Thursday, April 26, 2007
As always Christmas brought me a large and teetering stack of books and I decided to hit those that specifically centered around one of my more enjoyable obsessions—The Showbiz, and more particularly, Showbiz Lives. First up was Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends by John Leguizamo (Harper Collins, 2006, 280 pgs., $25.95. Leguizamo’s antics, whether they be his one-man shows, his brief-lived sitcom, or his big screen character roles have always amused me and he’s written a slight but funny book about his creative life, dishing the dirt freely about some of his co-stars, offering his own Showbiz survival tips, and in general tossing in as many funny one-liners as he can. A quick and easy read, although one hopes he goes for it with a little more seriousness 30 or 40 years down the road. Peter Falk has also published another slight tome, Just One More Thing: Stories From My Life (Carroll & Graf, 2006, 281 pgs.,$26.95), essentially an autobiographical notebook with some entertaining anecdotes, an abbreviated running account of his life and his work, peppered with his own observations of the craft of acting. It’s a surface glimpse into the life of a guy who’s had a more than intriguing career, one that spans Old Hollywood, Cassavetes and Columbo, but it’s probably of interest only to committed fans and Columbophiles. Grizzled character great Eli Wallach also takes a shot of chronicling his life and his acting work with The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Ancedotage (Hartford Books, 2005,312 pgs., paperback $14.00), a well written and insightful glance backwards at a life filled with theatre, politics, and Hollywood mainstream filmmaking. Wallach’s is a legit autobiography and his insider’s view of people and places like the New York stage world, Elia Kazan, Sergio Leone, Brando, and much, much more is detailed with a wry wit and a trenchant wisdom, reading it, I came away with a deep appreciation of the varied work Wallach did, and the choices (economic, artistic, and political) behind much of it. Well known Hollywood biographer Marc Elliot has put his prodigious talents to work again with Jimmy Stewart: A Biography (Harmony Books, 2006, 463 pgs, $25.95) a wide-angled view of one of America’s greatest and most unlikely movie stars. The Jimmy profiled is closer to the on-screen Jimmy than one might imagine, a mid-western Presbyterian who makes the transition from the stage to Hollywood as a basically earnest, nearly virginal young man with unfocused ambitions and indefinable talents. His on screen maturation from gawky everyman to the tortured middle-aged figure with the raging psyche is truly the story of America pre and post World War II. Stewart’s work with some of cinema’s finest auteurs; Hitchcock, Wilder, Ford, Capra and in the westerns of Anthony Mann is unforgettably sublime, and the book analyzes most of that pivotal work through the back-stories of the film’s themselves, the climate of the country and the box office, and Stewart’s own decision making process. It’s an engulfing tale, meticulously researched and well rendered. Lest we forget, one of the founding fathers of The Showbiz was the one and only William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, who managed to mythologize both himself and the American frontier, utilizing elements such as artful deception, chicanery, pageantry, and the essential yearning of the urban proletariat to plug into that in this country which is wild, savage and free. Buffalo’s Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show, by Louis S. Warren is sprawling, proto-academic bio of the man, and while it’s plethora of footnotes and details is often overwhelming (and drier than a dusty desert gulch) the book provides a fascinating look at the self created man himself, the America of 1845-1917, and very foundation of what we now recognize as the poisonously hypnotic realm we adoringly call The Showbiz.