Category Archives: Actors

Darwin Porter, Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells from Budapest

2017-01-21-025Title: Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells from Budapest

Author: Darwin Porter

Publication Information: [United States?]: Blood Moon Productions, c2013

ISBN: 978-1-936003-35-8

Library of Congress Classification:
PN2285

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Gabor, Zsa Zsa, 1917-2016
Gabor, Eva, 1921-1995
Gabor, Magda, 1915-1997

The caption on the cover is, “Great courtesans of the 20th century,” which should give you an idea of what type of book this is.

Darwin Porter writes tomes, big ones, hundreds of pages long. I’ve read one other book of his, Hollywood’s Silent Closet: a Novel, and this book is as big as the one on the Gabors.

Porter primarily centers on Zsa Zsa, but covers all three Gabor sisters and their mother, Jolie. All three sisters took chances with the men they were allowing to woo them. All three were raped at one point in their lives, Magda by Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi in control of Budapest, even though she was married to the Portuguese attaché at the time.

This is a tell-all book about who slept with who, who was lying about their bedroom partners in their autobiographies, who was passed between the sisters, and who got away. The information about their movies and their interactions with the stars at the time is gossipy, but nonetheless entertaining. Porter primarily spends most of the time in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, when the Gabors were young and vibrant. It is interesting to read about the competitiveness of the Gabor sisters, particularly Zsa Zsa and Eva.

What does emerge is how these sisters were shaped by the desires of their mother, who wanted them to make rich marriages. Zsa Zsa was married more times (9) than her two sisters (Eva, 5; Magda, 6). At the time the book was written (2013), Zsa Zsa was still alive, and Porter dedicated the book to her.

Like I said, it’s a big book at 752 pages (including the index). If you were a Gabor watcher or if you like the gossip of old Hollywood, you might want to read this book.

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John Lithgow, Drama: an Actor’s Education

(2013-07-12 133)Title: Drama: an actor’s education [UNCORRECTED PROOF]

Publication Information: New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-173497-7

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.L473

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Lithgow, John, 1945-
Actors—United States—Biography.

As stated, this is an uncorrected proof, which I got at one of the publishers’ functions for librarians the day before Book Expo America a few years ago. John Lithgow attended, but no one got a chance to talk to him. He read the foreword of his autobiography to those assembled and then left. The foreword deals with his father’s recovery from a serious operation and his bouncing back to his jovial self before his death less than two years later.

Lithgow’s book is about his life as an actor: the pitfalls and the privileges that come with the job. However, his father is always off in the wings, so to speak, as Lithgow recounts his life and adventures on the New York stage as well as in Hollywood. Lithgow’s father comes back into the autobiography on a regular basis. His father had a big impact on his life.

Lithgow’s father wanted to be an actor but ended up directing plays and went wherever there was work. He took his family with him as he moved from town to town. This took a toll on young John, who would make friends in his new town only to leave a year or so later and to have to start all over again. This type of moving affected him deeply and probably helped create what Lithgow called his “delayed adolescence.” His father never offered comforting words to console his son; as the autobiography progresses, his father’s fatal flaw emerges.

There is no doubt that Lithgow loved his father, but his father—like all fathers who are, after all, only human—was never there to give support and advice as Lithgow grew up. Lithgow can remember his father being there for celebrations and all the good memories he has of family functions. However, whenever there was a problem or crisis his father, though present, never gave his opinion or advice. Lithgow married at 21 and recounts that his father never offered him any advice about how much work a marriage is, or that he was too young to get married. Lithgow later divorces his first wife after a string of affairs that he has over the years, scarring himself, his ex-wife, and their young son.

Lithgow does not give any details about the “wild parties” held by the cast of the various plays in which he acted. He mentions these parties early in the book. It is only within the last thirty or so pages that he admits to his infidelity. He then discusses how leads in plays and movies very often end up falling in love, at least until the end of the production, when reality returns.

I never paid much attention to John Lithgow (I pay little attention to Hollywood overall), but this was an open and honest portrait of someone who has been on the stage and before the camera for decades. From his childhood to his second marriage, Lithgow recounts his life and experience as an actor with candor and humor.

Simon Pegg, Nerd do Well: a Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid

(2013-07-07 096)Title: Nerd Do Well: a Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid

Author: Simon Pegg

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Gotham Books, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-592-40681-4

Library of Congress Classification: PN2598.P367

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Pegg, Simon, 1970-
Motion picture actors and actresses—Great Britain—Biography
Television actors and actresses—Great Britain—Biography

It’s hard to call this book an autobiography, since Simon Pegg isn’t that old. I’d call it more of a memoir. This might be splitting hairs, but the book is by someone who is slightly younger than I am, and I still have a lot of living to do.

The book was interesting, but every few chapters Pegg would write about himself as a 007-type, Simon Bisley, complete with robot servant and big-breasted arch-enemy with whom he has terrific sex. Pegg is a comedian and knows his craft well, but this just was not my cup of tea. I found myself rolling my eyes at the beginning of each fantasy chapter. (Another reason I do not consider this an autobiography.)

Pegg talks about his childhood in England and the things that helped shape who he is today, specifically the first three Star Wars films. He recounts when he had to see Return of the Jedi after it premiered because of a medical procedure. This reminded me of when I first saw The Empire Strikes Back with my friend Tom at the Showcase Cinemas East outside of Pittsburgh on the day it premiered; the two of us also saw Return in the same theater three years later when it, too, premiered.

There are many growing up stories. No one who has read the book can question that Pegg is heterosexual, as he recounts the hundreds of women he fell in love with as a child, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, the French girl he met one summer, and of course the well-endowed Simon Bisley arch-enemy. He did a stand-up routine in grade school every Monday, a deal he made with a teacher to stop being disruptive in class.

The most poignant part of the book is when Pegg recalls the death of a childhood playmate, He was a rival for Pegg’s best friend’s affections and the two of them would fight occasionally when the three of them were together, but they were happy playing with their Star Wars action figures in the woods behind Pegg’s house. His best friend told him of the death, and then the two of them went into the woods to play with their action figures. It’s after this loss that Pegg begins to understand death.

Playing Scotty in the reboot of Star Trek was a dream come true for Pegg. He’s got some interesting stories about the people he’s met as an actor, and he’s made new friends since his career started. As for meeting his fans, Pegg tells a story that, as a child, he approached one of his idols for an autograph. Pegg got the autograph, but the person was rather nasty. This taught him a valuable lesson: no matter how he feels when someone approaches him, he always tries to be nice and give them the autograph or picture.

How I got interested in Pegg is when a co-worker told me about Shawn of the Dead. It’s a good movie. (I own it and watch it periodically.) Yes, the protagonist is an idiot, but he is a likable one. Pegg admits to being a dick when he was growing up, and embraces his nerdiness, hence the title. Besides Star Wars, he liked Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Thunderbirds—all shows that I liked or later liked when I learned about them.

A definite must for Pegg fans.

Michael Seth Starr, Hiding in Plain Sight: the Secret Life of Raymond Burr

(2013-07-07 095)Title: Hiding in Plain Sight: the Secret Life of Raymond Burr

Author: Michael Seth Starr

ISBN: 978-1-55783-694-6

Publication Information: New York: Applause Theater & Cinema Books, 2008

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.B88

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Burr, Raymond, 1917-1993
Actors—United States—Biography

Raymond Burr came from the same generation as Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors where homosexuality was not only a crime, but it was not talked about. All gay actors were closeted, and the studios had women that they would have their male stars “date” by taking them to various appearances at events. Some, such as Hudson and Burr, actually were married. In their case, the marriages ended in divorce.

Burr was a product of his time. He told the story that he had been married before his actual marriage. This marriage resulted in a son. His wife was killed in the airplane crash that took Leslie Howard’s life and his son, at the age of 10, died of leukemia. There was no truth to these stories, but Burr repeated and embelished them throughout the decades. Burr refused to talk about them whenever asked, so that it became accepted as gospel until after Burr’s death. Even in 1991, when he had returned to television in an Ironside movie, Burr talked about finding someone to finally marry and settle down. Burr had already been with his partner, Robert Benevides, for decades.

The gossip columnists were all-powerful in early Hollywood, and Burr made friends with Hedda Hopper, who helped keep his sexuality a secret. In return, Burr would pass on tidbits of information he would learn from working on the Hollywood sets and the dinner parties he would throw. (Burr loved to cook.) Hopper’s son William became one of the regulars on Perry Mason.

Though a very busy character actor once he had established his career, Burr only played the heavy, and he was desperate to get out from under that image. His first leading role was as a defense attorney in Please Murder Me. Playing opposite him was Angela Lansbury as the scheming, manipulative murderer whom Burr’s character gets off. However, it was Perry Mason that changed the public view of Burr. Perry Mason proved so popular that it spawned a series of reunion movies that outlasted Burr, who died in 1993.

Burr was a private person, though, and most people were not able to penetrate his demeanor. He was a big man, over six foot, and always struggled with his weight. A heavy smoker in his early years, Burr had a deep, commanding voice and was always able to steer conversations with reporters. He kept his proclivities well-hidden, but that did not mean that his fellow actors did not know that he was gay. As Angela Lansbury said, “We know there were certain aspects of their [male actors’] lives that weren’t necessarily one thing or another, but in those days they were such icons in the movies that nobody bothered—and certainly it never occurred to the public, I’m sure.” In Burr’s case, it took him awhile to become an “icon,” and in the meantime he kept who he really was well-hidden.

This book isn’t a who-did-Burr-do, but a biography about a gay actor who had to hide who he was all his life. Burr had to assume a persona where he was heterosexual, a man’s man. Perhaps what is heartening about Burr’s life is that he had a wonderful one in spite of the public lies, and was happy with his partner. Later in life after living on a Polynesian island he bought from a dying Englishwoman, Burr and Benevides relocated to California where they started a winery, which is still producing wines.

The book is an easy read. The focus is definitely on Burr and his career in Hollywood. I felt that there was something lacking, though. Burr did not write an autobiography, so any personal insights are impossible, and unless Benevides writes an autobiography of his life with Burr, some things will remain a mystery.

Perhaps this is the way it should be.