Monday, April 15, 2013

Five top Hollywood biographies

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His latest books are Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews published in September 2012, and the biography American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, released in January 2013.

One of Rollyson's favorite Hollywood biographies, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Unruly Life of Woody Allen
by Marion Meade (2010)

It is hard to pull off an unauthorized biography of a living figure, but Marion Meade does so with aplomb. Her painstaking research results in a concise and penetrating account (originally published in 2000 and recently revised) of Woody Allen's career and working habits. We learn, for example, about the different drafts of his masterpiece, "Annie Hall," which Allen wanted to title "Anhedonia"—until test audiences reacted with "blank stares." The book argues that, after "parading his insecurities, phobias, and deep self-deprecation," the filmmaker came ever closer to his audience, who could see themselves or parts of themselves in this endearing character or, more precisely, in his problems. Meade views "Hannah and Her Sisters" as the best of his achievements, with its beautifully crafted screenplay that shrewdly maintains its focus on character while exploring the heart of family relationships. She doesn't flinch from describing the scandal that erupted when he was discovered in an affair with Mia Farrow's 19-year-old adopted daughter—but this biography concentrates on this distinguished filmmaker's tireless pursuit of his art.
Read about the other books on Rollyson's list.

Visit Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: American Isis.

My Book, The Movie: American Isis.

The Page 99 Test: Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews.

--Marshal Zeringue