Sunday, February 22, 2009

Five best autobiographies by actresses

Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic. She has lectured widely on the role of women in film and is the author of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies.

Her new book, Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited, is out this month.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best of autobiographies by actresses. One title on Haskell's list:
Lulu in Hollywood
by Louise Brooks
Knopf, 1982

After laboring for much of the 1920s in Hollywood, the black-helmeted Kansas-born free spirit Louise Brooks had to go to Europe to become a star. She was a revelation in two mesmerizing German silent films directed by G.W. Pabst, "Pandora's Box" (1928) and "Diary of a Lost Girl" (1929) -- but then Brooks, independent-minded to a fault, refused to compromise once Hollywood came calling, and she basically threw her career away. By the late 1940s, she was working as a saleslady at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. She was rescued by admirers, chief among them James Card, curator of the George Eastman House film archive in Rochester, N.Y. He persuaded Brooks to move to Rochester, where she lived in the 1950s as a recluse, watched films, her own and others, and was reborn as a writer. (She was also rediscovered as an actress by Kenneth Tynan, who championed her work in an influential piece for The New Yorker.) "Lulu in Hollywood" -- Lulu was the ill-fated innocent who drove men to distraction in "Pandora's Box" -- is a collection of Brooks's often brilliant essays. Some of the pieces recount her own joyous romp through the 1920s as a Ziegfeld showgirl (a job she enjoyed more than making movies) and party-girl courtesan. Other essays shimmer with insight as she discusses the work of Humphrey Bogart, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish and others. She paints a vivid picture of Bogie, for instance, still showing vestiges of the stiff stage actor in "The Roaring Twenties" in 1939, when he appears helpless opposite James Cagney, whose "swift dialogue" and "swift movements ... had the glitter and precision of a meat slicer ... impossible to anticipate or counterattack."
Read about another book on Haskell's list.

Read an excerpt from Frankly, My Dear, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue