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review 2018-10-15 21:16
The Girl on the Balcony (Hussey)
The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet - Olivia Hussey

I'm sorry to say that I came to this because, in connection with #metoo discussions, someone mentioned a nasty sexual assault on Olivia Hussey, taking place in the same house as the Manson murders only months afterwards. I'm also sorry to say that incident is indeed in this autobiography.

 

However, I have some very tender memories of the Hussey/Whiting/Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet, a film I saw (like so many of my generation) in my teens while studying the play, so I was very happy to read Olivia Hussey's stories about the making of that film, when she was herself a mere teenager. It seems she got along with Zeffirelli very well indeed, and had a little fling with her gorgeous co-star to boot.

 

For the remainder of her career, Hussey was (at least for me), one of those "I know that face" actresses; she had parts in any number of films and TV miniseries I am sure I have seen, but of which I have no very vivid recollection. It appears she struggled with anxiety and agoraphobia (she mentions it more in her stories about her youth, but she doesn't say she ever completely overcame it); that in itself is adequate explanation for why she never made that last breakthrough to the top echelon of movie stars. She appears, however, to have more or less made a go of it, right up until she was completely impoverished by a crooked manager (this is not libel - he was prosecuted).

 

She appears to have been attracted by highly extroverted and performative men: her 3 husbands were Dean Paul Martin (son of Dean Martin), a Japanese singer, and an American rock singer. The first two marriages fell apart within a few years, but the third has lasted several decades. She had a child from each marriage, and Alex, the son of the first marriage, is credited as co-author on this book. There's also quite a lot about the budding acting career of her daughter, India, from the third marriage, but very little about the middle son.

 

Hussey goes into considerable detail about her discipleship, formed early, of an Indian guru she called "Baba"; I seriously doubt that he was quite so unequivocally virtuous and wise as she portrays him, and I completely doubt all the little anecdotes she delights in of his predicting all the twists and turns of her life before they occurred. However, she does seem to have been a bit of a religious seeker, and he apparently gave her a fair bit of balance and calm, so it isn't kind to be too censorious. Her reliance on "Baba", however, seems symptomatic of another pattern throughout the book - Olivia doesn't seem to have done well, or even desired to do well, without a man to lean on. The organizing principle of the book, such as it is, is not her progression from professional role to professional role (indeed, she leaves some things out altogether, especially towards the end of her career - you would never know she's a voice-over artist, for instance) but from marriage to marriage. And of course it's her prerogative, but one often gets the sense that even her account of that progression leaves out a lot of (probably painful) detail. In her description of her relationship with Dean Paul Martin, for instance, she tells how they separated after only a few years, and divorced a few years later, but she makes it seem as though he might still have been interested in coming back to her when they were both a bit more mature. The name of Dorothy Hamill (the skater, and Dean Paul Martin's wife for a few years in the early 80s) is never mentioned, and neither is that marriage.

 

Hussey satisfies with some grace what she must know would be a major attraction of her account, namely stories about interactions with actors more famous than herself, such as Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Dean Martin (of course) and Bette Davis (apparently an absolute harridan in her late-life appearance in Death on the Nile). Hussey is not a mean-spirited chronicler; she seems quite self-aware about her own failings, and she does not complain over-much about the truly nasty financial ill luck that attended both her early childhood and her later years, though we can read into her stories about moving from place to place the strain that must have placed on her.

 

There is a section of about 3 dozen photographs, some colour, many of them family, but some from her roles; this section was very well hidden (no chapter heading) in the e-version of the book, and so came as a pleasant surprise at the end of the text. From it, we easily gather that the people around her have been the most important thing in Hussey's life, and also that she has remained into later years remarkably good-looking.

 

Recommended if you like anecdotal film memoirs of the 60s/70s.

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review 2018-09-20 16:59
Peter O'Toole: the Definitive Biography (Sellers)
Peter O'Toole : the definitive biography - Robert Sellers

Is this really "the definitive biography"? It's certainly the best in a very disappointing field since O'Toole's death. Notably absent amongst the people interviewed as original sources: any of O'Toole's surviving family, including ex-wife Sian Phillilps (mother of his two daughters) or ex-partner Karen Brown (mother of his late-life son). So this is definitely not the "authorized" biography, which can be a good or a bad thing. In this case, I think it has been detrimental to any real understanding of O'Toole's family life (Sian Phillips' autobiography is a useful corrective for the years when they were married).

 

I was dubious when I saw Robert Sellers to be the author, because he has also written books with such unpromising titles as "Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed" and "Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down: How One Generation of British Actors Changed the World". In other words, he gives every appearance of being one of those bloke-ish biographers who delight in chronicling promiscuity and drunkenness, as if they were something necessarily associated with great talent and in some way admirable. Mind you, to be fair, if you're going to write about Peter O'Toole, you're going to have to address both of those major factors in his life and career. But I was pleasantly surprised at the relative absence of celebratory adjectives about the alcoholism that most certainly contributed to O'Toole's dreadful health in the second part of the career (not to mention his very poor reputation amongst landlords and other property owners).

 

The sources for this book are chiefly gossipy minor players in the entertainment world, most of whom doubtless have dined out on their O'Toole stories for some time, so we must take into account the natural human tendencies to embellish and generalize. The other people involved in the best anecdotes are by and large gone from us, and can't issue any refutations (if indeed they would wish to). But in addition to O'Toole's mischief, drinking, and occasional completely thoughtless cruelty, I found that there was also a ring of truth - through repetition from different sources - in the accounts of his deep thoughtfulness about his craft, his extensive and intelligent reading, and a generosity that could be as extravagant as his narcissism. As I think I remarked in my review of "Hellraisers", O'Toole still comes off, like Burton, as someone you could see wanting to associate with, as opposed to some of the nastier drunks in his circle of contemporaries. (And lest anyone wonder, it does seem that he dabbled in drugs as well.)

 

Sellers puts to rest the old controversy of where O'Toole was born, Ireland or England, by digging up the actual birth certificate from Leeds. But he does also acknowledge throughout that O'Toole became Irish, almost by dint of wishing so very much to be Irish (he always claimed himself that he did not actually know one way or the other).

The book has a decent apparatus (index, bibliography, list of film and theatre credits), and there are citations at the end for most paragraphs, though since most of said citations are to "author's interview with X", there's really not much verification that can be done. Sellers also took the time to view the historical record in the form of TV talk show utterances (now much more available to us through youtube), and he relies relatively little on previous biographical work as far as I can see, although Sian Phillips is of course fairly heavily cited.

 

"Better than expected" doesn't seem like particularly high praise, but in fact I'm quite pleased to give this book a place on my shelves. Since O'Toole will unfortunately never continue his slim, whimsical, fascinating autobiographical efforts into the most riveting years of his career, we must rely on the more prosaic expressions (and perhaps more reliable memories?) of the people around him who may not have been his nearest and dearest, but for that very reason may have been reliable observers.

 

Recommended to fans of O'Toole and people who enjoy anecdotal biography about London and Hollywood in the mid to late 20th century.

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review 2018-07-04 20:25
Actors Anonymous by James Franco
Actors Anonymous - James Franco

Meh.
I wanted to like this book, I mean, I LOVE James Franco. The premise was pretty interesting too, and unheard of. Still, the book fell flat for me.
It was a fictional book of short stories, it was supposed to be thespians that were not famous yet. Each story was a vignette of how they cycle around acting, tryouts, casting calls and more. Stories from their every day norm, and how they get through life.
I found that almost every story had a sexual side to it, or was about things I felt uncomfortable reading about. I didn't need to know half of what was told, especially who was doing who. 
There was a moment where James was telling his story, but being fiction, you quickly realize it's him but he's talking drivel. So I lost interest.
I would enjoy a memoir much more, that's clear. Fiction is not his forte in my opinion. He should stick to acting.

 

 

Source: www.fredasvoice.com/2018/07/actors-anonymous-novel-by-james-franco.html
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review 2018-04-27 23:14
Hag-Seed (Atwood)
Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood

This is Margaret Atwood's re-telling of The Tempest, set in a Canadian prison. It's part of a series of commissioned re-tellings of Shakespeare, by a variety of authors.

 

Damn, that woman is clever. I don't go to her if I'm looking for emotional comfort, for sure, but I love watching her the way I love watching a trapeze artist or an Olympic snowboarder: sheer appreciation of someone exercising amazing skills I'll never possess. This one is full of happy recollections for an English lit major; don't know how well it would play if you were completely unfamiliar with the Tempest, though there is a helpful summary at the back.

 

There's nothing terribly realistic about the plot of the novel (it depends on a highly unlikely temporary technological takeover of the prison), but individual moments and references provoke chuckles of recognition. Take the name of the protagonist, for instance - Felix Phillips. Felix for Prospero, of course, but the "Phillips" part is obviously for Robin Phillips, who was the long-time and famously unconventional artistic director of the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival. Actually, I'm kind of disappointed that Atwood 'fessed up to that one in her afterword, and didn't let the rest of us go on feeling clever for having noticed it.

 

Likewise, the characters of the various inmates and the few outsiders are slenderly built (though I didn't feel they were stereotypes). But there is just enough depth there - Felix is dealing with, or rather not dealing with, the death of his real-life daughter, Miranda, to whose imagined image he talks while he lives out a wretchedly reclusive life. (As in the play, things improve at the end.)

 

I'm pretty sure that the critical notion that The Tempest is all about various types of prisons is not original to Atwood (though it's been so long I wouldn't even know where to start digging it out). But the way she has worked it through is entirely her, and entirely delightful.

 

Delightful. Yes, that's exactly the word. Do read it!

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review 2018-01-23 22:29
Richard Burton: Prince of Players (Munn)
Richard Burton: Prince of Players - Michael Munn

This biography of Richard Burton is, I would guess, highly unreliable as to details. Although Michael Munn, the author, was indeed in the entertainment business in minor capacities, I very much doubt he had the kind of access to Burton himself (or to his circle) that would allow him to quote, apparently verbatim, whole stretches of actual conversation so very focused and illuminating about Burton's life. My suspicion that in fact Munn was paraphrasing cribbed versions of secondary sources was confirmed when I compared his account of an incident involving John Gielgud with Sheridan Morley's Gielgud biography, and discovered word-for word-borrowings but written as if told to the author directly by Burton (the tip-off was the idiosyncratic phrase "idiot boards"). That said, Munn does seem to have had some access to Burton (though not perhaps in the chummy way he claims), as well as to some of the more notorious gossips in Hollywood like Roddy McDowall. He also actually gives us a bibliography of sorts, though only a "selected" one; so I suspect he did his reading.

 

This, then, was a quick read with a hefty dose of salt, reliable for at least the bare outlines of Burton's career, and likely also a pretty good reflection of the gossip about Burton over the years. It's not a very happy tale. Indeed, given whatever illness of the mind (or brain) he was suffering from, as well as his lifelong alcoholism, what strikes me about Burton is not the brevity of his working life but the fact that he managed to get as much good work done as he did.

 

I was relieved to read that despite his reputation of having slept with every leading lady he had, Julie Andrews (who shared the stage with him in "Camelot") was notoriously proof against his boozy charms.

 

There's got to be at least one better biography out there, and I remember hearing that Burton's own diaries have been published, so I may come back to him at some point. I'm really far more interested in Peter O'Toole (upon the subject of whom this particular book was pretty light, though apparently they were quite good friends), but reading this book has at least revived in me the desire to go back and watch "Becket" again.

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