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Best and Worst Autobiographies/Biographies


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5 hours ago, Bogie56 said:

41plhHXIGwL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Further proof that James Cagney could do anything well.  The first chapters about growing up in NYC are especially good.  Recommended.

Read this recently and the "voice" of the author is definitely Cagney's.  You can just hear him as you read.

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I'm in the midst of reading Magic Hour, the autobiography of the great British DP, Jack Cardiff.  It is a pure delight and supplies amazing insight into the early movie business in England and his place in that world.  Highly recommended, if you can find a copy.  (got mine from Larry Edmunds...)

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1 hour ago, lydecker said:

Read this recently and the "voice" of the author is definitely Cagney's.  You can just hear him as you read.

In regards to "Cagney on Cagney", did you notice if he didn't say something nice about anybody he said nothing? There was an actress over at WB in the early 30s whom he really didn't like, and I have always wondered who that actress was. 

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2 hours ago, LsDoorMat said:

In regards to "Cagney on Cagney", did you notice if he didn't say something nice about anybody he said nothing? There was an actress over at WB in the early 30s whom he really didn't like, and I have always wondered who that actress was. 

Me, too.  I was hoping it was not Kay Francis who I love.  I loved what he had to say about Ann Sheridan, Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh.  

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   Interestingly Enough.. ... (offhand) three of the best (auto)biographies ive read have been on, /about comedians...

 

Thats Not All Folks ("Auto". Mel Blanc) 

Ceasar's Hours ("biograohy",. Sid Ceasar) ..

... along with a Autobiography of Fred Allen.. (csnt rmmbr books name, ,,at present),.

_

Id.. .... .. also (tentatively) like to Shove This .. briefly. In a Different Direction to.. ..... give a couple shout outs to a handful of (more or less) Exquisite bio films.. as well. If i (briefly) may...

 

 

 

And All Sins Are Forgiven,.

- --- --

Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Sergeant York.

Sunrise At Campabello. (sp)

Wild.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.

Nowhere In Africa.

The Railway Man.

Young Goethe In Love. ..

 

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On 6/24/2014 at 10:42 PM, speedracer5 said:

Since the Barbara Stanwyck biography thread seems to be deviating into a thread about autobiographies and biographies in general, I thought I'd make a spin-off thread.  For me, personally, I'm hoping that this thread can give me and others who enjoy reading about people's lives some ideas on what to (and not to) read.

 

Like I stated in the Barbara Stanwyck thread, I prefer autobiographies but also research for well written biographies.  Not every star wrote an autobiography, so if I want to read more about them, I try to research decent biographies.  Like I said earlier, if I'm reading an autobiography written by someone I love, I like the fact that they're "still alive" at the end of the book.  If they're deceased, of course I am aware; but I like the book ending on a positive note.  Like someone stated on the other thread, sometimes the stars will embellish certain details of their lives and omit details that will put them in a bad light.  Books that seem brutally honest, like Desi Arnaz' A Book for example, are refreshing and I tend to regard the information presented as truthful.  Errol Flynn's My Wicked, Wicked Ways is surely full of embellishment, but the book is hilarious and entertaining to no end. 

 

When considering reading a biography, I read reviews to get fellow readers' impression of the book.  If an overwhelming number of people complain about how the book is written (general conventions, grammar, etc.) then I usually stay away.  I cannot stand poorly written books (magazine articles, etc.).  While I'm all about learning about different aspects of someone's life, I don't need to know the backgrounds of all of their elementary school teachers, college professors, etc. I don't care.  I also cannot stand books whose main reason for existing is to ruin someone's reputation, share salacious details, etc.  Biographies need to also have good sources for their information.  I've found that if the author has actually spoken with people associated with their subject, or even the subject themselves, those books are usually better.  Also, if they've accessed the subject's personal archives, or documents from a reliable source, then they tend to present more reliable information.  I don't want to read a book whose entire research consists of Wikipedia articles.

 

My favorite autobiographies so far:

Errol Flynn, My Wicked Wicked Ways- Hilarious.  While I'm aware Flynn had someone helping him write the book, I have to imagine he played a large part in the writing.  Flynn was a very smart man-- very well read.  His book was very educational.  Aside from learning about Flynn himself, I learned many vocabulary words that I had never heard before. I didn't want to put this book down.  I was at the last 10 or so pages, and while I could have easily finished the remaining 10 pages in one sitting, I actually read only like 1 or 2 pages at a time just so that I could stretch it out.  Finally, I had to reluctantly finish it and bring it back to the library.  I'm definitely getting a copy for myself. 

 

Desi Arnaz, A Book- Arnaz was brutally honest in his book.  He told it like it was and I could hear his voice in his writing.  His book was also hilarious.  It is truly a riches to rags to riches again story.  Arnaz, grew up wealthy until a revolution in 1936 in his native Cuba took all that away from him and his family.  The Arnaz family fled to Miami.  Now dirt poor, Desi's father survived by building mosaic fireplaces for people using pieces of broken tile he was given (or bought for a tiny sum, I can't remember).  Desi cleaned out canary cages.  Desi and his father lived in an unheated warehouse and survived on cans of beans.  At night they would take turns killing rats.  Then Desi got a job with an orchestra and his stock slowly rose.  He took jobs in bigger orchestras and finally was on Broadway.  He came out to Hollywood to film the movie version of his Broadway show, where he met Lucille Ball.  While his movie career never really took off, he was a popular orchestra leader in the 1940s.  In 1951, Lucille Ball was offered a show on television.  She insisted that her husband Desi Arnaz was cast as her husband.  On October 15, 1951, I Love Lucy premiered, and the rest is history.  Desi's story is truly inspiring and a testament to where perseverance, hard work, risk taking and just plain luck can lead you.

 

Lucille Ball, Love, Lucy- While Lucy's story wasn't quite as harrowing as her husband Desi's, it was also very interesting.  Her story is more about never giving up on your dreams.  Lucy's dream was to be an actress.  Despite being repeatedly told that she was never going to make it as an actress, she never gave up.  While modeling in 1933, Lucille Ball was discovered by a Hollywood talent scout and offered a small part in Hollywood.  Lucy took the train from NYC to Hollywood and never looked back.  She worked her way up from background extra, to small 1 line parts, to slightly bigger parts, to supporting player and finally star.  Even though she never attained A-list status like her contemporaries, Ginger Rogers and Jean Harlow, she worked consistently.  She finally hit her stride when she performed in her radio show, My Favorite Husband, which lead to her television show I Love Lucy.  Like Desi's, Lucy's story ends a little bit after their divorce.  Her book wasn't even published in her lifetime.  After her death, her daughter, Lucie Arnaz found the manuscript hidden in some of her mom's old file cabinets and decided to get it published. 

 

Least favorite:

Stefan Kanfer, Ball of Fire- This biography was written about Lucille Ball.  I didn't care for it as it contained incorrect information about Lucy and I just didn't enjoy the writing.  Mostly the wrong information bothered me the most.

 

Simon Callow, Orson Welles: Road to Xanadu, Vol 1- I tried reading this book and it was so bogged down with trivial information that I gave up on it and returned it to the library after 50 pages or so.  I don't care about how Orson Welles' school was built or what types of lives his teachers led.  The problem with all the extra information presented was that it in no way related to Welles.  The extraneous information presented didn't share how it directly influenced or affected Welles.  It was not interesting.

 

 

I'm sure there is more to share here; but this is my jumping off point.

Here Are Two Others* that i forgot to mention..

 

..... .. .noSurprise. There..

_

Tracks,. (This Ones.. ...again .. - ... ,.aFilm.. so, perhaps i cheat...

- --- --

The Archaeologist Was aSpy,.

     (New Mexico Press,.)

 

 

 

ThisOne's.. ... Rather One of a Kind.

 

Its Slow Going.... .

 

Very.

 

.. slow going...

       I dunno.. ... it almost reads like a (discarded ?) draft of a(n) indiana jones script...

.

It Tells the Story of One Sylvanus G. Morley...

- .. a Navy man.. ... if i recollect correctly.. ...who.. .... is Tasked.. ... with .. well.. ... Quite the Incredible Mission...

(Think: Boys From Brazil.. and Your in the right zip-code...

 

 

 

 

 

 

The.. ...(i,ll call it) "Connection".. .Here; with said thread.. ..is Sylvanus G. Morley is said (by some) to be the inspirational fire starter for Ian Flemings 007 ...

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15 hours ago, LsDoorMat said:

In regards to "Cagney on Cagney", did you notice if he didn't say something nice about anybody he said nothing?

I noticed he made an exception of that rule when it came to Horst Buchholz.

cagney-grapefruit.jpeg?w=640

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13 hours ago, lydecker said:

Me, too.  I was hoping it was not Kay Francis who I love.  I loved what he had to say about Ann Sheridan, Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh.  

There were two people he talked about but didn't name that he did not have high opinions of. Cagney was never in a movie with Kay Francis, so I doubt that the actress he was talking about was her.   Maybe it was Loretta Young? They were in Taxi together, and yet he never mentions her.  I don't know if Young was easy or hard to get along with. The director he was talking badly about I think was Mervyn LeRoy.  Again just my guess. 

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2 hours ago, LsDoorMat said:

There were two people he talked about but didn't name that he did not have high opinions of. Cagney was never in a movie with Kay Francis, so I doubt that the actress he was talking about was her.   Maybe it was Loretta Young? They were in Taxi together, and yet he never mentions her.  I don't know if Young was easy or hard to get along with. The director he was talking badly about I think was Mervyn LeRoy.  Again just my guess. 

You're right.  I was confusing Cagney (momentarily!) with Edward G. Robinson who did do a movie with Kay Francis.  Could have been Young.  We know it wasn't Joan Blondell.  He loved her!

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16 minutes ago, lydecker said:

You're right.  I was confusing Cagney (momentarily!) with Edward G. Robinson who did do a movie with Kay Francis.  Could have been Young.  We know it wasn't Joan Blondell.  He loved her!

We all loved her.

1*S9tu2CpHgJkrLx2MI58OrQ.jpeg

(Oh, how I envied that lucky Dick Powell!!!).

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Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but one of my huge regrets in life was when my father went to Cagney's house in Millbrook/Standfordville, NY to talk to him about doing some work there  -- and didn't let me know ahead of time!  I was a teen at the time, but I knew who Cagney was! Argh...

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I tend to avoid Marilyn Monroe biographies as they end up just being inaccurate; I'd love to get a recommendation for an accurate one (if such a thing exists). Bob Thomas's bio of Walt Disney is one of my favorites, and Marion Davies' memoir is hilarious, right down to her lying about her age on the first page, so take the whole book with a grain of salt. I also enjoyed Maureen O'Hara's biography. I'm looking forward to more now that I've discovered Thrift Books!

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On 4/15/2021 at 9:29 PM, lydecker said:

Me, too.  I was hoping it was not Kay Francis who I love.  I loved what he had to say about Ann Sheridan, Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh.  

I'm very impressed by Cagney talking about people he admires from different walks of life that I have never heard of.  The whole book shows just how well grounded he was.

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