Tag Archives: Actors

Jeffrey Meyers, Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

41PQVT4BJHLTitle: Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

Author: Jeffrey Meyers

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1090-5

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.F55

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Flynn, Errol, 1909-1959
Flynn, Sean, 1941-
Motion picture actors and actresses–United States–Biography
War photographers–United States–Biography

This is a biography of a father and son who spent more time apart than they did together. The first 56 and the last 17 pages are about Sean Flynn; the rest of the book is about his father, Errol. Errol died at the age of 50; Sean was killed at 28 or 29, depending on when he was murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

I’ve always found it interesting when men say, “I like women,” which usually means “I like sleeping with women,” which is not the same thing. Errol Flynn liked to sleep with women, but he did not like women. This becomes evident as one reads the book. Meyers mentions in several places where Errol called his mother the C-word regularly. She really had nothing to do with him when he was growing up, and even pushed him away. This did scar him, and he even admitted it. Nonetheless, this did not inhibit his pursuit of women.

Sean’s problem was that he was trying to live up to his father’s reputation. He also had the devil-may-care attitude of his father, only this was more extreme in him. He was, for all intents and purposes, a playboy. He tried his hand at acting, but got bored with it; he moved on to something else. In Sean’s case his mother was the constant in his life, not Errol. Actress Lili Damita was Errol’s first wife, and she grew to hate him as he continued to cheat on her and spend time away from her. Her pregnancy was revenge on Errol, who did not want children, and she was constantly after him for money. She smothered Sean and kept him very close to her. As a result, he rarely spent time with his father.

My reading suggests that neither father or son was much different from each other. Meyers comments that Sean wasn’t so much interested in women as what they could do for him: sex companion, cleaning house, etc. It seems that Errol did not really see women as people. He did have a few female friends, and he slept with just about all his leading ladies (Bette Davis being an exception), but for the most part he was a man’s man, looking for the comfort of spending time with other men doing manly things. Sean ended up in Vietnam voluntarily, seeking fame and male companionship, and doing manly things like photographing the war.

Sean had no children that are known. In one letter, he told his mother that he was tempted to settle down in East Indies with a “brown” girl. Meyers reports that he came very close to marrying one young woman, but she was still in school and her father did not think that he would be a good husband and son-in-law, so Sean moved on and she ended up having an abortion; the fetus was a boy. Meyers doesn’t say if Sean knew about this or not. Grandchildren was one thing that Sean could not give his mother.

There’s more to say about this book, but I’ll end it here. Father and son were the same in so many ways, particularly in their shared death wish. Errol drank himself into an early grave, still chasing young women, and Sean ended up being captured by the Viet Cong in Cambodia, who then turned their captives over to the Khmer Rouge who, as history has shown, were in no way compassionate to their own people let alone outsiders. It is believed that Sean Flynn was executed a year or so after he was captured.

Fascinating character study.

Kate Kingsbury, The Clue is in the Pudding

(2014-01-17 001)Title: The Clue is in the Pudding

Author: Kate Kingsbury

Series: Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries

Publication Information: New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013, c2012

ISBN: 978-0-425-25232-1

Library of Congress Classification: PR9199.3.K44228

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Baxter, Cecily Sinclair (Fictitious character)—Fiction
Actors—Crimes against—Fiction
Pennyfoot Hotel (England : Imaginary place)—Fiction

The series, Holiday Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries, set during the Christmas season at the Pennyfoot Hotel. There are regular mystery books at the Pennyfoot set all year round, so I was surprised to find a series like this. I love mysteries set around the holidays–don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because I like to see what other people do for the holiday season, even if they are fictitious. This book is not the first in the series but several volumes into it.

The setting is historical, taking place in Badger’s End, England, at the beginning of the 20th century. The Pennyfoot Country Club is decorated for Christmas, and the staff are preparing the hotel for holiday festivities. Cecily Sinclair Baxter, the manager of the hotel, has her hands full. The household manager, Mrs. Chubb, has left to take care of her grandchildren while her daughter recovers from being ill. The replacement, Beatrice Tucker, has alienated just about everyone in the house with her waspish tongue and temper. Cecily’s husband’s first name is never given; he’s simply called Baxter throughout. (All the characters at the Pennyfoot are referred to by their first names except Mrs. Chubb and Baxter.)

The hotel is filled up when Archibald Armitage, master thespian, is found murdered in his room. It is revealed that Armitage had been the lover of a young woman whom he had abandoned after she became pregnant by him; she committed suicide. This being the Edwardian Age, her entire reputation had been destroyed as well as her standing in society. Strangely enough, her parents are also staying at the hotel for the holidays. Then there’s Tucker, whom Armitage had apparently insulted one night after she had played up to him because he was well-known. However, Pansy the maid thought Armitage a gentleman because he had saved Tess, Samuel the stable manager and carriage driver’s dog (and Pansy’s fiance), from drowning in the pond. However, she’s in the minority.

There is a lively cast of characters. Tucker is just a miserable, old bag who constantly tears anyone apart for any little infraction. The cook Michel, who speaks English with a French accent (but his Cockney slang when drunk reveals his true birthplace), detests her. She has so upset the household that Cecily tries to bring her into line to no avail; Cecily is also afraid to offend the woman, since she needs a housekeeper to keep the household running efficiently through the holiday season. Samuel and Pansy have been engaged for awhile when something happens to break them up. Pansy’s friend Gertie, also a maid, finds Clive the caretaker an enigma; her twins adore him and he cares for them and her, but he’s harboring a secret. Gertie herself has been around, having had children with a man whom she loved but then found out was already married; had fallen for an upper-class man who wanted to move her and the children to London, but she had realized that it would never work and broke it off; had married a much older man more for the children than for herself; and now, widowed, she is not sure what to make of Clive. Gilbert Tubbs, Samuel’s assistant, also has an ax to grind with Armitage.

Then there’s Cecily’s friends, Madeline and Phoebe. Madeline had married Kevin Prestwick, the local doctor, who had been a suitor of Cecily’s before taking up with Madeline. Madeline has precognitive abilities that come over her and, in a trance, she calls out what she sees. Phoebe married Freddie the colonel, whom Baxter is sure is completely crazy. Phoebe is completely self-absorbed and into how things look; substance isn’t that important.

For the most part, I found Baxter a wet dishrag. I kept wondering why Cecily, had married him. However, in one passage, he secretly admitted that he was proud of his wife’s sleuthing abilities and couldn’t understand why the government hadn’t simply given women the right to vote, figuring that if they were only half as smart as his wife then the country could only benefit from the brainpower.

I liked the book, and the characters. I would recommend the book to anyone who likes historical mysteries. The running joke throughout is that Cecily wants to keep the murder hush-hush, since most people know about the Pennyfoot’s record of having murders committed around the holidays. It’s a definite damper on the festivities.

Matthew Rettenmund, Blind Items: a (Love) Story

2014-01-17 001Title: Blind Items: a (Love) Story

Author: Matthew Rettenmund

Publication Information: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000, c1998

ISBN: 0-312-26295-7 (978-0312-2629-52)

Library of Congress Classification: PS3568.E774

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Gay men—New York (State)—New York—Fiction
Authors—New York (State)—New York—Fiction
Gay authors—New York (State)—New York—Fiction
Motion picture actors and actresses—United States—Fiction
Gay motion picture actors and actresses—United States—Fiction

This book was hard to put down. I really liked it.

The protagonist is David Greer, a 32-year-old gay man living in Manhattan and working at a pornography publisher as an editor and writer. He doesn’t like his job, and wants to do “real” writing, but finds his confidence lagging. He is friends with Warren Junior, a gay gossip columnist who writes stories about the stars in the closet, but always using code. His other best friend is Carol Terry, a straight woman who he once made out with when drunk.

David meets the up-and-coming Alan Dillinger, the hot star of the moment who is on the TV-ratings topper Lifesavers (think Baywatch). They meet at a Lifesavers promotion party; the only reason David and Carol can go is because Warren gives David his invitation. David discovers Alan is a closet queen, but none-the-less embarks on a relationship with him. David, out and proud, finds dealing with Alan’s secretive sexual orientation troubling, but Alan assures him that he intends to come out—someday. When that day is, and if Alan comes out or is outed, becomes a theme running throughout the rest of the book.

It’s amazing how much has changed since 1998, when this book was written—15 years ago. There are more out stars, but there are still so many in the closet. Same-sex marriage is now recognized in double-digit state numbers, something that was only beginning in 1998.

Chapters vary perspective and, it turns out, time. David’s chapters are told in the first-person; the rest are told from third person. Anyone who reads about John Dewey, a socially-backward and withdrawn teenager, will probably figure out who he turns out to be, but I didn’t and was surprised by the end of the book.

Maybe the reason I liked this book so much is because the characters were real.

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.