Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Best and Worst Autobiographies/Biographies


Recommended Posts

I'm reading Fred Astaire's autobiography Steps in Time, I'm almost finished with it. I hadn't even realized he'd written an autobiography until I happened to come a mention of it in an article online. He apparently published it in 1958 (or maybe 1959) and it was re-published again in the early 1980s, this time with a forward written by Ginger Rogers. It was re-published again in 2008 (with the Rogers forward intact), which is the version I'm reading. The only drawback that I see is that this only covers Astaire's life from birth through 1958ish. He lived until 1987. While obviously Astaire couldn't write about his own passing, it'd be interesting to know what he was doing between 1958 and at least through the early 80s when Ginger Rogers wrote the forward.

 

Anyway, that isn't really a con against the book. It's just wishful thinking. Anyway, while this book is definitely not anywhere near as entertaining as Errol Flynn's autobiography (but whose is?). However, I wouldn't expect it to be. While Astaire seems a lot more mellow than Flynn, it was still a worthwhile read, despite the lack of scandal. I found Astaire's recollections of his career in vaudeville to be very interesting. He and his sister Adele appeared on the vaudeville stage from the early 1910s through the early 1930s. They started out as children stars and matured into adult Broadway stars. They started out with very modest wages and through hardwork, persistence and good networking skills, they soon were commanding thousands of dollars a week and driving around a baby Rolls Royce. In the early 1930s, Adele Astaire retired to get married and start a family (which sadly for her, she was never able to. She had two late term miscarriages, one of which was with twins). One thing I thought was amusing is that during the Astaire siblings' vaudeville routine, Adele was considered to be the "talented one."

 

Fred was discovered by someone from RKO and was brought to the studio to make Dancing Lady in which he appeared in a cameo as himself. He was then offered a film, Flying Down to Rio with Ginger Rogers which turned out to be a big hit. He and Rogers ended up making nine films together between 1933-1939, concluding with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. They ended their partnership as their last three films: Shall We Dance, Carefree and 'Castle,' made slightly less money than the film prior and Astaire and Rogers and the studio took that as a clue that they should perhaps cease making films together as audiences were clearly beginning to tire of their act. Ginger also wanted to set her sights on dramatic films. I was surprised when Astaire mentioned that Rogers never wanted to be a big musical star.

 

Overall, Astaire seems very modest but also a perfectionist and he knew what he wanted in his films. He has a very straightforward tone. I like that he isn't trying to write an expose or anything. He is just stating the facts. I could see how some may find the book dry, especially if you've read more colorful memoirs like Flynn's, but I find people's lives fascinating, especially classic Hollywood stars, so I am never bored. I like that Astaire didn't focus on the minutiae of the movie making process or every single detail of every waking hour of his life like some biographies I've read--those are boring. His details about how his famous films were made with the inclusion of funny anecdotes, like Rogers' infamous feather dress in Top Hat and a dress with heavy beaded sleeves that she wore in Follow the Fleet. In their "Let's Face the Music and Dance" number, Rogers accidentally nailed Astaire in the face with one of her heavily beaded sleeves during their first take. Astaire and Rogers managed to complete twenty more takes of this dance, but the first one where Astaire is beaned with Rogers' costume is the one that is in the film.

 

After reading this book, now I want to marathon the Astaire/Rogers films. I'll admit that I haven't seen all of them. I've seen Top Hat, Roberta and The Barkleys of Broadway.

 

I own both of the Astaire/Rogers TCM collections which contain:

 

The Gay Divorcee

Top Hat

Swing Time

Shall We Dance

Roberta

Follow the Fleet

Flying Down to Rio

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

 

It looks like I'll need to procure Carefree and The Barkleys of Broadway on DVD separately so that I can have the whole collection. I wish these films were in the collections in chronological order, but I suppose that I can watch them in that fashion. Carefree is their third to last film and The Barkleys of Broadway was made 10 years later and is their last film, so I'll have time to watch the other seven films before I need to watch Carefree. Lol.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm currently reading Trust Me, a memoir by George Kennedy. With his recent passing, the book has taken on a greater poignancy. He had a rough life, as a child, and as a father. But he also had a great spirit that comes through well in the writing. It's a slim volume, so I should be done with it soon. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Speed Racer

 

David Niven is a person that you should really read --he wrote two autobiographies - - 1 is the Moon's a balloon and the other one is Bring on the Empty Horses. I think I got those titles right because I read them a number of years ago.

 

David Niven happens to have been one of the best friends of Fred Astaire and one of the best friends of Errol Flynn.

 

His book is more straightforward than Fred Astaire's autobiography but, of course, it's not as frank as Flynn's. I shouldn't say that exactly--simply put David Niven doesn't drop that many names. When he starts to talk about people, He lets you fill in the blanks yourself. Let's say he tells the story a little more discreetly.

 

Cave Girl-- I'm currently reading the Dark Side of Genius as well.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

The worst biography I ever read was about Jeremy Brett written by the woman who lived with him when he died.

 

It was not sanctioned by his family or his friends.

 

It was into extremely unnecessary frank detail of what he did when he was in manic states of his bipolar disorder.

 

It was made to sell books.  It made me cry and throw the book at the wall.

 

 

Now I check very carefully to see who wrote the biography and how and when that person knew the subject or family of the subject.  If I think it is only to exploit that person, I do not read it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm a sucker for autobiographies, bios, and history books about Hollywood. I usually enjoy books that focus on the actors career more than their relationships (though depending on how well the story is written I suppose relationships are interesting). 

 

Some of the great books that come to mind are:

 

Include Me Out by Farley Granger - This is a fun and self-deprecating take on an actor who didn't quite have the career he wanted. 

 

Me by Katharine Hepburn - like her film persona, her book is highly intelligent, opinionated and nonconformist. 

 

Swanson on Swanson by Gloria Swanson - It's a bit long-winded, but it's a grandiose and interesting book that is fitting of a grand dame of the silent screen.

 

I second David Niven's The Moon is a Balloon

 

The Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams - Ok, it's trashy (and apparently, she lied about a few things) but it's very funny.

 

 

This one isn't bad and had its moments, but I Said Yes to Everything by Lee Grant suffered from a choppy writing structure and laundry list chapters

 

A Couple of Stinkers:

 

Finding my Way by Martha Hyer - She rushes thru her film career in favor of a tepid born-again Christian screed. 

 

A Quality of Mercy by Mercedes McCambridge - I could only read about 10 pages because she psychoanalyzed things to death in a pretentious Jack Kerouac writing style.  

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Esther Williams autobiography.

 

This is a good example of one that I refuse to read, mainly for the way she outs one time husband Jeff Chandler for wearing women`s underwear which is nobody`s business and in very bad taste considering his death due  to medical misadventure at the age of 44 in June 1961 was within months of two Hollywood giants - first Clark Gable in December at 59 and then Gary Cooper in January at 61.

 

 

 

My interest in Williams is already hampered by the fact that I am not interested in watching people swim.  I put up with her in movies like Take Me Out to the Ballgame because I love her co-stars.

 

I feel reading the book will make me lose out on the films she was in that I do enjoy by making me not want to watch any of the movies she made.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

I can attest to finding Errol Flynn's autobiography, "My Wicked Wicked Ways" very interesting.

 

My Wicked Wicked Ways was fascinating.  I know that Flynn was a great raconteur, so it's hard to know what he's telling the truth about and what he may be embellishing, but I do appreciate that Flynn wasn't writing a tell-all expose.  I choose to believe him when he says that he didn't do such and such, like his notorious statutory rape trial, because some of the things he did admit to doing were rather unsavory.  I laughed when he defended himself against one of the plaintiffs in the trial by saying that he would never rape her because she was "gruesome looking."  Despite only living to 50, you can't say that Flynn didn't lead a full and colorful life. 

 

I also loved Desi Arnaz' autobiography, A Book.  While not quite as crazy as Flynn's, Arnaz' story about his affluent childhood growing up in Cuba and later having to flee the country for Miami because of a revolution was very interesting.  Arnaz endured a riches to rags to riches story.  It's very inspiring to read how he worked himself up from making a meager living cleaning canary cages in Miami to eventually becoming the President of one of the top television studios in the country.  Arnaz' book is very honest and you can hear his voice in the narration.  

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

My Wicked Wicked Ways was fascinating.  I know that Flynn was a great raconteur, so it's hard to know what he's telling the truth about and what he may be embellishing, but I do appreciate that Flynn wasn't writing a tell-all expose.  I choose to believe him when he says that he didn't do such and such, like his notorious statutory rape trial, because some of the things he did admit to doing were rather unsavory.  I laughed when he defended himself against one of the plaintiffs in the trial by saying that he would never rape her because she was "gruesome looking."  Despite only living to 50, you can't say that Flynn didn't lead a full and colorful life. 

 

I also loved Desi Arnaz' autobiography, A Book.  While not quite as crazy as Flynn's, Arnaz' story about his affluent childhood growing up in Cuba and later having to flee the country for Miami because of a revolution was very interesting.  Arnaz endured a riches to rags to riches story.  It's very inspiring to read how he worked himself up from making a meager living cleaning canary cages in Miami to eventually becoming the President of one of the top television studios in the country.  Arnaz' book is very honest and you can hear his voice in the narration.  

 

RE: Flynn autobiography;

 

Have you read David Niven's yet?  I know he and Flynn were close and then Niven broke off the friendship.

 

I'd love to read Desi's book.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Speed Racer

 

David Niven is a person that you should really read --he wrote two autobiographies - - 1 is the Moon's a balloon and the other one is Bring on the Empty Horses. I think I got those titles right because I read them a number of years ago.

 

David Niven happens to have been one of the best friends of Fred Astaire and one of the best friends of Errol Flynn.

 

His book is more straightforward than Fred Astaire's autobiography but, of course, it's not as frank as Flynn's. I shouldn't say that exactly--simply put David Niven doesn't drop that many names. When he starts to talk about people, He lets you fill in the blanks yourself. Let's say he tells the story a little more discreetly.

 

Cave Girl-- I'm currently reading the Dark Side of Genius as well.

 

I actually purchased both of Niven's autobiographies, Bring on the Empty Horses and The Moon's a Balloon at a book sale a couple years ago--the books came together in one book.  I haven't read either book yet.  I did know that he was Flynn's friend and that they actually were roommates for awhile.

 

I just read about Niven being friends with Astaire in Astaire's autobiography.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I really liked Desi's book - -

 

The public just never gave him the credit that he deserved. He's truly one of the great pioneers of American television.

 

All the time being a fine actor, singer, musician, comedian, and a damn

good looking guy!

 

Agreed.  Desi was completely underrated and was never appreciated until after he died.  He is a true pioneer, just as much as Lucy.  Without Desi's foresight and great networking skills (he's the one who contacted Karl Freund whom he worked with to develop the modern three-camera television filming process) television would look different today.  He was one of the great all-time straight men in comedy as well.  While I enjoy The Lucy Show, it is lacking something without Desi Arnaz.  

 

I also agree that he was a good looking guy.  I remember always having a crush on Ricky Ricardo when I was little.

 

Have you seen him in the films he made when he was in his 20s? Yowza!

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

RE: Flynn autobiography;

 

Have you read David Niven's yet?  I know he and Flynn were close and then Niven broke off the friendship.

 

I'd love to read Desi's book.

 

I haven't read either of Niven's autobiographies yet.  I have both, they're sitting on my bookshelf.  I keep reading library books and Nancy Drew.  Lol. I'm two chapters from the end of Fred Astaire's autobiography.  Then I may read some Nancy Drew.  I have #11, "Nancy Drew and the Clue of the Broken Locket," #12 "Nancy Drew and the Message in the Hollow Oak," and #13 "Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Ivory Charm" all sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read.

 

Desi's book is excellent, but is hard to find, as I believe it only had one printing when it was originally published in 1976.  To contrast this, I believe that Flynn's book has never been out of print, which is why it's very easy to locate.  I managed to find Desi's book in a used bookstore in my hometown, Salem, probably 15-20 years ago (I found it in high school) for only $5 (bargain!) and bought it.  I'm so glad I did, because I have never seen a copy of it since.  It's available for purchase on Amazon, but even the mass market paperback size (which is what I have) is kind of expensive.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

I just finished reading All in All by Stacy Keach. It was an excellent read, short and to the point, with a lot of good stories about Keach's work on stage, screen and television. He had a nice section about working with Gregory Peck on The Blue & the Gray. I would recommend it, even if you are unfamiliar with a lot of Keach's performances.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I've said it before in another thread, but My Story by Marilyn Monroe was a very entertaining and great read. I've learned more about what made her tick, so to speak, and that she was a wonderful woman. It puts things into perspective.

 

This Time Together- Carol Burnett; fabulously written with a sense of humor and intelligence throughout, much like Carol in real life and on her TV show.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I've said it before in another thread, but My Story by Marilyn Monroe was a very entertaining and great read. I've learned more about what made her tick, so to speak, and that she was a wonderful woman. It puts things into perspective.

 

This Time Together- Carol Burnett; fabulously written with a sense of humor and intelligence throughout, much like Carol in real life and on her TV show.

I haven't read My Story, I'll definitely seek it out.  In eighth grade, I did a book report on a book called "The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe."  It was a very sad story.  Marilyn was underrated as an actress and I believe that were she to have lived longer, and overcome her demons, she would have surprised everyone with a breakthrough role where she would have been able to show her strength as an actress.  She was on her way toward the end of her career.  

 

I will also look into the Carol Burnett one.  I have only seen bits and pieces of her variety show.  However, knowing that she was very good friends with Lucille Ball, I would be interested in reading this book.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a few recommendations of some I enjoyed:

 

The Salad Days by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - great, thorough autobiography that is a great look at early Hollywood up to about 1940

 

Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines by William J. Mann - I really enjoyed this one because it goes beyond just the life of Haines and provides context for his story by going into depth about the gay culture in Hollywood

 

Bogart: In Search of My Father by Stephen Bogart - it's been awhile since I read it but it is a good one

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Glad people are still reading & sharing their thoughts about it.

 

I am a huge Desi Arnaz fan too. Doesn't he somewhat resemble a young Matthew Broderick in that lobby card?

 

a56c6f92-25f1-4ad5-b6b5-109f398ddf76.jpg

 

Haha "young" MB. Glad it's not only wimmen who sometimes age poorly.

 

I'm currently reading the William Holden biography GOLDEN BOY. Written in the 80's, it contains the typical personal musings and assumptions often found in biographies of that era. Except for the fact the author ACTUALLY INTERVIEWED Bill Holden, so you can truly believe what is written. The author also interviewed several of Holden's colleagues, so you know the quotes are truly quotes. (unlike some of the other dreck biographies I've mentioned on this board)

 

I had no idea Holden & John Wayne were buddies. The book also goes into many of Holden's professional relationships and movie stories that would be of interest to any classic movie fan. There's a whole bunch of his movies I haven't seen-better get crackin', they sound interesting.

 

Just like Burt Lancaster, and Katherine Hepburn, Bill Holden IS really the guy you see on screen. Just a hunky, affable professional American guy.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

To contrast this, I believe that Flynn's book has never been out of print, which is why it's very easy to locate. 

 

To the best of my knowledge, Errol Flynn's My Wicked Wicked Ways, first published in December, 1959, is the longest selling show business autobiography in history.

 

If Flynn could have known that, he would have felt more pride about that fact than his entire film career. To be fair, though, the book was only completed because of the assistance of a great ghost writer, Earl Conrad. Any resentment Flynn felt towards Conrad at the beginning of their collaboration had been replaced with respect and even some affection for him by the end.

 

it's a shame that the swashbuckler passed away two months prior to the book's release.

 

Those interested in Conrad's take on the experience of working with a heavily imbibing Flynn at the end of his life should try to find a copy of Conrad's Errol Flynn: A Memoir. It is not always a complimentary portrait (far from it, in fact) but it captures the many contradictions of the actor's enigmatic personality.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting, I'll look for it!

 

A recent interview on NPR, Patrine Mitchum (daughter of Robert) talked about her book HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS, which is about horses in movies. She talked about the cruelty of "falling" horses that were killed for the camera and that Errol Flynn was horrified by it. Apparently it was Flynn who started the uproar about cruelty to animals that resulted in the formation of laws to protect them. 

 

Just another reason I love the guy.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting, I'll look for it!

 

A recent interview on NPR, Patrine Mitchum (daughter of Robert) talked about her book HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS, which is about horses in movies. She talked about the cruelty of "falling" horses that were killed for the camera and that Errol Flynn was horrified by it. Apparently it was Flynn who started the uproar about cruelty to animals that resulted in the formation of laws to protect them. 

 

Just another reason I love the guy.

 

Flynn was an animal lover. He had a menagerie of various animals living with him in his Hollywood heyday (including that little marmoset monkey from, I believe, The Sea Hawk).

 

Yet, in his book about the actor, Conrad makes reference to a time when Flynn crashed a rock hard on the head of a nasty barking guard dog, knocking the animal out (and maybe doing worse than that, who knows?). How, the author asked, even though he approved of the action at the time, could an animal lover do that? A part of the contradictions of the man's personality.

 

I've speculated that it might have been the risk taker in Flynn overcoming the animal lover. The dog involved was vicious and would have made a mess of him if he had caught him. Flynn loved a challenge so knocked out the dog, but in a decidedly cruel manner.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...