Thursday, June 29, 2017

The guilty pleasure of reading Hollywood memoirs

by Carolyn Kellogg

Los Angeles Times

June 29, 2017

A friend and I were standing on a corner waiting for the light to change, talking about the FX series Feud. “Isn’t it great,” he said, “how much it winds up on Joan Crawford’s side?” Yes, but no, I started to reply, but before I could we crossed and the conversation turned away. I wondered if what we saw in the show was a kind of Rorschach test. Who’s the hero: Joan Crawford or Bette Davis?

Being Team Davis, when I stumbled across a paperback of her memoir, The Lonely Life, I bought it, brought it home and promptly started reading. As The Times’ book editor, you might expect me to be reading Plutarch’s Lives in my spare time — but Hollywood lives are far more interesting.

You don’t have Los Angeles history without Hollywood history. The entertainment industry found a new home here led in part by theater business rascals slyly getting as far as they could from Thomas Edison in New Jersey, who was trying to enforce his motion picture patents. In Los Angeles, they found a safe distance, lovely weather and light that was particularly suited to the new film medium. You may know all that: It’s part of the many terrific, straightforward, deeply researched histories and biographies I’ve read.

Memoir is another matter. Idiosyncratic and biased, obfuscatory and boastful, even unctuous and vain, the Hollywood memoir is not going to portray the past in a clear light. But like Sriracha on the table, it’s going to bring the heat and make the meal better. So much better.


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