Recently, I acquired two movie star biographies published in the mid-1970s, when there was a renewed fascination with the Golden Age of Hollywood: Vivien Leigh: a Biography by Anne Edwards and Long Live the King by Lynn Tornabene, a Clark Gable bio. The Gable book lacks a filmography and nothing is mentioned of Gable's affair and illegitimate child with Loretta Young, which is understandable given that the child's existence wasn't known at the time of the book’s publication. I’ll admit I bought the book more for its sections on Carole Lombard, and those are in fact interesting, but I get the sense that the author didn’t like Lombard. The Leigh book disappoints because of the strict emphasis on Leigh herself, and I like to get a feeling for the era in which the star lived. It would have been nice to know of Leigh’s working relationship with Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, but Beatty is only mentioned once in the entire book!
Those two disappointing bios made me realize how many Golden Age movie stars don’t have decent biographies in print. In searching for books on my favorite performers, I realized that the majority of the stars I love aren’t represented with a recent, decent, in-print biography. Some notable examples:
Susan Hayward- I’m currently obsessed with her, and my M.O. is to absorb everything I can on my current fascination, but there’s very little on her life and career out there. Even the all-knowing, error-free Wikipedia only has a brief entry on her. I’ve gotten a few good Hayward anecdotes from other stars’ biographies, and that’s all.
William Powell- No wonder one of MGM's leading lights is largely unknown by the general public today: no biography! It would be fascinating to read behind-the-scenes stories of the Thin Man movies, and the tough time Powell had during 1937-38, when fiancé Jean Harlow died and Powell himself battled cancer, keeping him out of movies (watch the Another Thin Man trailer; MGM emblazons the bottom of the screen with “Welcome Back, Bill!” a reference to Powell’s extended absence).
Carole Lombard- The “Hoosier Tornado” needs a full-scale biography. Lombard was not just married to Clark Gable, but a dedicated American patriot, swore like a sailor, and died young in a plane crash. A new bio on her should address whether or not she was rushing back home because she believed Gable was carrying on an affair with Lana Turner. Turner denied this, I’m not sure if it is true, but the myth persists.
Dana Andrews- Andrews was another popular leading man with personal struggles, and for my money, the personification (for better or worse) of the WWII-era American male. A career overview would be great, and the good movie star biographies excel at this.
That's just for starters. The list goes on and on. But since we’ve bemoaned the lack of prominent movie star biographies, a future entry will praise the better movie star books available. In the meantime, Raquelle at the always-interesting Out of the Past blog has posted an exhaustive list of currently available biographies.