Legendary Director, Cabinet Star, a sailor.(BOOKS)(BIOGRAPHY)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Legendary Director, Cabinet Star, a sailor.(BOOKS)(BIOGRAPHY)


Byline: William F. Gavin, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"Double Indemnity." "The Lost Weekend." "Sunset Boulevard." "Stalag 17." "Some Like It Hot." "The Apartment." What do these movies have in common? For one thing, there is nothing "dated" about them, even though they are over 50 years old. Clothing fashions change, language evolves, social taboos come and go, but certain views of the human condition are eternal.

These movies have at their heart a tolerant, witty, often cynical understanding of life. It is as if they were told by a charming man of the world who has seen too much to be shocked by human frailty and folly. They were in fact all directed and co-written by such a man, the one and only Billy Wilder (1906-2002).

Nobody's Perfect - Billy Wilder: A Personal Biography (Simon and Schuster, $27.50, 342 pages, illus.) by Charlotte Chandler, tells Wilder's story, much of it in his words, from his childhood in pre-World War I Vienna to his start in movies in Berlin during the 1920s. In the early days of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship Wilder emigrated to the United States and began writing screenplays for Paramount studios. He had the good fortune to meet screen writer Charles Brackett, and their subsequent writing collaboration made them famous.

When that partnership broke up, Wilder, by now a director as well as screenwriter, hit it lucky again. He met I. A. L. Diamond with whom he wrote "Some Like it Hot," among other good movies. In the 1970s. Wilder's career went into free fall and he never recovered his magic touch.

Ms. Chandler had extensive interviews with Wilder and the book is filled with page after page of his reminiscences. Although he was in his 90s when the interviews took place, there is no sign that he suffered from diminished memory. He seems to have recalled every bon mot, put-down, and (well-rehearsed) "spontaneous" quip ever attributed to him. The author also interviewed stars who worked in Wilder movies, including Ginger Rogers, Shirley MacLaine, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis. The book would have been better if she had edited their often interesting but sometimes garrulous contributions.

There is little that is new or insightful, about Wilder or movies in general, in "Nobody's Perfect" (the title, of course, is taken from the memorable last line of "Some Like it Hot"). But anyone who admires the films I have mentioned (not to mention such second-tier Wilder gems as "Ace in the Hole" and "The Fortune Cookie") will derive knowledge and pleasure from the book.

* * *

Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story by Antonia Felix (Newmarket Press, $19.95, 288 pages, illus.) is an unashamedly adulatory look at President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor. According to the author, Ms. Rice has boundless energy, steely determination, fierce integrity and total mastery of subjects ranging from football to geopolitics.

After one meeting with her, Ariel Sharon, that old smoothy, said: "I have to confess it was hard for me to concentrate in [sic] the conversation with Condoleezza Rice because she has very nice legs." When Ms. Rice had an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Boris Yeltsin, he was the one who blinked. And, oh, yes, she plays piano well enough to perform duets with world-class cellist Yo Yo Ma.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1954, Condoleezza Rice was never allowed to feel sorry for herself-she was too busy learning. As one relative said about her father, a preacher, and her mother, an educator: "They simply ignored . . . the larger culture that said you're second class, you're black, you don't count, you have no power." Her parents, according to the author, "showered their daughter with love, attention, pride, and exposure to all the elements of western culture-music, ballet, foreign language, athletics and the great books. …

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