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Movie (Auto)Biographies


Bogie56
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I'm on the hunt for more biographies and autobiographies on my favourite subject - the movies.

So, I wondered if people would mind sharing some of those biographies and autobiographies that they liked and would recommend to others.

 

I think it may have been TikiSoo (among others?) who mentioned Shelley Winters' SECOND autobiography.  I have read the first one and was unaware that she had penned another.  The first one ends in the fifties, I believe. Anyway, it would be nice to hear from someone about the Winters' autobiographies. 

 

I'll start with Sterling Hayden's The Wanderer which was first published in 1963.  I have read it three times now, once on an ocean voyage.  Not a Hayden schooner voyage I must admit.  It was transatlantic on the QEII.

 

First of all, it is an incredibly frank account of a man's life.  His youth, his adventures, his time in Hollywood, his service in WWII, his horrid experience with the HUAC and finally his flight from Hollywood.

 

Above and beyond the interesting account is something that is very well written and very poetic at times.  Though I am no expert, his style had an honesty to it that is almost like Conrad.  And entertaining in a very different way.  In one passage Hayden recalls that as a very young boy he used to lie on his stomach on the carpet and 'swim' across the room to sneak a peak at the legs of his babysitter.  It is just one of those candid confessions that is quite touching.

 

The Wanderer is chock-full of great candid moments.  Hayden's first screen test is a hoot too.  But I won't spoil it.  I think there are many used copies on Amazon that one might pick up.

 

One of these days I must revisit his novel, Voyage: A Novel of 1896.  I did enjoy it the first time I read it but I confess to finding its American political backdrop a little unfamiliar and dense to me.  It is Hayden's take on a very big turning point in American history.

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Just to throw out 2 of my favorites, both autobiographies:

 

"My Wicked Wicked Ways," Errol Flynn. This was probably the most entertaining celebrity autobiography I've ever read. It was also very well written. Flynn was known as a great raconteur and this book was no exception. I'm sure he took some liberties and embellished things but to great effect. He was also very honest about some of the more negative aspects of his life which I think was a nice break from the more fantastic stories he told.

 

"A Book," Desi Arnaz. This was another great and very entertaining autobiography. Arnaz' voice (fractured English and all) comes through in the narration of his life story. He tells tons of great stories about his childhood in Cuba, working for Xavier Cugat and meeting Lucille Ball. He also has some more inspiring stories like when his family lost everything due to a revolution in Cuba and ended up living in an unheated, rat infested warehouse in Miami. The fact he was able to overcome all that and eventually become a top Television Star and the top television producer running his own studio makes for an amazing story. Like Flynn, Arnaz is very frank about his life and doesn't hold back even telling about mistakes and bad decisions he made.

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Just to throw out 2 of my favorites, both autobiographies:

 

"My Wicked Wicked Ways," Errol Flynn. This was probably the most entertaining celebrity autobiography I've ever read. It was also very well written. Flynn was known as a great raconteur and this book was no exception. I'm sure he took some liberties and embellished things but to great effect. He was also very honest about some of the more negative aspects of his life which I think was a nice break from the more fantastic stories he told.

 

"A Book," Desi Arnaz. This was another great and very entertaining autobiography. Arnaz' voice (fractured English and all) comes through in the narration of his life story. He tells tons of great stories about his childhood in Cuba, working for Xavier Cugat and meeting Lucille Ball. He also has some more inspiring stories like when his family lost everything due to a revolution in Cuba and ended up living in an unheated, rat infested warehouse in Miami. The fact he was able to overcome all that and eventually become a top Television Star and the top television producer running his own studio makes for an amazing story. Like Flynn, Arnaz is very frank about his life and doesn't hold back even telling about mistakes and bad decisions he made.

Two very good ones.  Flynn was quite the adventurer!

 

I like Flynn's pal David Niven's The Moon is a Balloon and Bring on the Empy Horses.  A witty storyteller with lots of Hollywood tales. Right now I'm reading Kitty Carlisle Hart's autobiography, Kitty.  She knew so many movie and stage people, and had quite the stage mother.

 

I just finished Edna O'Brien's A Country Girl, and while it's mostly about her life as a writer, she has a few good stories about Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando, and John Huston, among others.

 

Others I liked:

Candace Bergen, Knock Wood

Lauren Bacall - By Myself; By Myself and Then Some

MIchael Caine - Can't remember title 

The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall, Eve Golden

The Million Dollar Mermaid, Esther Williams

Gloria Grahame, Bad Girl of Film Noir, Robert Lentz

Natasha, Suzanne Finstad

Life at the Marmont:  The Inside Story of Hollywood's Legendary Hotel of the Stars, Raymond Sarlot & Fred Basten

 

I'll try to remember others--I've read scads of them!

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Leonard Moseley's Disney's World was interesting.  Disney seemed to have lived through what might take the average man TWO lifetimes to accomplish.  An interesting read about a quite interesting individual.

 

There is of course, Goodnight, Sweet Prince.  A biography( author unknown to me) of John Barrymore.

 

Anthony Scaduto's biography of BOB DYLAN was insightful.  Interesting stuff in there...like when Dylan wrote some of his earlier tunes in which it seems he's scalding and putting down some person he seems to not like all that much(Positively 4th Street, for example), he actually wrote them as possible impressions someone else might have of  him. 

 

I admit to not having read too many biographies of famous movie stars and such.  Mostly I wind up reading AUTObiographies.  Don't know why exactly, just the way it is.

 

 

Sepiatone

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Anthony Scaduto's biography of BOB DYLAN was insightful.  Interesting stuff in there...like when Dylan wrote some of his earlier tunes in which it seems he's scalding and putting down some person he seems to not like all that much(Positively 4th Street, for example), he actually wrote them as possible impressions someone else might have of  him. 

 

Sepiatone

I've read Dylan's own book Chronicles Vol 1 and would recommend it to any Dylan fan.  Very insightful.  And he does delve into the technical stuff behind his and other people's music.  A lot of which was a bit over my head but made for a good read nonetheless.

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"My Wicked Wicked Ways," Errol Flynn. This was probably the most entertaining celebrity autobiography I've ever read. It was also very well written. Flynn was known as a great raconteur and this book was no exception. I'm sure he took some liberties and embellished things but to great effect. He was also very honest about some of the more negative aspects of his life which I think was a nice break from the more fantastic stories he told.

 

My Wicked, Wicked Ways is a wonderful read. It would have done Flynn's heart good to have read the reviews that it would receive.

 

Even if Flynn fudged the facts in some of his retell (particularly his early years in New Guinea and prior to Hollywood), the book really captures the many aspects to his mercurial personality. A man known for his hedonism and partying was also a soul who loved to read books and poetry, and needed his solitude from others, at times. At heart he was a sailor and a writer, but his self destructive life style impacted his ability to put words on paper, as he had once been able to do.

 

At the end he needed a ghost writer, Earl Conrad, to help him pull his autobiography together. But many people who knew him say that the book splendidly captured Flynn's conversational style. He was an independent man who hated authority figures (be it cops or Jack Warner, with whom he had a love/hate relationship), was a born adventurer with a great capacity for having fun. He was also completely self absorbed, irresponsible and a man who could charm you back into loving him after he let you down. He was clearly a man of considerable intellect, a great wit and natural story teller, and, in some of the most poignant passages of the book, a man searching for an answer as to why his life had gone wrong.

 

Even if Flynn does B.S. a bit in his story telling, he unexpectedly opened up emotionally in this book, and it's that candor on his part that is part of the real pleasant surprise of reading MWWW, now ranking as the longest selling show biz autobiography ever published. That, too, says something about the quality of this book.

 

By the way, an earlier successful example of Flynn's writing can also be found in Beam Ends, a 1937 adventure he wrote entirely on his own shortly after his arrival in Hollywood. It's a piece of fiction about some adventurous mates who take a voyage in a schooner along the shores of New Guinea and Australia (obviously based on his own real life similar voyage as a young man). It's a fun read and Flynn's high spirits are very evident in his prose style.

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I like Flynn's pal David Niven's The Moon is a Balloon and Bring on the Empy Horses.  A witty storyteller with lots of Hollywood tales. Right now I'm reading Kitty Carlisle Hart's autobiography, Kitty.  She knew so many movie and stage people, and had quite the stage mother.

 

 

 

 

I've read Niven's The Moon Is a Balloon and I agree, it was very entertaining stuff.  Great stories.  I like the parts in these biographies when they tell us what life was like for them before they hit it big.  Niven's story of getting free lunches in diners with his cohort are quite good.

Didn't his young wife die tragically when falling down a flight of stairs during a party in Hollywood?  One of those turn out the lights games and hide around the house.  My parents used to do that one.  Someone is the murderer and you don't know who.

I think Harpo's first wife may have died in similar circumstances but I'm not sure.  It has been so long since I read Harpo Speaks.

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Does anyone on these boards have a 1st edition copy of Shirley Jones's autobiography that includes the Joan Collins story that was removed from future printings and the ebook after Collins's cease and desist letter?

 

It will likely be a collector's item.

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Harpo Speaks is my favorite autobiography, for the wonderful stories and engaging writing.  I wish I had been part of Harpo's entourage back then, playing croquet and meeting all the colorful characters of Hollywood, including his brothers.  My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin is also an interesting read.  I agree that David Niven's books are great.  Speedracer, I've been wanting to read Arnaz's autobio but I haven't gotten hold of it yet (I think it's out of print?).

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Harpo Speaks is my favorite autobiography, for the wonderful stories and engaging writing.  I wish I had been part of Harpo's entourage back then, playing croquet and meeting all the colorful characters of Hollywood, including his brothers.  My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin is also an interesting read.  I agree that David Niven's books are great.  Speedracer, I've been wanting to read Arnaz's autobio but I haven't gotten hold of it yet (I think it's out of print?).

Yeah.  Desi's autobiography is hard to find unfortunately.  I found it probably over 10-15 years ago in a used bookstore for only $5.  I'm glad I snatched it up when I did, I have never seen another copy since.  I don't know if your local library would have it or not.  I know mine doesn't.

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Harpo Speaks is my favorite autobiography, for the wonderful stories and engaging writing.  I wish I had been part of Harpo's entourage back then, playing croquet and meeting all the colorful characters of Hollywood, including his brothers.  My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin is also an interesting read.  I agree that David Niven's books are great.  Speedracer, I've been wanting to read Arnaz's autobio but I haven't gotten hold of it yet (I think it's out of print?).

I loved Chaplin's My Autobiography.  But again, I enjoyed reading the bits before he became a recognized star the most.  Chaplin's description of living in poverty in London at the turn of the century is incredibly engrossing.  And the "limelight" theatre age is very interesting.

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Another good one is Lucille Ball's autobiography Love, Lucy.  An unfinished manuscript of Ball's autobiography was found among her possessions and was posthumously published a decade or so after Ball's death.  This book tells Ball's life from birth to about 1964.  It's a very interesting story telling about Ball's sometimes difficult childhood and her childhood dream of being an actress.  She tells of leaving high school and moving to Manhattan to attend a dramatic arts school, but flunked out-- one of the star students was none other than Bette Davis.  She later finds work in chorus lines on Broadway and as a model.  She discusses her life after moving to Hollywood (originally being brought out to be a slave girl in Roman Scandals with Eddie Cantor) and later becoming "Queen of the B's" at RKO and meeting Desi Arnaz.  She is very honest about her marriage with Arnaz and how it was very tempestuous at times.  It's a great story.  It's a shame that it doesn't cover the last 25 or so years of her life.

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I've read Niven's The Moon Is a Balloon and I agree, it was very entertaining stuff.  Great stories.  I like the parts in these biographies when they tell us what life was like for them before they hit it big.  Niven's story of getting free lunches in diners with his cohort are quite good.

Didn't his young wife die tragically when falling down a flight of stairs during a party in Hollywood?  One of those turn out the lights games and hide around the house.  My parents used to do that one.  Someone is the murderer and you don't know who.

I think Harpo's first wife may have died in similar circumstances but I'm not sure.  It has been so long since I read Harpo Speaks.

 

Harpo was only married once and his wife lived a long life.

 

You may be thinking of the classic "Murder game" (a Clue-ish endeavor where one person is a murderer and kills their victim when they're alone; everyone else has to figure out whodunnit) story in Harpo Speaks. Harpo "killed" novelist Alice Duer Miller by cornering her when she was in the bathroom and pushing a note through the keyhole (a fact that infuriated host Alexander Woollcott, who insisted killers had to confront their victims face to face -- but that's another story). Unfortunately, street kid Harpo identified himself to the assembled wits and literary lions as the murderer by what he wrote on the note:

 

YOU ARE DED

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Chums Flynn and Niven are also linked in the world of movie memoirs. Flynn's was the first to be so tabloidishly candid, while Niven's showed just how much money star autobiographies could make with shrewd promotion.

 

The Moon's A Balloon and Bring On The Empty Horses are very entertaining and highly, er, embellished anecdotage. It's interesting that their books are so much alike in content -- overgrown schoolboy has various adventures before gate-crashing Hollywood -- but the tones are so different: Niven tells his story with an ironic, Wodehouse-like bemusement, while Flynn is cynical and almost noirish in attitude.

 

I still can't believe Flynn got away with printing some of the stuff he did about his ex-best friend Bruce Cabot, who was very much alive at the time. Flynn had  help support Cabot for a number of years, including helping him find work as a heavy, but when things got difficult for him financially during the making of William Tell Cabot, rather than help out, sent around a process server to attach Flynn's property for unpaid salary, including his baby's clothes. This inspired Flynn to write perhaps the most unforgettable passage in any star memoir:

 

I never went looking for Cabot. I was afraid I might kill him.

 

 

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Harpo was only married once and his wife lived a long life.

 

You may be thinking of the classic "Murder game" (a Clue-ish endeavor where one person is a murderer and kills their victim when they're alone; everyone else has to figure out whodunnit) story in Harpo Speaks. Harpo "killed" novelist Alice Duer Miller by cornering her when she was in the bathroom and pushing a note through the keyhole (a fact that infuriated host Alexander Woollcott, who insisted killers had to confront their victims face to face -- but that's another story). Unfortunately, street kid Harpo identified himself to the assembled wits and literary lions as the murderer by what he wrote on the note:

 

YOU ARE DED

Thanks Richard for shoring up that leaky memory once again.

 

Is it in one of the Niven books where he recounts the story of Flynn punching a cavalry extra who was heckling him?

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I also enjoyed Susan Strasberg's Bittersweet and Movies, Marilyn, and Me (I think was the title).  She's an actress a lot of people (not here, of course!) don't seem to know or remember.

 

Susan Strasberg originated the role of Anne Frank on Broadway in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK when she was 18 years old.

I would have preferred to have had Susan Strasberg in the movie than Mille Perkins.

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Susan Strasberg originated the role of Anne Frank on Broadway in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK when she was 18 years old.

I would have preferred to have had Susan Strasberg in the movie than Mille Perkins.

I thought Susan Strasberg was pretty good (and hot) in a movie she made in Canada with a very young Tom Berenger titled, In Praise of Older Women 1978.  

You know we are supposed to get a new Susan Strasberg film later this year.  Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind which is being finished by Peter Bogdanovich.

Just think - a new Welles film, a new John Huston, a new Susan Strasberg, Lili Palmer, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper and the list goes on

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I thought Susan Strasberg was pretty good (and hot) in a movie she made in Canada with a very young Tom Berenger titled, In Praise of Older Women 1978.  

You know we are supposed to get a new Susan Strasberg film later this year.  Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind which is being finished by Peter Bogdanovich.

Just think - a new Welles film, a new John Huston, a new Susan Strasberg, Lili Palmer, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper and the list goes on

 

Can't wait.

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There's an excellent bio-critical filmography on Robert Ryan by Franklin Jarlett rom 1997, and a new one that just got released 8 days ago.  The only problem with the first one is the price:  Since it's published by McFarland, the best you're going to get is at most 15%-20% off the list for a used copy.  McFarland controls its print runs very carefully.

 

Robert%20Ryan%20book.jpg5113HjbcJ3L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-stic

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Another good one is Lucille Ball's autobiography Love, Lucy.  An unfinished manuscript of Ball's autobiography was found among her possessions and was posthumously published a decade or so after Ball's death.  This book tells Ball's life from birth to about 1964.  It's a very interesting story telling about Ball's sometimes difficult childhood and her childhood dream of being an actress.  She tells of leaving high school and moving to Manhattan to attend a dramatic arts school, but flunked out-- one of the star students was none other than Bette Davis.  She later finds work in chorus lines on Broadway and as a model.  She discusses her life after moving to Hollywood (originally being brought out to be a slave girl in Roman Scandals with Eddie Cantor) and later becoming "Queen of the B's" at RKO and meeting Desi Arnaz.  She is very honest about her marriage with Arnaz and how it was very tempestuous at times.  It's a great story.  It's a shame that it doesn't cover the last 25 or so years of her life.

 

 I think I remember reading somewhere that Lucille Ball did not want her autobiography published until after her death.

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