Friday, December 12, 2008

Wanted: Movie Star Biographies

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!

I'll Cry Today: Susan Hayward has yet to receive a first-rate biography

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 fiancĂ© 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.


  1. C.K.

    There is a Lombard bio in print called "Carole Lombard The Hoosier Tornado" published in 2003.

    I know of two other Lombard bios both out of print, "Screwball: Life of Carole Lombard" and anothe book called "Gable & Lombard." Both are long out of print.

  2. Thanks for the link!

    So many stars, so few good biographies.

    At least the Univ. Press of Mississippi has that Hollywood Legends series. Some more obscure actors/actresses are getting biographies there.

  3. I have GABLE AND LOMBARD (1974) if you'd like to read it. Let me know. It does go a little bit into why Gable didn't see her off and why she chose to fly home rather than take the train. I've read it about twelve times. :)

  4. Also, Susan Hayward reminds me of Dinah Manoff. I can't find any photos that show it well but she played Marty Maraschino on Grease. Great looking gals both of them!

  5. I would love to read a biography on Dana Andrews as well. I know that he went through a lot in his life. I'd also like to read something on Priscilla Lane or something on the movie "Four Daughters". I haven't heard much on the movie, so it would be quite interesting to read what it was like behind the scenes.

  6. John: You hit the key phrase: "out of print." That and the fact that there are so few bios of merit, especially on Golden Age stars.

    Raquelle: Because of your recommendation, I plan on getting that Gable bio. Thanks, 'quelle! :)

    Trixie: That'd be great! You still have my address?

    RE: Dinah Manoff. I can see the resemblance. BTW, I haven't seen 'Grease' since my grandmother got ticked off at me for putting a Star Wars "Presto Magix" on the LP's back cover; I think it was over that nerdy kid's face.

    Nicole: I have a theory that the internet has hurt book publishing because it's so much easier to put up a website of one's favorite performer. Saves on getting rejected by publishers!

  7. The Anne Edwards bio wasn't very good, in my opinion. She was the first biographer of the VL, however, to spill the beans on VL's troubled life (manic depression etc). I rather prefer the more recent bios like Hugo Vickers bio on VL, for example. I agree that I wish to know more about the Beatty working relationship. Just today I emailed someone who says he actually asked Mr. Beatty face to face about VL. Great blog, adding it to my blogroll! You can visit me over at

  8. Hi, Leigh! Love what you're doing over there. Consider yourself added!

  9. Digging around your site and came across this one. I love Susan Hayward too and was happy to find that my library had one book about her

    It deals mainly with her personal life and seemed to be well researched.


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