Friday, July 24, 2009

Five best: show-biz biographies

Richard Schickel is a film critic, documentary film maker and movie historian, who has written over 30 books, including Elia Kazan: A Biography.

A few years ago he named his five favorite show-biz biographies for the Wall Street Journal. One book on the list:
"Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams" by Nick Tosches (Doubleday, 1992).

The writer doesn't just report the wised up lingo of low-biz, he uses it, sometimes to almost poetic effect, to tell the story of Dino Crocetti, a k a Dean Martin, rising from Steubenville, Ohio, lounge lizard to superstardom. The man had impeccable timing, as his decade-long run as Jerry Lewis's straight man proved, and he could be a very effective screen actor (as "Rio Bravo" showed). But the public nice guy's emotional detachment was radical and he came to a sad, silent, isolated ending. Mr. Tosches overwrites, but his rhythms are as seductive as the dialogue in a Martin Scorsese gangster epic. And he also has a gift for recounting the social history of anti-social people. In the end, he makes Martin's story a powerful parable about the high cost of living in America's fast, stupid lane.
Read about the other four biographies on Schickel's list.

--Marshal Zeringue