Tag Archives: Biography

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.

Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, Dewey’s Nine Lives: the Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions

(2014-10-31 001)Title: Dewey’s Nine Lives: the Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions

Author: Vicki Myron, with Bret Witter

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Dutton, published by Penguin Group (USA), 2010

ISBN: 978-0-525-95186-5

Library of Congress Classification: SF445.5

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Human-animal relationships–Anecdotes
Dewey (Cat)–Anecdotes

This book is and is not a sequel to Dewey, Vicki Myron’s first book that chronicled the life of Dewey, the cat she found in her library’s book return. It is the stories of those who share their lives with cats, and how those cats affect their lives and the lives of others around them.

Dewey interacted with the visitors in the library on a regular basis: the homeless man who always visited Dewey daily, and Yvonne, a woman from out of town who was always quiet but who came to see Dewey. We then learn about the life of Yvonne and of Myron’s Snowball, a cat from her childhood whose back legs had been cut off in a plow accident, and how that cat learned to manage quite well without them. At six, Yvonne’s mother took pictures of her children with their favorite cats, except Yvonne couldn’t find her cat and the photo was taken without her holding the cat. Yvonne used to buy toys for Dewey and play with him when she visited the library. Yvonne also had Tobi, her cat, whom she loved.

There’s stories about Mr. Sir Bob Kittens; Spooky and his human, Bill, the Vietnam vet who once made friends with a raccoon; the cats of Sanibel Island, Florida; Christmas Cat; Cookie; Marshmallow; Church Cat; and Rusty. It would probably be more accurate to describe this book as biographies of humans and how the animals they had effected their lives. Myron talks about the life of her husband, Glenn, who was tied to a variety of different animals throughout his life.

This can be a tear-jerker for many, but it’s a good set of life stories about humans and their cats–and the ways that animals can change our lives.


Greg King and Sue Woolmans, The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

(2014-12-29 001)Title: The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

Author: Greg King and Sue Woolmans

Publication Information: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-05546-0

Library of Congress Classification: DB89.F7

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, 1863-1914—Assassination
Sophie, Archduchess of Austria, 1866-1914
Austria—History–Franz Joseph I, 1848-1916
World War, 1914-1918—Causes

This was a very good book.

I bought it from Amazon on what was basically a whim. The Hapsburg monarchy was something that I had taken an interest in years ago, and even took a class in the empire as an undergrad. I’ve dabbled in the history, but I knew little, if anything, about Franz Ferdinand, the assassinated heir to the throne whose death set off the First World War. And what did I learn?

It seems that most historians never really took the time to know the man behind the facade. History books dismissed Franz Ferdinand as a reactionary, morose, stubborn, unenlightened man whose death started a century of wars. In reality, Franz Ferdinand was a well-educated, intelligent individual who may well have saved the monarchy had he succeeded to the throne. He knew that there was no way the empire could continue under its present organization. Surprisingly, he thought that the federal structure of the United States was the perfect model for a restructured Austria-Hungary. A federated empire of ten states with some self-autonomy and under the rule of a Hapsburg emperor. Ironically, after his death and World War I, many expressed the idea that Franz Ferdinand could have saved the empire had he succeeded to the throne.

Franz Joseph, the reigning monarch since 1848, does not appear in any sympathetic light. His wife had been assassinated, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolph, had committed suicide. He saw his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, as a dangerous element; he wasn’t sorry to see him removed from the succession. He did not like his relatives in general, and tried to keep everything as it had always was; protocol was everything, and the emperor occupied his time with trivial matters. His chamberlain, Prince Alfred de Montenuovo, was also responsible for protocol and Montenuovo used his position to tyrannize the aristocracy. However, it is made quite clear that Franz Joseph was always in charge and allowed Montenuovo his excesses. This included attempting to stop Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Countess Sophie Chotek, since she came from a family that was not good enough to marry into the Hapsburgs.

Sophie’s family had served the Hapsburgs for at least three centuries; they were never recognized as one of the families that was “equal” to the Hapsburgs and therefore able to marry into the ruling family. The only way Franz Ferdinand could marry Sophie was to remove his children from the succession, which he did. Their morganatic marriage (a marriage of unequals) was used by Montenuovo to humiliate Franz Ferdinand by placing restrictions on how Sophie could appear and accompany him. For example, she could not sit in any of the imperial boxes at the theater and had to be seated alone, far from her husband. She could not be on the arm of her husband in any processions, and had to enter last after every Hapsburg of every rank had already processed; she was escorted into functions by one of the court’s minor officials. Twice no one was there to escort her into the function; the first time Sophie fled in shame, but the second time she walked in alone, her head held high. In horror, one of the Hapsburg archdukes rushed forward and offered her his arm–and created a scandal. But this was typical court life for Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, which is why they eventually shunned it. (Ironically, Montenuovo was the descendant of a morganatic marriage himself, but unlike Sophie Chotek, he was elevated.)

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were devoted parents, spending far more time with their children than most aristocrats. Instead of only seeing them for a short time daily, they would spend hours with their children at a time when aristocrats allowed their nannies to raise the children. The sons, Max and Ernst, were the first aristocrats to be sent to concentration camps for their anti-Nazi, pro-Hapsburg feelings. The wars robbed the children of their inheritance; to add insult to injury, the new Austrian republican government recognized them as Hapsburgs just to confiscate their landholdings.

The assassination and how lax Austrian security was suggests that there was some conspiracy from Vienna, but there’s no evidence. What is evident is how Franz Ferdinand and Sophie loved each other and their children. He was loyal to an uncle who did not like him, and would have made a good emperor who might have saved the monarchy from ruin.

Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Inter-Library Loan allows the borrowing of materials from other Westchester County libraries, thereby increasing the resources made available.

(2014-07-06 001)Author: Jean Zimmerman

Title: Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty

Publication Information: Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, c2006 (1st ed.)

ISBN: 0-15-101065-X (i.e. 978-0-15-101065-3)

Library of Congress Classification: F122.1.P48

Dewey Decimal Classification: 974.7

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Philipse, Margaret Hardenbroeck.
Philipse, Margaret Hardenbroeck–Family
Phillips family
Women merchants–New Netherland–Biography
New Netherland–Biography
New Netherland–Commerce–History
New Netherland–Social conditions
New York (State)–History–Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775–Biography

The world of New Netherland, the colony founded by the Dutch that would later become New York City, comes alive through the life of Margaret Hardenbroeck, an immigrant from the Netherlands who comes to the New World (at age 22) as an agent of her cousin, but who stays and becomes a merchant and a magnate in her own right.

The term “she-merchant” had a legal recognition in Dutch law. Margaret, like all women, could represent herself in a Dutch court of law, write her own will and bequeath her worldly goods to anyone she wished. The Dutch Reformed Church was quite progressive: it advocated for the education of men and women. Women were expected to be as literate as men. The Netherlands was a mercantile republic, meaning that the merchants ran the country. Women were allowed to represent themselves in any business adventures that they undertook.

The New Netherland colony is a perfect example of a “turning back of the clock,” which all minorities fear. It’s the taking away of privileges and rights earned over time by those in the least powerful positions. When the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, they agreed not to take any of the rights away from the Dutch that they had previously held under the former government. Almost immediately, this began to erode. Zimmerman discusses the various attempts by the British to limit the powers of the Dutch merchants, but what is even more alarming is how the she-merchants, as with all women, lost their rights as citizens. Under British law, a woman could only be represented in court by her father or her husband; Margaret found it increasingly difficult to undertake any business activity by herself. The old Dutch custom of women keeping their own names even after marriage was also abandoned. Women were no longer treated as partners in a marriage, but as their husbands’ chattel.

This loss extended to education as well. As Britain tightened the grip on the colony, the Dutch found it increasingly difficult to hire teachers to educate their children in the Dutch language, customs and law. Women were expected to be good wives and mothers; they had no reason to be educated. Thus, as the British eliminated the Dutch customs, women became uneducated, just as the British expected wives and mothers to be. They were taught how to darn socks and embroider and the other necessary skills a good wife and mother would expect to know, but to women like Margaret this was death.

Margaret married twice. First, she married Pieter Rudolphus de Vries. Margaret, at 22, married Pieter, 57, probably because she was already pregnant with their child. Maria was born, but she would never get to know her father, since Pieter died at 58 of an unknown ailment. Margaret then married Frederick Philipse, a carpenter who arrived 6 years before Margaret in New Amsterdam. Like Margaret, Frederick was on his way to creating a business empire. After swearing that Eva–the name Maria was adopted under–would be raised as his own child, Frederick was permitted to marry Margaret in the Dutch Reformed Church.

They had Philip, Adolph, Annetje, and Rombout as well as Eva. The Philipses expanded their trading empire as well as the lands that they owned. From Spuyten Duyvil Creek in the Bronx up to the Croton River in Westchester County, the Philipses carved out what would become known as Philipse Manor–or Philipsburg Manor. This huge track of land bordered the Hudson and Bronx Rivers. The Philipses had tenant farmers working on this land. They had manor houses in Yonkers, where the “lower mills” was located, and one in Sleepy Hollow, known as the “upper mills.” Both manor houses still survive as historic landmarks.

The Old Dutch Church, made famous in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was planned by Margaret but never built. Her successor Catherine, who married Frederick after her death, built the church. The bell, cast in Holland with the date 1685 and made for Margaret, still hangs in the belfry. Catherine and Frederick are buried in the church.

The book ends with the successors of Margaret, Catherine and Frederick leaving the new United States in 1783. The Philipses had supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War and paid for it. All their lands, the vast manor, was confiscated. Other Tories, such as the Van Cortlandts, were forgiven by the new nation, but none of these families had the best lands on the Hudson and in Westchester. The former Philipse Manor was divided up into parcels and sold off.

For anyone who enjoys learning about local colonial and Revolutionary history. An enjoyable, informative book. It had been selected by the Historical Society‘s book club.






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.