Magazine article American Libraries

Star Gazing

Magazine article American Libraries

Star Gazing

Article excerpt

The recent hoopla over the publication of Marlon Brando's autobiography sets one to thinking about the whole question of actors as celebrities. We love the characters they play, yet we're crazy to learn about who they really are. Assuming we'd be disappointed if we knew the real story--either too ordinary or not ordinary enough, depending on your point of view--Holly-wood studios began inventing the off-screen personas they thought we craved: Joan Crawford as the sweet mommy, Rock Hudson as the happy heterosexual.

The studios eventually gave up their role as ghostwriters, but actors haven't done much better on their own, turning out flat, poorly written lives in which they recount their triumphs and trumpet the causes of the day, from saving the whales to staying in school. Occasionally, though, a thespian comes along who actually can write and who possesses the candor and courage to tell his or her story without a protective layer of piety.

The books below all break the "star bio" mold with panache. You're probably better off leaving actors in their roles and forgetting about what happens off stage, but if you can't resist the temptation to peek behind the cameras, here's the place to start.

Bacall, Lauren. Lauren Bacall by Myself. Knopf, 1979, $12.95 (0-394-41308-3).

When Bacall's autobiography was published 15 years ago, it was as if a curtain had been raised on an actor's inner life. Perhaps no other star bio has offered such an honest take on the identity struggles of a marquee name. Forced to grow up overnight, when she was "discovered" by Hollywood at age 18, Bacall developed what she calls an emotional dependency on men. In a somewhat rambling but engaging style, she describes the long and painful process through which she became an independent, successful woman in her own right. Along the way, there's enough star talk to satisfy even ravenous Enquirer reader.

Brando, Marlon and Lindsey, Robert. Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me. Random, 1994, $25 (0-679-41013-9).

Is this long-awaited autobiography really designed to divert attention from Peter Manso's more sensational biography of the actor, also recently published? Probably, but Brando has written a damn good book all the same. Though falling a bit short on the candor question (the author refuses to discuss his many marriages or his children and their many problems), Brando does have plenty to say about his troubled youth and, of course, about his movies, offering revealing and insightful comments on all his major films. …

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