Shirley Temple is the quintessential “cute-child” of Hollywood. In dozens of films of the thirties and forties, she played adorable match-makers, belo...moreShirley Temple is the quintessential “cute-child” of Hollywood. In dozens of films of the thirties and forties, she played adorable match-makers, beloved crank-reformers, darling daughters, and plucky orphans. To some cynical naysayers, she is unbearably saccharine. Sentimental sorts find her a heartwarming dear. I usually find her movies soothing. Everything always turns out all right in the end with all problems being solved by a marriage or an adoption.
Child Star chronologically covers Shirley’s life from birth through her second marriage to Charles Black and stops short of her political career (that’s book 2). It consists of strings of remembrances about her films, co-stars, family, schoolwork, etc. Famous Hollywood stars, directors, and producers waltz through book, periodically dropping fascinating anecdotes. Some good (Bill Robinson, Will Rogers), some bad (Darryl Zanuck), some both (most everybody else). To anyone interested in the Golden Age of Hollywood, this is a treasure trove of gossip about the factory system of film-making and star-making. Anyone else (Darryl Who?) may be slightly bored. Family members (excluding her mother) are seen only rarely and painted in a vaguely positive light. Unfortunately, quite a bit of space is devoted to how Shirley’s parents handled her massive fortune. How they were sued, how they handled licensing, how much they spent on a house. Pretty dry stuff.
The tone is oddly detached and impersonal, almost as if the author were writing about someone else. Indeed, she reiterates throughout that child-star Shirley and woman Shirley were two different people. Ms. Black sets things down exactly as she remembers them in an honest manner. She matter-of-factly touches on her father’s semi-inadvertent squandering her fortune, but doesn’t dwell on it either. It is really not that important. Shirley is also quite frank about her less-than-angelic adolescence, dwelling on flirtations and experimentations almost gleefully. This is not a sentimental book, nor is it meant for self-reflecting. This is both admirable and irritating. For example, Shirley admits quite honestly that her doctor told her to quit smoking during pregnancy. She also admits that she ignored this advice. She does not admit that she was wrong to do so. Another example occurs during the break-up of her first marriage. Ms. Black quite piously confesses that she and Jack Agar were both to blame for its failure, but there is nary an instance showing her in the wrong.
This autobiography is recommended for Shirley Temple fans who do not mind being a bit disillusioned. (less)
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie is my favorite type of biography. Many bios, especially those of a historic bent, and especially those of nati...moreNicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie is my favorite type of biography. Many bios, especially those of a historic bent, and especially those of national leaders, focus on what the subject did. Battles, politics, related in mind-numbing detail. This story of the Romanovs has all of that, as it should, but not in overwhelming quantities. Instead, it focuses on the personalities of all involved, and their home life.
Especially for this story, which is a tragedy, character is all important. As I learned long ago, a tragedy is about a hero, whose personal flaws in character, lead to great suffering. Nicholas and Alexandra were a good, admirable people, whose personality flaws led to a series of unknowing mistakes, which led to the great suffering of their family, their children. Robert Massie’s book makes all this clear.
If I was occasionally overwhelmed by the multitude of polysyllablic, uneuphonius and nearly identical (to English-ears) Russian names, he nevertheless made a valiant stab at keeping everyone separate and distinct. The fall of the Romanovs is grand drama. This is a very readable, very moving retelling of that story. (less)
Paul Revere and the World he Lived in is exactly what the title implies. It is not quite a biography, although it does follow Paul from birth to death...morePaul Revere and the World he Lived in is exactly what the title implies. It is not quite a biography, although it does follow Paul from birth to death. It is not quite a history, though it does describe the era along with its famous inhabitants, its lifestyles, its politics. In the 1940s, this book won a Pulitzer Prize and it is easy to see why. This is an accessible book, easy to read, easy to understand, full of well-drawn, interesting personages, set in a fascinating era. Coming as it did in the midst of World War II, there is an undeniable patriotic spin to the proceedings, but this is not propaganda. Paul Revere was an artisan, not an intellectual, and didn’t leave behind voluminous diaries or memoirs. Instead, Forbes had to rely on secondary sources, birth records, paintings, correspondence. When she must resort to speculation, she admits it freely, explaining her reasoning. This is a well-rounded and enjoyable history book. (less)
The Late Shift by Bill Carter tells the story, in a very clear and even-handed fashion, of the “Battle for Late Night” of the early 1990s. David Lette...moreThe Late Shift by Bill Carter tells the story, in a very clear and even-handed fashion, of the “Battle for Late Night” of the early 1990s. David Letterman and Jay Leno were two televisions stars, both up for the coveted position Tonight Show host. This book details how network executives and agents, producers and stars schemed, connived, argued and fought over the fate of this this lucrative position.
It is utterly fascinating, and Bill Carter tells it well. He bends over backwards to be fair to all involved. He uses hundreds of direct quotes from the people involved and explains each person’s position in a fair and persuasive manner. Flaws are not whitewashed and no one is demonized.
I do wonder, though, whether or not the Late Shift will hold up over time. Once Leno, Letterman, and perhaps even network TV are distant memories, will this still be interesting? Will the intense passion of this debate still draw fascination or will it simply be a curious footnote? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Late Night TV is ultimately trivial, but backroom deals and politicizing are universal things. Perhaps future readers will enjoy this book for its Machiavellian maneuvers. I sure did. (less)