I am frequently drawn to read the autobiographies and memoirs of the actors and musicians I love and admire. To me, the autobiography is the most satisfying literary form because it reveals how the author thinks without the filter of another person’s mind. The autobiography delivers their perspective on their life experiences by giving first-person accounts of the stories that they wish to reveal or feel are relevant to their lives and successes. I prefer this medium to the biography even though I understand (and correctly so) that people will argue that the biography would offer the most “real” picture of the person in question. For me, it isn’t necessarily the research that seems to require interviews with friends and foes, full of possible truths, or the dirty laundry that the actor wasn’t ready to tell. I enjoy reading about them in their own voice, and taking the journey to discover, with them, their great artistic talent and creativity. Thus, I enjoy the autobiography and the memoir.
A few of my more recent favorites are listed below:
Goldie Hawn: A Lotus Grows in the Mud: Goldie presents us with a most interesting book filled with honesty and sensitivity. She vividly describes the challenges and the surprising opportunities that she faced as she embarked on her acting career. She also discusses the loss of her father, the reconnection with her sister, and the awakening to her parents’ fallibilities. She reveals some of her most pivotal childhood memories that she feels shaped her adulthood. While the book is divided into conventional chapters, she inserted what she calls “postcards” throughout the book. In these postcards, she details with insight a moment captured in her story. I loved this entire book and anyone who admires Goldie will too.
Lauren Bacall: Lauren Bacall By Myself: This is a powerful book spoken deeply from the heart. I cried with Lauren when she begins to detail the illness and eventual loss of her beloved Bogart. This is a book with the doors wide open. It is an emotionally riveting ride particularly for anyone who feels deeply connected to their spouse. There are no chapters in this book: it is a continuous journey into Lauren’s world. Bravo.
Rosemary Clooney: Girl Singer: A Memoir. I keep a journal that details all the books that I read. For this book, I had written, “Poor Rosemary. Pills stole a lot from her”. One of my favorite films of all time is White Christmas starring Rosemary Clooney, the absolutely amazing Danny Kaye, and Bing Crosby. It was this connection to the film that tweaked my interest to learn more about Ms. Clooney. She experienced a difficult childhood and life, and she tries to explain what these challenges meant to her while perhaps trying to attenuate some of her own guilt for choices that she made. This is a very interesting read.
Ben Jones: Redneck Boy in the Promised Land. Ben Jones is most famous for his role as Cooter Davenport in The Dukes of Hazzard but he is also a former congressman from Georgia who won his seat against an incumbent. In this book, he describes his childhood growing up in a Virgina railroad shack without electricity or hot water, and the days of his youth in the shadow of a hard-drinking father who didn’t touch a drop during the week but descended into an alcoholic oblivion every weekend. He likewise explains his own spiral into alcoholism and his journey to recovery. Ben recounts his participation in the civil rights movement, his acting career, and his political aspirations. Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Observing life from his porch in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this modern-day Will Rogers writes with a mix of humor, pathos and passion in a rip-roarin’ book with a down-home flavor”. This book deserves much more attention than it receives. I highly recommend it. (As a side note, Bob Edwards featured Ben Jones on the July 19-20 edition of The Bob Edwards Weekend. For a free podcast, click here.)
Kirk Douglas: the Ragman’s Son. The intensity of Kirk’s acting that jumps from the screen translates very well to the printed page. He is astonishingly excellent writer who vividly draws the reader into his world. As with the other authors described on this page, I believe that Kirk is very honest with the reader revealing parts of himself and the decisions he made that were not always flattering. For example, he discusses with pain his decision to mask that he was Jewish in order to gain access to opportunities in the acting world. Interestingly, it is because of Lauren Bacall that he gains his first big break! I have read several of Kirk’s books and have found all of them to be excellent and insightful.
Peter Falk: Just One More Thing. This book made me laugh and filled me with joy. It is an extraordinary read because the author’s passion leaps from the page! Peter Falk loves life and his joy contageously fills and inspires the reader. The man behind Columbo is a man who takes chances and goes for it in every aspect of his life. It was while working in Hartford for the Connecticut State Budget Bureau that Falk decided to quit his job, move to New York City, and focus on being an actor. I’m so glad he took that chance because I have enjoyed all of his work. This is a fun, fast read, and as an extra bonus he includes examples of some of his drawings.
Pattie Boyd: Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me. Model, muse, wife of George Harrison, and later wife of Eric Clapton, Pattie was front and center in the 1960’s cultural revolution and “the Fab Four” experience. The first part of the book is the strongest wherein Pattie describes her childhood, her modeling career, and her life with George. The latter half of the book, however, began to feel like a vehicle for revenge and for the money that she felt she deserved. That aside, clearly of the two main suitors in her life, George Harrison, although imperfect, comes out far ahead of Eric Clapton in almost every human dimension. I haven’t read Clapton’s autobiography and I am interested to hear his side of the story, but from this author’s perspective, it was difficult for the reader to have any respect for Eric by the final page of the book.
Ann Marie is the Library Director for the Oliver Wolcott Library and is inordinately fond of Lt. Columbo.