Sunday, February 22, 2009

Five best: autobiographies by actresses

Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic. She has lectured widely on the role of women in film and is the author of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies.

Her new book, Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited, is out this month.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best of autobiographies by actresses. One title on Haskell's list:
by Katharine Hepburn
Random House, 1991

Katharine Hepburn, equal to Bette Davis in ambition, seems in this memoir also to share her sense of solitary pursuit: "People who want to be famous are really loners. Or they should be." Like Davis, Hepburn put career first; unlike Davis, she never really fantasized the perfect marriage and the little white house. Until she fell for Spencer Tracy, she kept her lovers -- Howard Hughes, Leland Hayward -- at arm's length and was a shrewd businesswoman from the start. Her writing style consists of a slapdash series of jottings to self and fans, as if she were dictating while striding over a golf course. Yet "Me" captures beautifully that signal Hepburn combination of presumption and insecurity, self-love and abject humility. Should I have done this, done that? Wasn't I a bitch! And, yes, she was, often, but also an enchantress, and she is unstinting in showing us both. A superhuman resiliency allows her (like Davis) to suffer the most humiliating setbacks -- she was once famously declared "box-office poison" -- and continue going forward. Her flinty New England upbringing was both inspiration and protection: At her parents' urging, she was diving off cliffs, wrestling and competing from an early age, turning fear into something she feared so much that it made her fearless.
Read about all five books on the list.

Read an excerpt from Frankly, My Dear, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue