about stating that. I find it interesting you approve of Patrick McGilligan (except his Eastwood book) and on the back of Behind the Screen there's McGilligan stating the book's "a milestone on the road to a deeper understanding of film culture." Viking/Penguin must have made that up or paid him to say it. No slam to you personally but with the kind of comments you've made discrediting books written by gays a deeper understanding of film culture wouldn't happen.

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Seems like I've missed another good donnybrooke courtesy of Ariel. There's no point in trying to discuss anything with her because you will lose (or she will try to intimidate you--because, after all, she's knows these people personally!!)

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Much appreciation for the input, brackenhe, and perfect choice of word in donnybrook---to a degree. My friend got a big kick out of reading this earlier. Yet it all masks something very inappropriate and unpleasant. I understand these forums are here for people to speak their mind about how they feel about films, and I am a fairly recent addition to it all, and have enjoyed myself, but I find it hard to believe there is room for public statements of the like she originally made about gay writers and not expect a minor rebuttal. I entirely believe that what she wrote is just not acceptable, and if she's bored and got any pleasure out of it,it's a pretty tasteless way of getting it, I think. In another thread, I made a remark about thinking Gone With The Wind is a bad daytime soap opera in disguise. That's not exactly popular thought amongst some film-lovers but it's nowhere close to being in the league as publicly slamming gays who, as anybody with a smidgen of film knowledge knows, have had a pretty rough go of it (and Hunter's book should be upsetting to some people). What I'm boiling down to is: I'm not impressed. And intimidation, of course, is usually a front employed by people who stand on uncertain ground.

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Do you believe Simcha Jacobovici produced his documentary Hollywoodism, along with his many other productions, to make himself feel better about being Jewish or was he simply trying to enlighten people?

____________________

 

I didn't know who Jacobovici was so looked him up. Hollywoodism "discusses how major American films in Hollywood were influenced by the Eastern European Jewish culture that most of the major movie moguls, who controlled the studios, shared. Through clips of various films, the filmmakers illustrate the dominant themes like that of the outsider, the outspoken American patriotism, and rooting for the underdog in society." I haven't seen the documentary but I assume that it is good. Please note that what the film isn't about is attempting to claim that people who are not Jewish were, in fact, Jewish. It doesn't, for example, claim that Clark Gable was Jewish. That isn't the point the film. The point is to discuss the (considerable) contribution of Jews to film. The point of Behind the Screen is to claim that a lot of people who never identified themselves as gay, were, in fact, gay. I'm surprised that you compare the two. It discredits Jacobovici.

 

Ariel

 

 

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I'm shocked. There is something you don't know. I don't think my comparison discredits Jacobovici---nothing could. I own a copy of Hollywoodism and it is an excellent film and highly recommended, if you'll allow me that on a thread no longer about what it was originally intended for. What I was attempting to achieve by the comparison was to discredit an accusation made by yourself that attempts to explain why Mann wrote his book. I highly doubt he wrote it to make himself feel better or aid the gay cause no more than Jacobovici produces documentaries to make himself feel better about his heritage. It's ridiculous. Regarding Mann's book, I do suggest you read it before making any other suppositions then tell me James Whale never identified himself as being gay before Mann was born. You just won't accept that what you wrote generalizes gays and gay culture and suggests a person's sexuality determines their capacity for telling the truth and that's simply not acceptable. My argument isn't about the validity of Mann's book, it's about reckless, offensive statements such as yours. I've read other postings by you which suggests you're entirely qualified to tear me apart about some things regarding film history but what's the big deal with admitting when is a statement is offensive?

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I got a copy of Behind the Screen from the library and I've looked through it. I also have read Mann's biography of William Haines. I know exactly what kind of writer Mann is. He's a gay writer who spends endless pages in his books claiming that this or that actor was gay. And if they weren't gay, he describes random homosexual encounters that they have. In the Haines book he claims that William Haines had sex with Clark Gable and by sex, he doesn't mean oral sex. Apparently, in Mann's world, just having gay sex is enough if you can't pin the label of being gay on someone. Needless to say, this has nothing to do with the life of Haines OR Gable, but that's not the point. The point was to claim that at some time in his life Clark Gable had gay sex with someone.

 

I mentioned Patrick McGilligan previously. He is an obviously gay writer and he wrote an excellent biography about George Cukor a great gay director. McGilligan spent some time discussing Cukor's gay orientation but the focus of his book was Cukor's many fine films and the interesting life that Cukor lived. McGilligan writes about the film industry. Mann just wants to out famous people. If you can't see the difference, you aren't thinking very hard.

 

Ariel

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Did Mann previously state that Gable had sex with Haines? In Behind the Screen he clearly states Gable was an undisputed heterosexual with no homosexual encounters. I suppose he forgot; that entirely discredits him. You can only 'out' famous people by convincing others that you're right when it comes to reading books written by gays. Again, you're skirting the issue. I'm not after qualification of Mann's book, that's irrelevant. It's your rationale behind stating you're wary of all gay writers' books, particularly their agendas and their abilities at providing sources for their opinions (which, as I've previously written, is generalizing gays and gay culture), then going on to state that you approve of one, then write that someone needs to publish a book about someone else's sexuality to make their own sense of self comfortable when you're sitting pretty tarnishing others' reputations and not qualifying your own opinions because I just like to know how you arrived at such a distaste for the works of gays. And, again, the book's irrelevant by now. I admire your ability at judging others but I doubt Mann is as insecure as you seem to be by continually ignoring and not addressing my miniscule point and shifting your focus to gutting others' reputations. At the very least, you didn't quote me this time, nor attempt to gut any statement of mine. Thanks, and hope it's sunny where you are.

 

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