May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA 2013: Talking Non-Fiction

Today's Armchair topic is non-fiction. I don't know how you feel about it, but I love it! I especially love reading old Hollywood biographies. I find that these biographies provide a key to the past in a way history books do not.

For instance, in almost every single old Hollywood biography, the HUAC is mentioned in some way. Whether it affected the star directly or the star had friends that were victims of communist accusations, it is usually in there. I love that because I teach ‘The Crucible’ and am able to use those as examples when I discuss McCarthyism and the Red Scare.

I collect Marilyn Monroe biographies, and one thing I have learned about reading biographies: I like to know where they get their information. Some have been written on pure speculation, so for a book to be worth my time, I want to know how much research was done, why their interest in that particular star, etc.

As a whole, I love reading about these actors—modern and old Hollywood—and their trials and tribulations in life, love, career. What I have gathered from all of them is this: while they may be rich and famous, their lives are/were nothing like a fairy tale. Except maybe Tori Spelling, and I’ve got to include her in my list because I love her candidness.

Please note that most of the Goodread summaries are abridged because, to be honest, their descriptions are long.

Here I share with you twelve of my favorite Hollywood biographies - enjoy!

·         Love, Lucy (L. Ball)

Summary from Goodreads:

The one and only New York Times bestselling autobiography by Lucille Ball...

·         It’s Only a Movie: A Personal Bio of Alfred Hitchcock (C. Chandler)

Summary from Goodreads:

Applause Books" It's Only a Movie is the best book ever written about my father. It really is amazing." Patricia Hitchcock North by Northwest. Psycho. Rear Window. The Birds. Vertigo. When it comes to murder and mayhem, shock and suspense, the films of Alfred Hitchcock can not be surpassed. For this book, Charlotte Chandler interviewed Hitchcock, his wife, daughter, film crew members, and many of the stars who appeared in his films, including Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Cary Grant, Tippi Hedren and James Stewart.Throughout the book, Chandler shares Hitchcock's wit and wisdom. When actors took themselves too seriously, he would remind them, "it's only a movie." Chandler introduces us to the real Hitchcock, a devoted family man and notorious practical joker, who made suspenseful thrillers mixed with subtle humor and tacit eroticism.

·         700 Sundays (B. Crystal)

Summary from Goodreads:

Billy Crystal's heartfelt and hilarious "New York Times" bestseller: a moving memoir of his youth and the precious days shared by an adoring father and a devoted son.

·         Cary Grant: A Biography (M. Eliot)

Summary from Goodreads:

Rigorously researched and elegantly written, Cary Grant: A Biography is a complete, nuanced portrait of the greatest star in cinema history. Exploring Grant’s troubled childhood, ambiguous sexuality, and lifelong insecurities, as well as the magical amalgam of characteristics that allowed him to remain Hollywood’s favorite romantic lead for more than thirty-five years, Cary Grant is the definitive examination of every aspect of Grant’s professional and private life and the first biography to reveal the real man behind the movie star.

·         Jimmy Stewart: A Biography (M. Eliot)

Summary from Goodreads:

While Stewart's career thrived, so did his personal life. A marriage in his forties, the adoption of his wife’s two sons from a previous marriage, and the birth of his twin daughters laid the foundation for a happy life, until an unexpected tragedy had a shocking effect on his final years.

Intimate and richly detailed, Jimmy Stewart is a fascinating portrait of a multi-faceted and much-admired actor as well as an extraordinary slice of Hollywood history.

·         Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood (S. Finstad)

Summary from Goodreads:

Natasha is based on years of exhaustive research into Natalie's turbulent life and mysterious drowning in the dark water that was her greatest fear. Author Suzanne Finstad, a former lawyer, conducted nearly four hundred interviews with Natalie's family, close friends, legendary costars, lovers, film crews, and virtually everyone connected with the investigation of her strange death. Through these firsthand accounts from many who have never spoken publicly before, Finstad has reconstructed a life of emotional abuse and exploitation, of almost unprecedented fame, great loneliness, poignancy, and loss. She sheds an unwavering light on Natalie's complex relationships with James Dean, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Raymond Burr, Warren Beatty, and Robert Wagner and reveals the two lost loves of Natalie's life, whom her controlling mother prevented her from marrying. Finstad tells this beauty's heartbreaking story with sensitivity and grace, revealing a complex and conflicting mix of fragility and strength in a woman who was swept along by forces few could have resisted. Natasha is impossible to put down — it is the definitive biography of Natalie Wood that we've long been waiting for.

·         Arthur Miller: His Life and Work (M. Gottfried)

Summary from Goodreads:

Arthur Miller has been delivering powerful drama to the stage for decades with such masterpieces as Death of a Salesman. But, remarkably, no one has yet told the full story of Miller's own extraordinary life-a rich life, much of it shrouded from public view. To achieve this groundbreaking portrait of the artist and the man, the award-winning drama critic and biographer Martin Gottfried masterfully draws on his interviews with those who have known Miller throughout his personal and professional life, on Miller's voluminous lifelong correspondence, and on the annotated scripts and notebooks that reveal Miller's creative process in stunning detail. From Miller's childhood and adolescence in Depression-era New York City to his formative college years in Michiganfrom the numerous early professional rejections to the 1947 play All My Sons that established him as a voice to be reckoned withfrom his heroic defiance of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy years to his most unlikely pairing with Marilyn Monroe from political and social activism on the world stage to an extraordinary professional vitality even as he turns 88 in October 2003 (he is still writing plays, and stage revivals and film adaptations of his classics proliferate): here is a dazzling book-a literary event of the first order.

·         Marilyn Monroe (B. Leaming)

Summary from Goodreads:

Basing her research on new interviews and on thousands of primary documents--including revealing letters by Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, John Huston, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, Darryl Zanuck, Marilyn's psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson, and many others--Leaming has reconstructed the tangle of betrayal in Marilyn's life. For the first time, a master storyteller has put together all of the pieces and told Marilyn's story with the intensity and drama it so richly deserves.

At the heart of this book is a sexual triangle and a riveting story that has never been told before. You will come away filled with new respect for Marilyn's incredible courage, dignity, and loyalty, and an overwhelming sense of tragedy after witnessing Marilyn, powerless to overcome her demons, move inexorably to her own final, terrible betrayal of herself. Marilyn Monroe is a book that will make you think--and will break your heart.

·         True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess (W. Leigh)

Summary from Goodreads:

Leigh paints a compelling portrait of Grace, the ambitious young actress, Grace, the dutiful princess who transformed the principality of Monaco into a jet-set haven, Grace, the kind-hearted philanthropist, Grace, the loving mother, and Grace, the patriotic American. 

 Leigh's book has not been written for those readers who wish to view Grace as a saint, but for those who - like Leigh herself - believes that she was a strong and wonderful woman.  

·         Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait (D. Maychick)

Summary from Goodreads:

When she began writing her biography of Audrey Hepburn, author Diana Maychick never dreamed she would have such unprecedented access to the reclusive and legendary star. Audrey Hepburn insisted that a proper biography could never be completed unless she was willing to share some intensely personal and painful memories. For the next year, Hepburn and Maychick spent countless hours together in conversation, as Audrey opened up about her childhood, her careers, and the loves of her life. What Diana Maychick did not know was that Audrey Hepburn was dying and that these conversations would, all too soon and all too sadly, come to an end. What emerges from the pages of Audrey Hepburn: An Intimate Portrait is a wonderfully personal look at one of the most elegant women of the century. It also provides a candid look at Audrey's painful childhood, her parents' constant battles, her mother's demanding hauteur, her father's blatant Nazi sympathies, the deprivation of the war years, the Nazi occupation of their town and the garrisoning of their very house, her escape from the Germans and the month she spent in a rat-infested cellar nearly starving to death, and her life-long struggle with food disorders. It also celebrates her fabled rise from show girl to film star and how, with her beguiling eyes and sophisticated manners, she seduced Hollywood away from its fixation on blond bombshells.

·         Mommywood (T. Spelling)

Summary from Goodreads:
Like most parents, Tori wants her children to have the one thing she didn't have as a kid -- a normal family. On their hit Oxygen reality show, Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, the starlet and her husband Dean McDermott regularly wrestle dirty diapers, host the neighborhood block party, and tackle temper tantrums on the red carpet. But when the cameras aren't rolling, Tori's still having awkward run-ins with a former 90210 costar at a laser tag birthday party, scooping rogue poo out of the kiddie pool on a resort vacation, and racing to win back her pre-baby body before the media starts calling her fat. For all her suburban fantasies, Tori Spelling is no June Cleaver.
With the same down-to-earth wit that made her entertaining memoir sTORI telling a #1 New York Times bestseller, Tori tells the hilarious and humbling stories of life as a mom in the limelight. From learning to be the kind of parent her own mother never was to revealing what it's like to raise a family while everyone is watching, Mommywood is an irresistible snapshot of celebrity parenthood that you won't get from the paparazzi.

·         The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (Taraborrelli)

Summary from Goodreads:

When Marilyn Monroe became famous in the 1950s, the world was told that her mother was either dead or simply not a part of her life. However, that was not true. In fact, her mentally ill mother was very much present in Marilyn's world and the complex family dynamic that unfolded behind the scenes is a story that has never before been told...until now. In this groundbreaking book, Taraborrelli draws complex and sympathetic portraits of the women so influential in the actress' life, including her mother, her foster mother, and her legal guardian. He also reveals, for the first time, the shocking scope of Marilyn's own mental illness, the identity of Marilyn's father and the half-brother she never knew, and new information about her relationship with the Kennedy's-Bobby, Jack, and Pat Kennedy Lawford. Explosive, revelatory, and surprisingly moving, this is the final word on the life of one of the most fascinating and elusive icons of the 20th Century.

And because I know covers stick with us more than titles...

What Hollywood biographies have you read that you think I should add to my list?

Comment below and let’s talk about books.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator


  1. AnonymousMay 31, 2013

    I love classic Hollywood bios! Have you read THE ENTERTAINER by Margaret Talbot? Her father was a vaudeville then early film actor. It's a great book.

    1. I haven't - I'll have to add that to my list, thanks.

      Happy Reading!


  2. Oh my gosh! Thinking of all these old celebrities brings me back. I went through a phase of reading and watching every old Hollywood thing I could get my hands on. Sigh, it's been so long. No, I'm not going to say just how long ;) lol

    Happy ABEA!

  3. I picked up Love, Lucy when we were in Orlando for Nationals and finished it that day. I've read it a few more times since then! I really want to read Tori Spelling's books...I love her! I'll have to try some of these out. I've always been interested in biographies.

    1. Spelling's books are hilarious. Very conversational text that will make you love her even more.

      Thanks for stopping by - happy reading!


  4. I never thought about reading Hollywood bios. I bet they'd be fun! Thanks, I'll have to find some!

  5. AnonymousJune 03, 2013

    Good Morning!

    I found your blog and thought that maybe you could offer some suggestions. My son is going on 11, will be in the 5th grade and a reluctant reader. He has NO interest in reading and can't seem to finish a book much less get through the first 4 chapters. He comes home with books that are higher level readers and then does not open them. That tells me he has a desire but I have no idea why it is so hard to get him to just pick up a book on his reading level. At this point, he is on a 3.9-4.6 level according to AR. Could you please offer suggestions for us to work on over the summer months. He will be entering the 5th grade and really needs to bring up his reading level.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and asking.

      First, are you a reader? When I was doing research in Grad school I learned that the #1 indicator of a child reading is directly tied to the parents and the level of access to books. My eight-year-old is a huge reader, but so is his dad. Many say, "Well, you're a huge reader," and this is true. But really, he sees both of us reading, all the time, and we read to him every single night. We even do team reading - I read a page, he reads a page.

      With that said, was your son a reader before?

      One last thing, do NOT get caught up with those reading level numbers. Parents are surprised when I say that, but here's why I say it: if it gets your kid reading, who cares. The goal is to put a book in their hands that they will read. Get them reading and then worry about those numbers.

      Reward his reading - do not turn it into a chore or a punishment. OR...try audiobooks. Seriously. I don't know if you are opposed to Harry Potter, but man are those audiobooks amazing. He can read along while he listens to any of the audio books. My library has an amazing selection of audio books, which we always check out for car trips, and you can sample the readers at

      Young readers tend to be series readers. They like books that build on each other, and boys especially love graphic novels (or at least books with a lot of pictures).

      So, with all of that, here are three suggested series he may enjoy:

      1. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series - my own son was reluctant to read these, but last night he was laughing out loud because he was loving them so much.

      2. Ninja Meerkats series - super cute and super fun

      3. Magic Treehouse series - my son loves these and I know a lot of boys who do as well

      4. Guys Read series - a variety of topics; short stories that appeal to reluctant male readers

      5. Anything by Andrew Clements - he appeals to male readers; start with 'Frindle'

      I'm also going to give you a few links that bring up titles your son might enjoy.

      I really hope this helps with getting your son into reading - or offers you suggestions on what you can do to help him with it.


  6. AnonymousJune 03, 2013

    Thank you so much for all the information. We as parents do read however we did not read as much with our second child due to other things to be done. That is not an excuse but it is what happened. I will certainly give all of your suggestions a try. He can read and LOVES the I Survived series. Your right, getting caught up on the numbers is really unfair at this point. I need to start out with high interest and buddy read. We have done that before and he seems to like it but if the book is hum drum in the beginning, he is done. Thank you so much. I appreciate all of your help with this. I am a very stressed mom, I do worry the point my own health is suffering but I am trying to fix that so this offers me some hope. Right now, I could easily cry just thinking about his interest with reading. I have to get on this right now and find ways to make it fun. Do you have any suggestions to making it fun for a soon to be 11 yo.?


I would love to hear from you