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Best and Worst Autobiographies/Biographies


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Me by Katharine Hepburn was quite a delight. I read it some time ago, and just recently discovered the full audio of her narration of her autobio on YouTube, so I'm excited to give that a listen.

 

I also read and would recommend "My Story" by Marilyn Monroe. It is a candid and frank telling of her childhood (in which she was surrounded by misfortune), as well as a unique and interesting tale of her dynamic, yet brief, life in Hollywood. It opened my eyes to the kind of person Marilyn really was; I can't help but feel dismayed that her life was cut so short. Imagine what she'd have been up to in the '80s.

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Giddins said earlier this year that he had completed the second volume. There will be three; the next one focuses on the WWII years.

 

Earlier this month he also announced when it would be published - early fall 2018.

 

The title is "Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, the War Years, 1940-1946."

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Giddins said earlier this year that he had completed the second volume. There will be three; the next one focuses on the WWII years.

 

Earlier this month he also announced when it would be published - early fall 2018.

 

The title is "Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, the War Years, 1940-1946."

 

Thanks for the info.  I'm not a huge Bing Crosby fan but I admire someone who would devote so much of their life to writing a multi-volume biography.  I remember reading  either a review or an interview with the author of Vol. One  when it came out (either in USA Today or the Atlanta newspaper) that reminded readers what a mega huge singing star Bing was early on (comparable to Sinatra or Elvis) and his support of African American bandleaders like Louis Armstrong.

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Giddins said earlier this year that he had completed the second volume. There will be three; the next one focuses on the WWII years.

 

I much prefer succinct factual writing and don't need to read any more biographies that contain the writers bloated opinions and impressions, either. 

 

I also can't imagine in our "instant everything" world, anyone making such a great time commitment to reading these multi-volume biographies. 

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Giddins said earlier this year that he had completed the second volume. There will be three; the next one focuses on the WWII years.

 

I much prefer succinct factual writing and don't need to read any more biographies that contain the writers bloated opinions and impressions, either. 

 

I also can't imagine in our "instant everything" world, anyone making such a great time commitment to reading these multi-volume biographies. 

 

Agreed 100%.  I've been wanting to read a Barbara Stanwyck bio, but I'm hesitant to read the Victoria Wilson one (Steel True) because it's so long and it doesn't even cover half of her life! I've read a few comments from people (whose opinions I respect) on this board that state that it's overlong and convoluted.  

 

I tried reading Simon Callow's Orson Welles Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu and I couldn't get past a few chapters.  It was so drowned in the minutiae of Welles' life that it was dull.  I don't need the backstory on Welles' first grade teacher if it has nothing to do with Welles' himself.  If a particular figure's backstory ended up making some type of impact on the subject matter later on than I am fine with it; but every person in the book doesn't need to have their backstory fleshed out.  This book could have benefited immensely with some severe editing.  I started getting the impression that the author was being paid by the word. 

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Agreed 100%.  I've been wanting to read a Barbara Stanwyck bio, but I'm hesitant to read the Victoria Wilson one (Steel True) because it's so long and it doesn't even cover half of her life! I've read a few comments from people (whose opinions I respect) on this board that state that it's overlong and convoluted.  

 

I tried reading Simon Callow's Orson Welles Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu and I couldn't get past a few chapters.  It was so drowned in the minutiae of Welles' life that it was dull.  I don't need the backstory on Welles' first grade teacher if it has nothing to do with Welles' himself.  If a particular figure's backstory ended up making some type of impact on the subject matter later on than I am fine with it; but every person in the book doesn't need to have their backstory fleshed out.  This book could have benefited immensely with some severe editing.  I started getting the impression that the author was being paid by the word. 

 

 

That's how the Babs bio was too, unfortunately. The book was well researched and I found out some stuff I didnt know, but you have to wade through so much extraneous detail about other people it gets lost. i finally started skipping whole pages and that worked better. Oddly the author is a book editor. Funny.

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That's how the Babs bio was too, unfortunately. The book was well researched and I found out some stuff I didnt know, but you have to wade through so much extraneous detail about other people it gets lost. i finally started skipping whole pages and that worked better. Oddly the author is a book editor. Funny.

 

Maybe an abridged version will come out.  Lol.

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Unsure if it even exists anymore. They used to have their own "abridged" copies of books that they sold.........(the magazine consisted of articles from other magazines) Unsure how they did all that. It was around TV Guide size.

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Unsure if it even exists anymore. They used to have their own "abridged" copies of books that they sold.........(the magazine consisted of articles from other magazines) Unsure how they did all that. It was around TV Guide size.

 

I remember always seeing it in the periodicals at the check stand in the grocery store; but it was never a magazine I wanted to buy.  It seems that it is some sort of magazine anthology.  Lol.

 

All I really know about Reader's Digest is that in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, there is an episode where Mary writes a story about her grandfather and wants to submit it to Reader's Digest.  They turn it down because in Mr. Grant's words: "It's boring," but Mary doesn't want Mr. Grant to be right, so she lies to him telling him that Reader's Digest accepted it.  

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LOL. I dont remember that episode. It was a popular magazine for it's time. Mostlly human interest type articles from other magazines. Dunno how they got away with their abridged versions of books legally, but I know they sold them.

 

I accidentally clicked on your name, so if I show up on your member page, that's why.

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LOL. I dont remember that episode. It was a popular magazine for it's time. Mostlly human interest type articles from other magazines. Dunno how they got away with their abridged versions of books legally, but I know they sold them.

 

I accidentally clicked on your name, so if I show up on your member page, that's why.

 

Lol.  It's a season 7 episode.  Mary scandalizes Georgette because she lies to Mr. Grant right in front of her and Georgette didn't know that Mary was capable of lying.  

 

I wouldn't want anyone else looking at my page :-)

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Giddins said earlier this year that he had completed the second volume. There will be three; the next one focuses on the WWII years.

 

I much prefer succinct factual writing and don't need to read any more biographies that contain the writers bloated opinions and impressions, either. 

 

I also can't imagine in our "instant everything" world, anyone making such a great time commitment to reading these multi-volume biographies. 

 

Well if any entertainer deserves a multi-volume biography, it's Bing Crosby. You could break his career down into several topics and write a book on each of them. It was unparalleled really.

 

As for opinions, yes the author has opinions, but there are an awful lot of (non-extraneous) facts as well. And the opinions are of the highest caliber- he's a well-respected jazz critic and is also extremely knowledgeable about the era, its movies and its culture generally.

 

Part one is an essential and definitive biography, and I have no reason to doubt that the other two parts won't be as excellent. It's about the only book about a seminal, neglected figure that isn't either a hagiography or a hatchet job.

 

I will readily admit that I'm a big fan, so I'll happily read three volumes when most people wouldn't. The cliff notes version I would recommend is a very good American Masters episode from a couple of years ago. If I can convince people to spare 90 minutes to just watch a documentary, I'm more than satisfied.

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Hibi said:  you have to wade through so much extraneous detail about other people it gets lost. i finally started skipping whole pages and that worked better. 

 

I had started reading a book about Mae West that was like that. At first, detail about the time period was interesting and set the stage for West's story. But then it got into so much detail, it referred back to her past and became un-chronological and wholly confusing.

 

I tried skimming and skipping pages too, just to stay on track- surely not the author's intention. It's just a mess....not worth my time & effort. Reading should be revelatory & FUN!

 

nicholy said: And the opinions are of the highest caliber-

 

Doesn't matter. If an author adds their own views, a book ceases to be a biography and instead becomes a personal "review". The first lesson serious writers learn is to remove yourself from the story-that's for introductions and/or conclusions. 

This "personal" style of writing belongs on message boards and blogs.

 

What if the reader isn't familiar with the subject? What if they don't agree with the author's supposition? 

 

The subject's story should stand on it's own. Hearing an author "speaking" is the laziest form of writing there is.

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Hibi said:  you have to wade through so much extraneous detail about other people it gets lost. i finally started skipping whole pages and that worked better. 

 

I had started reading a book about Mae West that was like that. At first, detail about the time period was interesting and set the stage for West's story. But then it got into so much detail, it referred back to her past and became un-chronological and wholly confusing.

 

I tried skimming and skipping pages too, just to stay on track- surely not the author's intention. It's just a mess....not worth my time & effort. Reading should be revelatory & FUN!

 

nicholy said: And the opinions are of the highest caliber-

 

Doesn't matter. If an author adds their own views, a book ceases to be a biography and instead becomes a personal "review". The first lesson serious writers learn is to remove yourself from the story-that's for introductions and/or conclusions. 

This "personal" style of writing belongs on message boards and blogs.

 

What if the reader isn't familiar with the subject? What if they don't agree with the author's supposition? 

 

The subject's story should stand on it's own. Hearing an author "speaking" is the laziest form of writing there is.

 

re: the author keeping their opinion out of it.  

 

Agreed 100%

 

Not that this is an autobiography/biography specifically, but a while back I read about 3/4 of Jeanine Basinger's The Star Machine.  This book was about various classic era stars and how they were groomed into a star by their respective studios.  It sounded interesting and there was some good information presented.  I believe that Basinger is regarded as a "film historian" or at least an "expert" as I've seen her interviewed on various Classic Hollywood programs.  However, what I disliked intensely about her book was how she kept interjecting her little sarcastic quips that were aimed at deriding some aspect of the subject's life.  I found it very off-putting that she essentially was mocking the figures that she was discussing.  In the section about Lana Turner, I remember her putting in little "jokes" about Lana's alleged promiscuity (and maybe that was true, but the jokes detracted from the actual information provided about Lana's ascent to stardom).  In the Errol Flynn section she kept mentioning him "being a drunk" and basically inferring that he'd have sex with any woman in his vicinity (while Errol may have had a lot of affairs, as far as I can tell, he was discerning, lol).  I can't remember what other comments she made, but it was annoying having her constantly make fun of the figures she was discussing.  If those little jabs are her "style," it makes me hesitant to want to read anything else she's written or will write.

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Lol.  It's a season 7 episode.  Mary scandalizes Georgette because she lies to Mr. Grant right in front of her and Georgette didn't know that Mary was capable of lying.  

 

I wouldn't want anyone else looking at my page :-)

 

 

I may have seen it, it just doesnt ring a bell. I think R.D. did have some original articles besides stuff from other magazines.

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  • 2 years later...

I thought I would revive my thread from yore.

Eddie Muller posted a link to an article listing the top 25 most compelling Hollywood autobiographies:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/apr/02/the-top-25-most-compelling-hollywood-autobiographies-ranked

They are ranked:

1) The Moon's a Balloon, David Niven

2) Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford

3) The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans

4) A Life in Movies & Million Dollar Movie, both by Michael Powell

5) Everything and Nothing: The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy,  Dorothy Dandridge

6) By Myself, Lauren Bacall

7) The Ragman's Son: An Autobiography,  Kirk Douglas

8 ) Lulu in Hollywood, Louise Brooks

9) American Prince: A Memoir & The Making of Some Like it Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie, both by Tony Curtis

10) Adventures of a Suburban Boy & Conclusions, John Boorman

11) My Autobiography, Charles Chaplin

12) Yes I Can, Sammy Davis Jr.

13) Me: Stories of My Life, Katharine Hepburn

14) Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making  of a Movie Star, Tab Hunter (I believe Eddie Muller assisted Tab with the writing?)

15) What's it All About, The Elephant to Hollywood, & Blowing the  Bloody Doors Off, all written by Michael Caine

16) You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Julia Phillips

17) Brave, Rose McGowan

18) Memoirs of a Professional Cad, George Sanders

19) What Falls Away, Mia Farrow

20) Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, Veronica Lake

21) What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line, Art Linson

22) My Story, Mary Astor

23) The Lonely Life: an Autobiography & This 'n That, both by Bette Davis

24) Little Girl Lost, Drew Barrymore

25) A Story Lately Told & Watch Me, Anjelica Huston

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