Ian W. Hill's Reviews > Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them

Dropped Names by Frank Langella
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May 22, 2012

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Read from May 22 to 23, 2012

A quick, enjoyable read, but not as much fun as I expected from the Times review. I've seen this called "Places My Penis Has Been," and there are indeed many wonderful stories of the women Langella has known, but the overall sense of the book is of great melancholy -- not for nothing are the chapters placed in the order in which their subjects died. He tells more than a few stories of great S.O.B.s he has known, but even the people he liked and loved come off as hugely flawed and deeply unhappy, even cruel people. He doesn't exclude himself from his own harsh criticism either -- a running theme through the book is his obsession with Arthur Miller's autobiographical play AFTER THE FALL, and the role of Quentin (Miller's standin) which he has played twice, fascinated with the question of the character's "guilt." On working on the play with Miller, however, he discovered that Miller did not consider the character "guilty" at all, and refused to write a new speech for Quentin (as Langella requested) in which the character would confront his own selfishness and cruelty. This book sometimes feels like Langella's own version of the speech he wanted Miller to write.

Which means it is in an odd zone -- not quite the "breezy" memoir that Langella seems to want to present, but neither is it deep enough to be a more satisfying account of a life. I suppose that means it's "unsuccessful," but at the same time it is a fabulous collection of funny and/or revealing anecdotes about interesting people -- every other page I would find myself laughing hard and having to reread aloud to my wife what I had just read. In doing so, I found one of the other odd problems with the book -- while his prose is fine, and at times even inspired, Langella seems unable to capture in his stories the actual VOICES of the people he is quoting, with one, maybe two exceptions (definitely Raul Julia, whose every word sounds JUST LIKE HIM, and maybe George C. Scott). It's a strange feeling to be so frustrated by such an ENJOYABLE book.
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05/22/2012 page 88

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