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STARRED REVIEW

November 30, 2022

From stage to page

Give the gift of intrigue with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.

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Sam Heughan, known to legions of fans as Jamie Fraser in the popular TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, recently decided it was time to walk the rigorous West Highland Way in Scotland, a long-distance hiking trail that runs from north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. He wanted a solitary challenge and a pause in the acting career he has worked tirelessly at, and packing 96 miles into five days seemed like it would provide the right combination of endurance and introspection. In his remarkable, thought-provoking memoir, Waypoints: My Scottish Journey, he welcomes readers along for the journey.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Before Heughan stepped out the door onto the West Highland Way, he was a runner, not a walker. Marathons, yes; walking slowly, not his thing. His camping and hiking experiences were limited; he even thought hiking poles were “cumbersome” and almost threw them away once he hit the trail. His overstuffed rucksack, complete with whiskey and cigars, weighed him down. The rain in late October almost ruined him on the second day, and he soon chose comfortable wayside inns over his tent. But he was nearing his 40th birthday (making him the same age as the Way) and, despite these challenges, felt it was simply time he got this done.

Bracketing Heughan’s journey is an account of his visit to his dying father in faraway British Columbia, Canada. The man was a stranger who abandoned his family long ago, but Heughan and his brother felt nonetheless compelled to offer a goodbye. Once they arrived, Heughan was stunned to learn that his father had been following his acting career all along. He recorded their visit on his phone, but later, back on the set of “Outlander,” the phone vanished. It was, he writes, “a fitting epitaph.”

The award-winning actor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur offers plenty of details of his walk to Fort William, including a daunting hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. Along the way, Heughan has a clear, precise and entertaining style. He is a funny man, and his encounters with roaming sheep, other hikers and clusters of mushrooms are wonderfully comic. 

If Waypoints were merely about Heughan’s walk, it would be delightful, instructive and enticing. But this is a memoir, after all, and it is his reflection on his life and work, interspersed with the challenges and discoveries of the Way, that lend his story heft and grit.

“Outlander” star Sam Heughan’s reflections on his life and work add heft and grit to his memoir about walking the West Highland Way in Scotland.

A few years after British actor Tom Felton hung up his Slytherin robes for good, he hit rock bottom. It was the first step toward reclaiming his identity, as it prompted him to ask how and when he left the wisecracking kid from Surrey behind and instead became dependent on the numbing effect of alcohol. In Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard, Felton looks back in order to uncover the path forward as he candidly details the surreal experience of being a prominent part of a pop culture juggernaut.

Felton’s first major on-screen role was in 1997’s The Borrowers, an adaptation of the classic children’s book. This opened the door to other promising opportunities, notably playing The Boy Who Lived’s archenemy: sneering, peroxide-blond Draco Malfoy. At the time of his audition, 12-year-old Felton had never read a Harry Potter novel and couldn’t quite understand the breathless excitement that the books inspired.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Felton spent nearly a decade immersed in the world of witches and wizards, where he became accustomed to a singular life on set. The final stretch of filming was bittersweet, and when it was through, he hoped to transition into a career brimming with star-studded blockbusters and high-end craft services. Instead, Felton’s move to Los Angeles made him feel like a rudderless ship. “I missed having an ordinary conversation with an authentic human, who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t care,” he writes.

Felton’s memoir isn’t a shameless tell-all or a cautionary tale about the ills of fame. He frequently expresses gratitude and praises the skills and professionalism of older actors who were in the Harry Potter films, such as Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman. He has no problem poking fun at himself, but his moments of self-reflection are compassionate. Beyond the Wand may focus on Felton’s Harry Potter days, but it’s so much more than fan service. With introspection and charm, Felton’s narrative captures the growing pains of adolescence.

In his memoir, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton captures the growing pains of adolescence with introspection and charm.

Lauren Graham is perhaps best known for her acting, particularly her role as the young, headstrong single mom Lorelai in the television show “Gilmore Girls.” But Graham, who has a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College and master’s of fine arts in acting performance from Southern Methodist University, is also the accomplished author of a novel (Someday, Someday, Maybe), a collection of personal essays (Talking as Fast as I Can) and a book of advice for graduates (In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It). 

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Graham’s second book of personal essays, Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember, is composed of 15 insightful pieces relaying impactful moments and life lessons that have shaped who she is. She explains how her creative outlook was molded by people and experiences from her youth. For example, although her mother was largely absent from her upbringing, Graham sees a positive side to this fact: “I think not growing up with my mom means I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what a mom is supposed to be!” 

Graham takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of Hollywood, sharing acting jargon such as “pumpkin” (the term for when child actors have to be done working for the day) and “sold it in the room” (getting backing from someone with clout). She’s candid about the demands of show business, too, and the acrobatics that actors have to perform to fit into the Hollywood mold. In a chapter aptly named “Forever 32,” Graham reflects on aging, comparing her recollections of being a 20-something to when, at the age of 32, she realized “I had a sense of myself I’d never had before.” She also muses about her days as a young actor, hustling to various jobs while trying to make it. These stories and anecdotes are especially raw, real and humorous.

Graham’s writing is fresh, sharp and very funny, with fast, staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her. Her voice invites the reader in, emanating a refreshing openness that will make them want to be her best friend. Have I Told You This Already? is an enjoyable, amusing revelation.

Actor Lauren Graham’s second collection of essays is fresh, sharp and very funny, with staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her.
Review by

Oh, Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton Abbey! We feel as though we already know you, with those twinkling eyes and deep, reassuring voice. In Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru, stage and screen actor Hugh Bonneville shares what he calls “a series of snapshots I’ve taken along the way,” allowing us to know him more truly. As you might expect, his account is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect and humor. It’s also a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names, including Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Laurence Olivier, Celia Imrie, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

The memoir is divided into sections discussing Bonneville’s childhood, theater years and film roles. His father was a urologist and his mother a nurse—or so he thought before learning after her death that her second job was with MI6, the British Secret Service. “I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I realised I had a nice set of crockery compared to so many others,” he writes. Early on, he began thinking of the theater as a “magic toybox,” although he originally thought he would become a lawyer and also contemplated theology until drama school beckoned.

There’s no mean-spirited gossip in this memoir, just plenty of humorous self-deprecation and some laugh-out-loud anecdotes—like the time an actor in a live theater performance was popping peanuts while making a confession and ended up choking and passing out. Or the time Judi Dench dropped a note that said “Fancy a shag?” in the lap of an audience member she thought was a friend. Turns out, the man was not her pal.

Bonneville’s years of rich stage, television and film performances are nicely detailed, including amusing audition mishaps and disappointments. Although he offers a number of anecdotes about his parents, siblings, wife and son, he remains largely private about his personal life. But the “Downton Abbey” stories are wonderful, even if rabid fans like myself will wish for more. We shouldn’t complain though, given tidbits like Shirley MacLaine’s comment, “I had lovers all over the world. Overseas was fun. This one time, three in a day.” To which Maggie Smith responded, “Oh darling, you have been busy.”

Playing Under the Piano is a must-read for Bonneville fans, as well as an excellent look at the ups and downs of being an actor. Now excuse me while I go watch Paddington again.

Hugh Bonneville’s memoir is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect, a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.

Actor Paul Newman was known for many things: acting, car racing, philanthropy through his Newman’s Own food business and, of course, his rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes. He was a beloved Hollywood icon, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, he wrestled with internal demons throughout his life.

Newman’s memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, composed posthumously from interviews he began conducting in 1986 with the help of screenwriter and close friend Stewart Stern, is raw, honest and revealing. Through his own reminiscences and those of his contemporaries, including Elia Kazan, Stuart Rosenberg, Eva Marie Saint and Tom Cruise, the book provides a firsthand glimpse of Newman’s life and how his choices affected those around him. His upbringing, military service in World War II, first marriage to Jackie Witt, second marriage to actor Joanne Woodward, six children and professional and personal endeavors are all laid out on the table.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Even after he became famous, Newman was often unsure of himself. Part of this stemmed from the fact that he likely had a learning disability. The way he was treated by his parents, especially his mother, was also detrimental. She could be hurtful and treated him like a dress-up doll rather than a son. Newman’s memories of his father depict the man as an indifferent alcoholic. Unfortunately, this contributed to Newman’s own problems with alcoholism, as well as his son Scott’s substance issues and depression—burdens Newman carried his whole life.

But Newman also had more positive traits, from charisma and humor to compassion and business savvy. These qualities pop up throughout the book and were obvious to those who knew him. But even after all his success, he just couldn’t seem to shake his feelings of self-doubt. “If I had to define ‘Newman’ in the dictionary, I’d say: ‘One who tries too hard,’” he writes. The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is a humble and candid look into the life of a celebrated but often misunderstood man.

In Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir, his upbringing, military service, marriages, children and professional endeavors are all laid out on the table.

Nothing could have prepared Melanie Jayne Chisholm—aka Sporty Spice—for the loneliness, isolation and debilitating episodes of imposter syndrome that accompanied the extreme highs (and lows) of fame. In The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, the singer, songwriter and tracksuit-wearing Brit carefully unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

The Spice Girls were a pop culture supernova at the turn of the new millennium. Contrary to the narrative wrought by the misogynistic media, the group was not the brainchild of industry executives. After answering a magazine advertisement, Victoria Adams (Posh), Geri Halliwell (Ginger), Melanie Brown (Scary), Michelle Stephenson and Chisholm came together to form the band Touch. When Stephenson proved to be a weak link, Emma Bunton (Baby) was recruited. It would take a pivotal name change and the reclamation of creative autonomy from their early male managers, but the Spice Girls would go on to smash records and, even more importantly, disrupt the cultural and musical landscape.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

This type of rise at a young age leaves a few scars, and Chisholm isn’t afraid to recount her personal battles. The pressures of being a ubiquitous pop star coupled with her innate perfectionism brought on depression and severe anxiety. At one point after the Spice Girls had gone on hiatus and Chisholm had embarked on a successful solo career, she was nearly agoraphobic and plagued by incessant panic attacks. And despite her public image of health and fitness, the singer was secretly contending with disordered eating, which eventually led to anorexia and binge eating disorders. In 2009, Chisholm gave birth to her daughter, Scarlet. Motherhood wasn’t a cure-all for her mental health issues, but this new caregiver role allowed her to appreciate the extraordinary power of her body and all she has put it through.

Chisholm’s narrative voice is warm, funny and unabashedly real. Fans will feel as though they’ve been invited to an enlightening soul session with a close friend. Hard truths about patriarchal oppression and the fickle nature of celebrity are examined with sympathy and understanding. The Sporty One is more than the memoir of a pop star; it’s an emotional revelation.

Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

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Give the gift of intrigue this holiday season with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.

A few years after British actor Tom Felton hung up his Slytherin robes for good, he hit rock bottom. It was the first step toward reclaiming his identity, as it prompted him to ask how and when he left the wisecracking kid from Surrey behind and instead became dependent on the numbing effect of alcohol. In Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard, Felton looks back in order to uncover the path forward as he candidly details the surreal experience of being a prominent part of a pop culture juggernaut.

Felton’s first major on-screen role was in 1997’s The Borrowers, an adaptation of the classic children’s book. This opened the door to other promising opportunities, notably playing The Boy Who Lived’s archenemy: sneering, peroxide-blond Draco Malfoy. At the time of his audition, 12-year-old Felton had never read a Harry Potter novel and couldn’t quite understand the breathless excitement that the books inspired.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Felton spent nearly a decade immersed in the world of witches and wizards, where he became accustomed to a singular life on set. The final stretch of filming was bittersweet, and when it was through, he hoped to transition into a career brimming with star-studded blockbusters and high-end craft services. Instead, Felton’s move to Los Angeles made him feel like a rudderless ship. “I missed having an ordinary conversation with an authentic human, who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t care,” he writes.

Felton’s memoir isn’t a shameless tell-all or a cautionary tale about the ills of fame. He frequently expresses gratitude and praises the skills and professionalism of older actors who were in the Harry Potter films, such as Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman. He has no problem poking fun at himself, but his moments of self-reflection are compassionate. Beyond the Wand may focus on Felton’s Harry Potter days, but it’s so much more than fan service. With introspection and charm, Felton’s narrative captures the growing pains of adolescence.

In his memoir, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton captures the growing pains of adolescence with introspection and charm.

Actor Paul Newman was known for many things: acting, car racing, philanthropy through his Newman’s Own food business and, of course, his rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes. He was a beloved Hollywood icon, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, he wrestled with internal demons throughout his life.

Newman’s memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, composed posthumously from interviews he began conducting in 1986 with the help of screenwriter and close friend Stewart Stern, is raw, honest and revealing. Through his own reminiscences and those of his contemporaries, including Elia Kazan, Stuart Rosenberg, Eva Marie Saint and Tom Cruise, the book provides a firsthand glimpse of Newman’s life and how his choices affected those around him. His upbringing, military service in World War II, first marriage to Jackie Witt, second marriage to actor Joanne Woodward, six children and professional and personal endeavors are all laid out on the table.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Even after he became famous, Newman was often unsure of himself. Part of this stemmed from the fact that he likely had a learning disability. The way he was treated by his parents, especially his mother, was also detrimental. She could be hurtful and treated him like a dress-up doll rather than a son. Newman’s memories of his father depict the man as an indifferent alcoholic. Unfortunately, this contributed to Newman’s own problems with alcoholism, as well as his son Scott’s substance issues and depression—burdens Newman carried his whole life.

But Newman also had more positive traits, from charisma and humor to compassion and business savvy. These qualities pop up throughout the book and were obvious to those who knew him. But even after all his success, he just couldn’t seem to shake his feelings of self-doubt. “If I had to define ‘Newman’ in the dictionary, I’d say: ‘One who tries too hard,’” he writes. The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is a humble and candid look into the life of a celebrated but often misunderstood man.

In Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir, his upbringing, military service, marriages, children and professional endeavors are all laid out on the table.
Review by

Oh, Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton Abbey! We feel as though we already know you, with those twinkling eyes and deep, reassuring voice. In Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru, stage and screen actor Hugh Bonneville shares what he calls “a series of snapshots I’ve taken along the way,” allowing us to know him more truly. As you might expect, his account is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect and humor. It’s also a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names, including Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Laurence Olivier, Celia Imrie, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

The memoir is divided into sections discussing Bonneville’s childhood, theater years and film roles. His father was a urologist and his mother a nurse—or so he thought before learning after her death that her second job was with MI6, the British Secret Service. “I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I realised I had a nice set of crockery compared to so many others,” he writes. Early on, he began thinking of the theater as a “magic toybox,” although he originally thought he would become a lawyer and also contemplated theology until drama school beckoned.

There’s no mean-spirited gossip in this memoir, just plenty of humorous self-deprecation and some laugh-out-loud anecdotes—like the time an actor in a live theater performance was popping peanuts while making a confession and ended up choking and passing out. Or the time Judi Dench dropped a note that said “Fancy a shag?” in the lap of an audience member she thought was a friend. Turns out, the man was not her pal.

Bonneville’s years of rich stage, television and film performances are nicely detailed, including amusing audition mishaps and disappointments. Although he offers a number of anecdotes about his parents, siblings, wife and son, he remains largely private about his personal life. But the “Downton Abbey” stories are wonderful, even if rabid fans like myself will wish for more. We shouldn’t complain though, given tidbits like Shirley MacLaine’s comment, “I had lovers all over the world. Overseas was fun. This one time, three in a day.” To which Maggie Smith responded, “Oh darling, you have been busy.”

Playing Under the Piano is a must-read for Bonneville fans, as well as an excellent look at the ups and downs of being an actor. Now excuse me while I go watch Paddington again.

Hugh Bonneville’s memoir is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect, a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, the hallowed institution of nerdom became mainstream. No longer are the niche predilections of geeks sequestered to the outskirts of pop culture; these die-hard fans have cultivated a recognized movement that can shift the cultural discourse. But for fans like New York Times critic-at-large and poet Maya Phillips (Erou), fandom is more than cosplay, heated debates on social media or narrow-minded stereotypes centered on social awkwardness. In her debut essay collection, Nerd: Adventures in Fandom From This Universe to the Multiverse, fandom is an expansive, transformative source of self-enlightenment.

Like many pop culture aficionados, Phillips’ first brush with fandom involved the original Star Wars trilogy. This early appreciation of George Lucas’ classic space opera opened the door to a lifelong love of other nerdy interests, such as comic books, anime, sci-fi and fantasy. However, the stories she cherished in childhood took on different forms as she grew older. In the chapter “Espers and Anxiety, Mutants, Magic, and Mind Games,” Phillips shows how the anime series Paranoia Agent reveals the nature of power and society’s treatment of mental illness, and how it has led Phillips to better understand herself and her mental health. Similarly, “Do You Know Shinigami Love Apples?” explores Phillips’ relationship to Catholicism and fandom’s hierarchy of belief systems.

As a Black woman, Phillips recognizes that some of her most beloved shows, films and books lack well-rounded representation in terms of race, gender, ability and sexual orientation. In recent years, creators like J.K. Rowling have faced backlash for betraying the seemingly progressive values of their art. Is it possible to divorce an artist from their work? For many people, the answer is emphatically no, but Phillips rejects binary thinking. This isn’t to say that she endorses the more problematic aspects of these creators and their fictional narratives. But as a fan and a professional critic, Phillips sees the value in pop culture’s ability to speak deeper truths, however uncomfortable, about society. Navigating pop culture as a Black fan can be a frustrating exercise in otherness, she writes, but fandom can also be a conscious act of reclamation.

Nerd spans decades of pop culture, smoothly weaving multiple interconnected webs. Phillips indulges in her obsessions, but she’s never afraid to critique and deconstruct. In this engaging compendium of cultural criticism, Phillips successfully proves that the complex discipline of fandom is a valuable piece of humanity’s flawed but hopeful history.

According to cultural critic Maya Phillips, fandom is more than cosplay and internet discourse. It’s an expansive, transformative source of self-enlightenment.
Review by

Poet and author Ander Monson has seen the 1987 movie Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger on the run from an alien in a Guatemalan jungle, 146 times. To explain why, he wrote Predator: A Memoir. Through a scene-by-scene exploration of the film, which he describes as “satire wrapped in gun pornography,” Monson reckons with his lifelong obsession with the movie and how it has informed his relationships to fatherhood, violence, fanaticism and masculinity.

“How dumb is this to have spent a decade or more watching this kind of dumb movie?” Monson asks throughout the book. What he proves is that Predator is both dumb and insightful; spending a lifetime with Predator is both a fun, escapist pastime and a profound self-education. Through repeated rewatches of the film, Monson better understands the real-life predators that have lingered in his imagination. One recurring image is the shocking rape and murder of his childhood babysitter by a budding serial killer in his small hometown in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the character of the Predator, Monson sees a culmination of how violence, particularly violence committed by men, has been fetishized: “What’s hunting us is us, Predator tells us. It’s a version of us—male, equipped, single-minded, armed, aggressive, showy, and powerful.” With complete candor, he interrogates violence he has both witnessed and committed, violence that has both harmed and benefited him.

This is not film analysis, and though Monson does provide critique, he’s not looking at the film as a work of art. Predator is about Monson’s shifting relationship to a fixed cultural object and how he has seen himself reflected in it and found himself reflecting it back. However, navel-gazing is skillfully avoided. Monson’s narration has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby. 

Some level of interest in the film is definitely required to understand what Monson is saying, but his storytelling spills over with tactile curiosity and fervor, making this work accessible to those who have seen the movie 145 fewer times than he has. It’s a book that will ignite conversation (and multiple film rewatches) for those who can relate to Monson’s familiar sentiment: “I’m not angry at masculinity exactly but I do have questions for it.”

Ander Monson’s exploration of the 1987 film Predator has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby.
Review by

The 1939 movie Wuthering Heights epitomizes golden-age Hollywood romance. However, the process of making the film was another matter entirely. It was a miserable set, in large part because Laurence Olivier, the brilliant British actor playing Heathcliff, hated his co-star, Merle Oberon, and regularly undermined her. But he would have hated any co-star who wasn’t his girlfriend, Vivien Leigh, whom he had failed to get hired for the part and with whom he was wildly in love.

As any movie buff knows, Leigh was about to become a star in her own right in another 1939 film, Gone With the Wind (also a miserable set). Olivier and Leigh had left their respective spouses and children for each other and would marry in 1940. They were the supernova show-biz couple of their day, paving the way for Liz-and-Dick and Brangelina. With Truly, Madly: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, and the Romance of the Century, Stephen Galloway, former editor of the Hollywood Reporter, has written an astute biography of that marriage, with wonderfully dishy details of productions such as Rebecca and A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Oliviers’ fabled partnership reached its peak on stage in the 1940s and ’50s before ending in chaos in 1960. The biggest factor in the marriage’s collapse was Leigh’s bipolar disorder, which was little understood at the time and ineffectively treated. Medical understanding has evolved immeasurably since Leigh’s death in 1967, and Galloway reexamines her mood swings, public mania, infidelity and alcohol abuse in light of psychiatric advances.

In the early days of their relationship, Leigh was the more likable of the two. Olivier had enormous talent, but he was shallow and deceitful. However, he did “truly, madly” love Leigh, and he tried his best to help her before her unfathomable behavior finally confounded him. Leigh died at only 53 of tuberculosis. Olivier, afflicted by multiple painful illnesses, lived until 82, and Galloway’s account of his last years is moving.

Olivier dominated the English-language stage and reinvented Shakespearean cinema. Leigh’s film acting remains incandescent, although her indifference to Gone With the Wind’s racism receives due criticism in this book. Anyone who loves the dramatic arts will be engrossed by Galloway’s perceptive history of this iconic duo.

Anyone who loves the dramatic arts will be engrossed by Stephen Galloway’s perceptive account of supernova show-biz couple Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
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What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys.

HORRIBLY ENTERTAINING
Veteran filmmaker John Landis is the driving force behind the fantastic Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. The focus here is on films that fall into the general categories of horror, sci-fi and fantasy, yet the comprehensive coverage ranges more broadly into related subgenres, such as the occult, fairy tales, dinosaurs and dragons. Landis provides pithy overviews for each subsection, plus captions for the hundreds of captivating classic production photos drawn from the Kobal Collection, a photo archive whose images span the cinematic era, from the earliest days to the latest releases. There are also some cool examples of movie poster art scattered among the visuals. Landis provides worthy interviews with some of the great genre creators (directors, actors, technical wizards), including John Carpenter, Christopher Lee, Rick Baker and the amazing special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who is now 91 and still rightfully revered for his achievements as a stop-motion model animator. A delicious romp through the film world, this book provides a nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up a fan of the great horror flicks. Needless to say, it’s a terrific gift item and endlessly browseable.

MAKING A LIST
From the team of ­“infomaniacs” responsible for Show Me How (2008) and More Show Me How (2010) comes Listomania: A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail. Colorfully designed and illustrated with whimsical cartoons, this major-league browser collects list upon list of straight-ahead traditional subjects (e.g., the Seven Wonders of the World) with many more esoteric but engaging ones, from beauty-queen scandals to strange building materials to dangerous tourist spots. The book’s basic sections are arranged somewhat loosely around human history and behavior, trends, measurements, places, art and entertainment, food and animals, yet its organization invites an all-but-random investigation of its wide-ranging contents. Fun and surprising reading, Listomania is sure to evoke exclamations of “Who knew?” among curious readers.

SALUTING THE DARK KNIGHT
For that certain comic-book superhero buff comes The Batman Files, an impressively priced and imposingly bound tome that celebrates the legend and lore of the Caped Crusader. Author and comic book historian Matthew K. Manning is responsible for pulling together this “archive” that is designed to serve as a replica of Batman’s own personal diary, also including top secret blueprints of his Batcave, Batmobile, uniforms and weapons; newspaper clippings from Gotham City, dating back to the murder of alter ego Bruce Wayne’s parents; plus in-depth dossiers on the Dark Knight’s nefarious opponents, among them the Riddler, Penguin, Joker and Mr. Freeze. The origins of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, are also detailed. Besides its “insider” textual approach, this collector’s-item-type package also reprints dozens and dozens of color panels extracted from the comics themselves, which showcase an interesting sense of the development of artistic style in the depiction of the Batman stories, first conceptualized by Bob Kane more than 70 years ago. This is the ultimate gift item for the inveterate Batman fan.

THE HIGHEST PEAKS
Sports books almost always make winning gifts for guys, and Mountaineers: Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest offers a compelling panoramic view of a sport that receives less coverage than it deserves. Produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian, and with an engrossing text written chiefly by Ed Douglas (with an assist from Richard Gilbert, Philip Parker and Alasdair Macleod), this volume uncovers a death-defying world rich with history and populated by determined, often idiosyncratic personalities, both male and female, who dedicate their lives to scaling the world’s highest mountain peaks. The photos alone are worth the book’s price, but the story told of mountain climbing’s development, its cultural and scientific importance, and its growth as an international competitive endeavor is equally valuable. There are fascinating sidebars on sherpas, innovations in equipment, pertinent books and movies, plus the big mountain peaks (Kilimanjaro, Mount Blanc, Matterhorn, etc.). More compelling, however, are the profiles of the climbers themselves—a contentious breed apart, often loners—who risk death with every summit they take on. Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner are perhaps the most recognizable names here, but learning about their somewhat lesser-known equals is both educational and thrilling.

RIDING THE RAILS
Trains formerly held the fascination of men and boys on a wide scale. While times have changed, and trains are lower-profile symbols of commerce and travel, they still attract interest, and Steam: An Enduring Legacy—The Railroad Photographs of Joel Jensen serves as proof. Jensen has been photographing trains and rail stations west of the Mississippi River for some 25 years, and this long-overdue collection of his work features black-and-white shots that capture the bygone majesty and sense of history inspired by these steam-powered machines, preserved and operated in the latter-day era by dedicated rail-fans. Besides the 150 photos, there are essays by John Gruber and Scott Lothes—both of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art—examining the economics and cultural importance of trains in America.

PICTURES FROM THE FRONT
Finally, in a nod to the Greatest Generation, comes A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II, which gathers the letters and sketches from the World War II experiences of young G.I. Joseph Farris, who served with the U.S. Army’s 100th Division in Europe. Farris, now in his 80s, went on to become a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and throughout his transformation from naive enlisted man to battle-tested vet, he was honing his craft as an artist, as the samples from his youthful wartime work attest. Besides the many letters home to his folks—from his days in basic training through his return to the States—Farris also provides a contextual narrative on the war’s progress. Also included are battle maps, poster art and archival photos portraying Farris and his buddies, the soldier’s life in general and some of the war’s leaders and generals. A Soldier’s Sketchbook offers a visually captivating perspective on WWII, as seen through the eyes of one young infantryman.

What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys. HORRIBLY ENTERTAININGVeteran filmmaker […]
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Father’s Day 2013 brings with it memoirs, nostalgia pieces, books on child-rearing (specifically from Dad’s POV) and also interesting volumes related to golf’s singular, imaginative hold on the father-son bond. We can’t review every item that made it over the transom, but here’s a sampler of our favorites.

SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND

In an epic mix of sprawling journalism and personal memoir, veteran magazine writer Stephen Rodrick presents The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life, in which he searches for clues to the mystery of his dad, a U.S. Navy pilot who crashed into the Indian Ocean in 1979 during maneuvers that were part of America’s response to the Iranian hostage crisis of that year. Rodrick, only 13 at the time, here acknowledges the resulting emotional gaps and confusion in his family’s life, and sets out to grapple with his own dysfunction while also investigating his father’s past to gain perspective on the man and on the military lifestyle in general, especially as it affects spouses and children. Rodrick’s approach is nothing if not frank, and at the risk of alienating those he loves, he emerges triumphant, purging some personal demons and seeming to gain a better understanding of what family means.

There are some interesting thematic similarities to Rodrick’s work in The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA, in which former Newsweek foreign correspondent Scott C. Johnson recounts his curiously peripatetic upbringing and makes an effort to understand his father and his unlikely profession. It wasn’t until he was a teenager that Johnson learned his dad was a CIA agent. Looking back, Johnson recounts the veil of deception that always seemed to shroud his father’s attitudes, demeanor and social activities. Questions remain unanswered for years, yet some clarity emerges right before 9/11, when son elicits from father an understanding of his notions of patriotism and morality. Later, while working as an international reporter in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnson begins to find parallels in his own work, mainly in its secretive nature and its reliance on a certain kind of trust. With a scope spanning the Cold War and the war on terror, Johnson’s father-son memoir offers a rare glimpse of family, from separation to hard-won reconciliation.

LIFE ON THE LINKS

In Loopers: A Caddie’s Twenty-Year Golf Odyssey, professional golf caddy turned journalist John Dunn offers an engaging and surprisingly gritty approach to the sport’s literature. Against his father’s wishes, Dunn takes up the life of an itinerant caddy, and this volume essentially covers his episodic, two-decade journey across the U.S. working at golf courses great and small. Dunn makes it inside Augusta National Golf Club, manages to cross paths with celebrities and titans of industry, even travels across the pond to St. Andrews. It’s a gypsy existence that sometimes demands a scrappy persistence and a lot of compromises, yet Dunn’s account makes clear that his “a breed apart” personality is a good match for the vagabond lifestyle, which includes its fair share of fun and adventure. The book comes full circle when Dunn must confront his father’s imminent death from cancer. Closure occurs as the book reaches its poignant end, and golf’s linkage to the relationship between fathers and sons resonates once again.

TWO BIG DADDIES

Actor Steve Schirripa has had some great roles. Formerly the entertainment director of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, he then parlayed his connections there into both TV and big-screen roles, mainly on “The Sopranos” as Bobby Bacala. Fact is, Schirripa is bigger than life. And while his new book, Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters Is Tougher Than I Look, written with Philip Lerman, definitely has a tongue-in-cheek feel to it, the tough-guy approach he espouses to child-rearing is heartfelt and refreshingly commonsensical. For Schirripa, it’s about protection—plus it’s his conviction that when parents assert an authoritative stance, kids will push boundaries more reasonably (and hence maybe end up with fewer tattoos!). This is parenting the old-school way, laced with tales from the trenches and committed advice on how to bring kids through the tough years, including discussion of topics like dating and sex, drinking and drugs, the value of money and hard work, and more.

“Today, big families are like waterbed stores; they used to be everywhere, and now they are just weird.” So says popular comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan, the author of Dad Is Fat but more tellingly the father of five young children, who, as of this writing, live with him and his “very fertile wife, Jeannie” in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Unsurprisingly, Gaffigan’s new book reads like one big extended stand-up routine about family life in general and the challenges of parenting a large brood in particular. Fans of the author’s sharp, dry wit will definitely be amused. The book is peppered with warm, candid photos of Gaffigans young and old.

AN AMERICAN ICON

Finally, there’s John Wayne: The Genuine Article, a coffee-table book suitable for the movie legend’s fans. Wayne was a dad, of course—son Ethan provides the preface here—and certainly was an authoritative film figure who epitomized the rugged American male. Michael Goldman’s text offers a welcome rundown of Duke’s life, from his almost accidental entry into the movies to his iconic rise in celluloid and later status as patriotic figure, with concluding chapters sharing a glimpse into Wayne’s personal moments and memories as a father. The plentiful graphic material includes reproductions of rare personal documents, family photos, letters to and from Hollywood stars and politicians, shooting-script excerpts from various Wayne flicks and other memorabilia.

Father’s Day 2013 brings with it memoirs, nostalgia pieces, books on child-rearing (specifically from Dad’s POV) and also interesting volumes related to golf’s singular, imaginative hold on the father-son bond. We can’t review every item that made it over the transom, but here’s a sampler of our favorites. SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND In an epic mix […]
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Forget visions of sugar plums. This holiday season, a roster of Hollywood-themed entries summon up lingering images from beloved movie classics, among them The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as from kooky cult favorites, including TV’s wonderfully eccentric “Doctor Who.”

Of course, some cult films go on to become classics. In development for a decade, A Christmas Story was released in November 1983 with little fanfare and to mixed reviews. Ticket sales were surprisingly solid, but MGM pulled the movie from theaters after only five weeks—before Christmas—to make way for Barbra Streisand’s Yentl. No offense to Babs, but over time, it’s the modest tale of Ralphie Parker and family that has triumphed. It’s now an annual tradition that brings in an estimated 50 million viewers.

A Christmas Story ­Treasury celebrates the little movie that could. This is an interactive book with sound buttons that trigger eight famous quotes—delivered by the film’s narrator and writer, Jean Shepherd—and a packet of ephemera, including a “Merry Christmas from the Parkers” greeting card. Author Tyler Schwartz produced the documentary Road Trip for Ralphie, and he’s also affiliated with the Cleveland-based A Christmas Story House & Museum. So, yes, he’s a fan, and his book is for those who share his love for this holiday staple. I triple-dog-dare you to dislike this book.

FANTASTIC MR. ANDERSON

Cult film maestro Wes Anderson—whose oddities include Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom—is the subject of The Wes Anderson Collection, featuring film-by-film conversations between Anderson and critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

Seitz has been interviewing Anderson intermittently since 1993, when Seitz was a rookie film critic for the Dallas Observer and Anderson was making a 12-minute, 8mm movie called Bottle Rocket, which he co-wrote with then-unknown Owen Wilson. Seitz calls this book “a tour of an artist’s mind, with the artist as guide and amiable companion.” Included are nods to Anderson’s influences (such as Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape), his favorite music, his filmmaking habits (he heavily annotates his frames and, à la Hitchcock, does detailed storyboards) and more.

With an introduction by Michael Chabon and clever Andersonian artwork by Max Dalton, this coffee-table book is also heavily illustrated with stills from Anderson’s films. The stars are familiar—including Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston—but if the titles aren’t, this book may prompt you to add a few of them to your Netflix queue.

GOLDEN AGE

For lavish production it’s hard to top Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, which features sumptuous production stills and behind-the-scenes candids from some of the greatest movies ever made, starring some of the greatest stars Hollywood has ever known.

Author Mark A. Vieira, who specializes in celebratory books about Hollywood’s Golden Age, looks at 50 films of a landmark year. They include Gunga Din, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as star vehicles such as The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, The Roaring Twenties with tough guys Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and Ninotchka with the legendary Greta Garbo. Let’s not forget Basil Rathbone as the ultimate sleuth in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or young Shirley Temple in the teary The Little Princess. And then there was The Wizard of Oz, which had already gone through 10 writers, three directors, two witches and two tin men when director Victor Fleming came aboard—and the rest is history. As for the cherry on top, that would be Gone with the Wind.

Each film merits production highlights and critical reaction—and the aforementioned production stills from master photographers such as George Hurrell. That kind of artistic photography is now “gone with the wind,” as is the style of filmmaking that made 1939 a year to remember.

TIMEY WIMEY

For time travel fans, and for those who follow the exploits of the eccentric Time Lord known simply as the Doctor, there’s Doctor Who: The Vault.

The BBC-produced series is watched regularly in the U.S. by 2 million viewers; worldwide, there are 77 million. Not bad considering the show’s shaky beginnings. After a rocky period of pre-production, it debuted in November 1963, one day after the assassination of JFK.

Author Marcus Hearn enjoyed enviable access to the BBC’s “Doctor Who” archive and to those of private collectors. The result is a beautifully produced chronicle of the series.

In the last 50 years, 11 actors have portrayed the Time Lord—the result of his ability to “regenerate.” In various incarnations, the Doctor has been jokey, earnest, gray-haired, a youthful 26 and so on. He travels in a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which usually resembles a 1960s British police box. 

All this is explained in depth by Hearn, who looks at the costumes, weapons, monsters and promotional items of the series. There are accounts of the comings and goings of writers, directors and producers; differences over storylines and programming approach; and movies that influenced the series, including Frankenstein and classic Westerns.

Should the phenomenon have passed you by, don’t pass up the book. The Doctor will see you now.

Forget visions of sugar plums. This holiday season, a roster of Hollywood-themed entries summon up lingering images from beloved movie classics, among them The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as from kooky cult favorites, including TV’s wonderfully eccentric “Doctor Who.” Of course, some cult films go on to become classics. In […]
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Santa’s gift bag is heavy with books celebrating enduring filmmakers, the making of a Golden Age screen classic, two beloved cult films and a toast to Hollywood’s drinking circuit.

Scorsese on the set of Goodfellas, copyright ©1990 The Kobal Collection. From Martin Scorsese, reprinted with permission from Abrams. 

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN MASTER
Martin Scorsese: A Retrospective celebrates one of America’s most original and audacious filmmakers. Written by incisive film critic Tom Shone and lavishly illustrated, this book—like a Scorsese film—packs a passionate wallop and is elevated by scrutinous attention to detail.

The film-by-film format encompasses Scorsese’s student films, B-movies (the Roger Corman-produced Boxcar Bertha), slick Hollywood entries (New York, New York), curiosities (The Last Temptation of Christ), documentaries (The Last Waltz) and iconic titles that established him as “the patron saint of blood and pasta” (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas).

A SINGULAR STYLE
In The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion, author Jason Bailey—film editor for Flavorwire—focuses on professional output, not controversial personal life, as he moves through nearly 50 years of Allen’s films—from What’s Up, Tiger Lily? to Blue Jasmine. The book’s lively, intuitive essays include surveys of Allen’s recurring themes (Jewish mothers, magic and magical realism, Groucho idolatry, infidelity, younger women, hypochondria), intermingled with charts and pages on related subjects including New York (complete with a map showing locales of film scenes), his favorite leading ladies and more.

BEHIND THE ULTIMATE EPIC
Lawdy! Who’d have guessed—after all these years and so much dissection—that The Making of Gone with the Wind would be as startlingly informative as it is sumptuous? But, then, author Steve Wilson, curator of the film collection at the University of Texas at Austin, had the benefit of access to the archives of David O. Selznick, the film’s producer, and his business partner. As a result, more than 600 rarely seen items, including storyboards, telegrams, contracts, fan mail, concept art and more, are grandly reproduced and scrutinized.

The book doesn’t skirt the racial controversies that have dogged the movie over the decades, but in this, its 75th year, neither is there any denying of its influence—and endurance.

AN IMPROBABLE CLASSIC
It was at a 25th anniversary gathering for the 1987 cult movie The Princess Bride that Cary Elwes—Westley to the film’s many devoted fans—was inspired to pen, with the help of Joe Layden, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

The filmmakers and stars share their stories as Elwes charts the film’s unlikely journey from modest hit to cult status (thanks to VHS sales) to a timeless favorite featuring derring-do, pirates, giants, oversize rodents and the quest for true love.

UNABASHEDLY CAMPY FUN
Thanks to a magical blend of music, madness and gender bending—the lead, played by the riotous Tim Curry, is a transsexual mad scientist—a strange little musical became a pop culture legend. The Rocky Horror Treasury: A Tribute to the Ultimate Cult Classic, by devotees Sal Piro and Larry Viezel, follows the film’s history, includes lots of fun facts (an entire episode of TV’s “Glee” was devoted to RHPS) and has a side panel with eight buttons that play musical clips of songs like “Dammit Janet” and more. An envelope in the back contains extras: a poster, temporary tattoos and an instructional Time Warp dance chart.

RAISE A GLASS
And finally, hoist a glass to Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History, a clever compendium of equal parts showbiz and booze. Written by Mark Bailey and illustrated by Edward Hemingway, the book includes often outrageous stories of famed inebriates (John Barrymore and Liz Taylor among them), the bars they frequented, hangover cures and cocktail recipes.

Read all about that bastion of Tiki glory, Don the Beachcomber, and discover the origins of Chasen’s Shirley Temple (yes, it was created expressly for the tiny starlet). Sprinkled with celebrity quotes (Dennis Hopper: “I only did drugs so I could drink more.”), this book also works as a kind of tour guide—find “Open” signs hanging over sections in which the bars and other alcohol-centric joints are still serving. My personal favorite bartender, the legendary Manny Aguirre of Musso & Frank Grill, gets a shout-out and shares his martini recipe. Cheers!

 

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Santa’s gift bag is heavy with books celebrating enduring filmmakers, the making of a Golden Age screen classic, two beloved cult films and a toast to Hollywood’s drinking circuit.

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