Saturday, October 18, 2014

SILENT MURDERS by Mary Miley





Entertaining, unlikely and unputdownable - Mary Miley’s next after The Impersonator (2013) finds our heroine taking on a new persona - she is now Jessie Beckett, a former vaudevillian who has found her way to Hollywood, the Hollywood of 1925 that is.  By dint of good luck she lands a terrific job as temporary assistant to screen legend Douglas Fairbanks who is married to another screen legend, Mary Pickford.

As if that weren’t enough good fortune she’s invited to a posh party hosted by Director Bruno Heilmann.  Along with her best friend, the naive but beautiful Myrna Williams the two are ready for a really big night.  It is that in more ways than one.  Jessie meets one of the maids hired for the evening, Esther Frankel, who turns out to have known her mother in the old days of vaudeville.  Esther invites Jessie to come to her apartment to see some playbills that feature Jessie’s mother.  When Jessie arrives at Esther’s apartment the next morning she’s shocked to find Esther dead, bludgeoned to death.  To make the day even grimmer she finds out that Bruno Heilmann was also dead -slain after his party.

To muddy waters even further Lottie, Mary Pickford’s sister,  had been having an affair with him.   Fearing she will be suspected of killing Heilmann Fairbanks dispatches Jessie to his house to retrieve some unmentionables Lottie may have left behind.  Of course, the house is now a crime scene under police guard.  Does that stop our Jessie?  Not at all.

The body count mounts, Jessie is interrogated by a handsome young policeman, and a rather shady fellow who had once set Jessie’s heart aflutter shows up.  As Jessie tries to connect the dots of these murders she comes very close to being a victim herself.

Suspend belief for all the high jinks involved and enjoy the ride.  Mary Miley adds exciting new notes to the Jazz Age in Hollywood.

- Gail Cooke

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS by JOHN LAHR





Tennessee Williams once said, “I have lived intimately with the outcast and derelict and the desperate.  I have tried to make a record of their lives because my own has fitted me to do so.”  Reading this authoritative biography of one of our most brilliant playwrights one realizes the truth of these words.  We see his painful childhood created by a mean, tyrannical father,  a puritanical mother who sought acquiescence from all, and a mentally ill sister in his stories, poems and plays - The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

Many words have been written about Williams but surely none as kind or as perceptive as those of John Lahr.  The author of 17 books and the New Yorker’s senior drama critic for 20 years Lahr offers not only intimate details of the playwright’s life but access to his mind as found in diaries, letters, memoirs, interviews, theater history and unpublished manuscripts.  It is not easy reading as we learn of the fear, self-doubt and paranoia that tormented Williams, eventually driving him to addictions to alcohol and narcotics.

Missives from Williams’s long-time agent, Audrey Wood are especially riveting as are descriptions of his collaboration with film director Elia Kazan.  Quite simply this is a stellar biography shedding new light on the life and work of a great playwright.

- Gail Cooke

Thursday, October 2, 2014

OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS by Mark Railey






The irresistible title tells the subject matter well but just in case there’s the subtitle - Stumbling Through Hollywood History.  And, friends what a history it is as revealed by Railey who leaves no good (often outrageous) story left unwritten.   He has selected movie legends from the very early days (Fatty Arbuckle, Clara Bow, etc.) through the Studio Era (Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, etc.) to the Postwar Era (Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, etc.) and finally the 1960's & New Hollywood (Natalie Wood, Frank Sinatra, etc.)  Believe there are some 70 in all who left their mark and more (think Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Steve McQueen).

Of course, the amount of alcohol consumed by each star is detailed.  Where else would you discover that Judy Garland’s favorite libation was vodka and grapefruit juice and when on tour her assistant kept two thermoses at the ready?  Or, have you heard that when John Barrymore and several of his drinking buddies showed up at the draft office in 1941 thoroughly sloshed the registrar asked, “Who sent you?  The enemy?”

The very, very private (which sometimes became public) lives of the stars isn’t overlooked.  Who slept with whom, where and when is given ample coverage (pun intended).  Favorite hangouts of the glitterati such as Mocambo, CafĂ© Trocadero, the Brown Derby, and the Coconut Grove are described.

There’s never a dull paragraph in Of All The Gin Joints as a mix of forty favorite cocktails is also included.  You can sample a Chocolate Martini as enjoyed by Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson while making Giant or a mixture of Port and Brandy as imbibed by Richard Harris.

It would be tantamount to impossible to choose a favorite story from this collection but surely the making of The Lost Weekend tops my list.  Ray Milland, a non-drinker, was chosen to play the lead.  Knowing the part would be a career maker he very much wanted the part, but he also wanted his acting to be authentic.  What he went through to achieve this might have done in a lesser man.

Feel certain you won’t skip a sentence of this Hollywood history!

- Gail Cooke

THE JOYS OF MARRIED LIFE




          "AMONG THE JOYS OF MARITAL BLISS IS

            GETTING AND GIVING ALL THOSE KISSES.

            OF COURSE, ANOTHER OF WEDDED LIFE'S RICHES

            IS SOMEONE TO SCRATCH YOU WHERE YOU ITCHES." - GC

Friday, September 26, 2014

ON THE WING by David Elliott; Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander




David Elliott has won numerous awards for his children’s books and he has another winner with On The Wing beautifully illustrated by Becca Stadtlander.  Her arresting full color full page illustrations depict not only the bird but also portions of the birds’ lives.  For instance the Woodpecker is pecking on a tree trunk and the Japanese Crane is dancing in the snow.

The author describes each bird in delightful verse, such as the following for the Crow:
“Your cunning and your confidence are wonderful to see,
                           But your singing voice, my friend, is pure caw-caw-phony.”

Youngsters will smile and learn about the fifteen birds included in On The Wings, winged creatures all from the everyday sparrow to the gorgeous Caribbean flamingo.

- Gail Cooke

Friday, September 19, 2014

LISETTE'S LIST by Susan Vreeland Audio Edition







With a list of stage and film appearances already to her credit Kim Bubbs has lent her voice to a number of animated features and video games.  She is a multi faceted actress who brings the characters in this absorbing drama to real life.

Susan Vreeland is, of course, an acclaimed novelist whose works include Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Girl In Hyacinth Blue among others.  Those of us who eagerly awaited Lisette’s List would say it was well worth the wait!

It is 1937 when Lisette Roux and her husband, Andre, leave Paris and all it has to offer for Roussillon,  a small village in Provence.   They have moved to care for Andre’s grandfather, Pascl, and Lisette knows she will miss the gaiety and refinements of Paris.  However, it is not long before she discovers the richness in this hilltop town.

Pascal was once a seller of paints and owns works by Cezanne, Pissaro, Picasso and Chagall.  He takes pride in the small contributions he has made to the creation of these works of art.  Pascall challenges Lisette to “do the important things first.”  So, she begins keeping a list.

When war breaks out Andre joins the army, and before going he hides Pascal’s paintings in order to keep them out of Nazi hands.  Later, when Paris falls and Vichy France is on the rise Lisette begins to look for the paintings.  Her search takes her through the French countryside where she meets Marc and Bella Chagall who are hiding there before escaping to America.  She learns much from them, including some things about herself.

She continues to search for the paintings despite hardship and tragedy tempered at times by kindness and courage.  Lisette continues to grow, to learn and so will we as we listen to Lisette’s List.

- Gail Cooke

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH ART by Phillipe de Montebello and Martin Gayford







Surely one of the most rewarding, enriching, delightful books I’ve read in many a moon Rendezv-vous with Art is an art aficionado’s must read and reread.  After all where else may one find Philippe de Montebello (the longest serving director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its history) and Martin Gayford (an esteemed London art critic) discussing some of the world’s most magnificent art as together they visit museums in six countries?

This book is not a history of art or a work of art criticism but rather in their own words it is an attempt to express “the actual experience of looking at art, what it feels like on a particular occasion...”  And as one reads their personal responses one’s senses are heightened, there is an added awareness of what we might look for in a painting.

Admittedly I was biased beginning with Chapter 1 “An Afternoon In Florence.”  That is my most favorite city and the basilica of Santa Croce is a beloved place for me.  Yet although I have visited several times seeing it through the eyes of the authors I realized all I’d missed.  So, in effect, with this wonderful book one revisits the Prado, the Louvre, the Met, the British Museum and more.  What a journey that is!

In addition to commentary re paintings, frescoes, sculptures and artifacts the authors address several challenges facing museums today.  For instance, if one must wait in a line several blocks long to enter a museum how will that affect our perception of what we see?

The illustrations throughout are, of course, lovely.  My copy of Rendez-vous with Art is now tabbed, underlined and full of crimped page corners as it has so much to offer.  It is a book I’ll return to again and again with great pleasure.  Thank you Messrs de Montebello and Gayford.

- Gail Cooke