Thursday, October 30, 2014

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS by John Lahr AUDIO EDITION




TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AUDIO EDITION
By John Lahr; Performed by Elizabeth Ashley
Brilliance Audio


There could not be a more capable or convincing actress than Tony Award winning Elizabeth Ashley to narrate this seminal biography. She has appeared in 14 plays by Tennessee Williams including the unforgettable 1974 Broadway production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  Her performance of this book merits another award.

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of the playwright’s life but access to his mind as found in diaries, letters, memoirs, interviews, theater history and unpublished manuscripts.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 listening 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 beautifully read by an accomplished actress.

- Gail Cooke

Saturday, October 25, 2014

LIVES OF THE GREAT ARTISTS by Charlie Ayres







Yes, this book is for children and fortunate is the young one who receives it.  Again, yes, this is a book intended for children but this adult is keeping it for the sheer joy and pleasure of leafing through it.  Each time I return I see something new in the beautiful full page reproductions or learn something more about a particular artist’s life.  For me, it is a privilege to be able to peruse Lives of the Great Artists again and again.

Author Ayres who studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art and Sotheby’s Institute in London introduces young readers to twenty of the world’s greatest artists from Giotto (1267-1337) to Van Gogh (1853-1890).   Each artist is accompanied by his life story, how and where he worked, and lavish reproductions of his works.

Also included are fascinating chronologies of the artists pinpointing not only dates of birth but where the artists lived, who asked them to create something and why, and yearly notations of output and events.  There is, of course, a Glossary and a listing of where major collections of the artists’ works may be found.  It is hard to imagine more comprehensive coverage of these artists.

The author’s Introduction will be especially helpful to young readers as she explains how the works of art came to be - that many were intended for churches, palaces or private homes.  Or, they were commissioned by rich powerful people who commissioned paintings of Bible stories to show how religious they were or by those who wanted paintings of their holdings and their families as evidence of their wealth.

            Lives Of the Great Artists would be a perfect gift for a young person to receive before visiting a museum.  For those who love art it is simply the perfect gift.

- Gail Cooke

A DEMON SUMMER by G. M. Maliet





Murder in a nunnery?  Impossible, never in this world!  Those are places of quiet, peace and meditation.  Not in the hands of Agatha Award winning G. M. Malliet who with the fourth Max Tudor mystery takes the handsome former M15 spy turned vicar to the nunnery of Monkbury Abbey.  He is there at the behest of his bishop who wants Max to investigate the possibility of misappropriated funds and the genesis of a poisoned fruitcake.  The sisters are well known for their fruitcakes, a best seller for the nunnery.  However, one ingested by the unlikable Earl of Lislelivet sickened him.  Accident or heinous plan?

Pleasing the bishop is important for Max as he has yet to tell his superior that he plans to marry Awena Owen whose views are not exactly in concert with those of the church.  Max has dutifully made himself at home in the cell-like quarters assigned to him and has almost completed interviewing all of the sisters when a body is found in the cloister well.  There are other guests at the nunnery, an eccentric lot if there ever was one.  Each in his or her own way adds touches of humor to the story while not helping to solve the mystery of the body in the well.

Once again Malliet has given us a delightful English cozy mystery, which is both fun and absorbing.  A Demon In Summer is a delicious read - enjoy!

- Gail Cooke

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