Books by Donald Spoto

A prolific and respected biographer and theologian, Donald Spoto is the author of nineteen published books, among them best-selling biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams and Ingrid Bergman. His books have been tra

Released: March 1, 2016

"A warm and well-researched yet ultimately inessential appreciation of one of Hollywood's largely forgotten stars."
Spoto spotlights Wright. Read full book review >
POSSESSED by Donald Spoto
Released: Nov. 2, 2010

"A worthy but toothless consideration of one of Hollywood's most distinctive performers."
Hollywood biography machine Spoto (High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, 2010, etc.) presents the life and career of screen queen Joan Crawford (1905-1977), a movie star whose iconic status owed as much to the actress's sheer willpower as to her perfect bone structure and improbably large, expressive eyes. Read full book review >
HIGH SOCIETY by Donald Spoto
Released: Nov. 3, 2009

"A solid reference and affectionate remembrance, but a rather toothless biography."
Veteran celebrity biographer Spoto (Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, 2008, etc.) capitalizes on his personal friendship with actress and honest-to-goodness princess Grace Kelly (1929-1982) to create an affectionate, informative, though somewhat bland account of the screen icon's life. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 11, 2008

"Given its origins in material no one wanted published while they were alive, it's unsurprising that this is a thoroughly nasty reunion."
Celebrity biographer Spoto settles scores, rehashes feuds and reevaluates reputations in his third addition to the Hitchcock shelf. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2007

"A short but compelling work in praise of its subject."
Veteran biographer Spoto (Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, 2006, etc.) takes a fresh look at the much-analyzed Joan of Arc. Read full book review >
ENCHANTMENT by Donald Spoto
Released: Sept. 19, 2006

"For fans and movie buffs. The bouts of depression and the chain-smoking are covered, but Spoto clearly reveres Hepburn, ultimately rendering her a symbol of superhuman goodness."
Straightforward, informative biography of the silver screen's fairest lady by veteran celebrity chronicler Spoto (Marilyn Monroe, 2001, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 30, 2002

"Spoto insightfully demonstrates that far from taming the man, Francis's canonization made his life and example a wonderful embarrassment to the church."
In an approachable biography, Spoto (The Hidden Jesus, 1998, etc.) shows how the saint was both a product of a historical moment and transcendent of it. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 10, 2000

" Uncritical, unoriginal, sometimes downright sappy—just like most love letters. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen)"
Celebrity biographer Spoto (Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman, 1997, etc.) glides smoothly across the silken surface Read full book review >
THE HIDDEN JESUS by Donald Spoto
Released: Oct. 30, 1998

In the context of his career writing biographies of media celebrities (Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor, Alfred Hitchcock, among many others) Spoto's claim about God in this devotional life of Jesus—that he "identifies not with the great or famous or beautiful," but with the simple and selfless—carries the persuasive backing of one who should know. Before becoming a professional writer, Spoto taught Catholic theology. In his introduction, he explains that his prolonged attentions to the rich and famous have never eclipsed his still stronger interest in religious life. In this book, he applies his cumulative biographical writing skills to his object of faith. The hidden Jesus of the title is the divine Christ who exceeds our conceptual reach but who, eternally alive, presents himself to faithful Christians in their personal life. The subtitle is misleading. The book is less a life of Jesus than a devotional commentary on the Gospels; and it's not so much new—except, perhaps, for the author—as uncommon (for a non-Frenchman) in its mix of Catholic doctrine and existential philosophy. Spoto follows the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life from birth to resurrection, arguing along the way against the Virgin Birth, biblical literalism, and princely aspirations in the Catholic Church and its clergy. On two points he sends a mixed message: women and Judaism. While defending the idea of women priests, he objects to feminine pronouns for God, illogically, on grounds that "God as ‘She' is neither any better or worse than God as ‘He."' And he perpetuates the very anti- Semitism, he decries in the New Testament when he locates the Jewish objection to Jesus in the presumed arrogance of the first-century priests and Pharisees, rather than in disagreement over the nature of revelation: whether it was ongoing—into the first century—in received texts or in prophetic individuals. This book would have more honest appeal repackaged as an earnest meditation on the Gospels by an unorthodox Catholic. Read full book review >
NOTORIOUS by Donald Spoto
Released: June 18, 1997

Prolific celebrity biographer Spoto (Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean, 1996, etc.) offers an uncritical portrait of the three-time Oscar winner, who epitomized both Hollywood stardom at its most luminous and, for a time, career-hobbling scandal. The author interviewed Bergman in the 1970s and remained an acquaintance until her death in 1982; in addition, he spoke to many family members and colleagues, and he is admirably thorough about the facts. Bergman's childhood was marked by many family deaths, and her early vocation for the theater was quickly diverted to film: By age 22, in 1937, she was the most popular actress in Sweden, and inevitably she was sought out by Hollywood (Spoto rather hurries over Bergman's detour to shoot a film in Nazi Germany in 1938, assuring the reader that she later felt guilty about it). In America, Bergman instantly hit with films like Intermezzo, Casablanca, and Gaslight. Unhappily married to a domineering Swedish doctor who acted as her de facto agent, Bergman had affairs with, among others, photographer Robert Capa and director Victor Fleming. But she was perceived publicly as a model of rectitude until, in 1949, she became pregnant by Roberto Rossellini and relocated to Italy. The ensuing public outcry kept her out of American films for the next seven years: Spoto captures the puritanical fervor of the time, when Bergman was denounced in the Senate as a ``free-love cultist.'' But Hollywood forgave her, and she was universally beloved thereafter. Or so implies Spoto, who is so evidently so besotted by her character and her craft that his analyses tend to be uninformative: ``Ingrid always approached a role simply and without affectation, then went away quietly, memorized the lines and returned—having at some point simply understood.'' Spoto's ardor for his subject, although not unwarranted, crosses the line that separates chronicling the life from prostrating oneself before the dead. (32 pages photos, not seen) (Author tour) Read full book review >
REBEL by Donald Spoto
Released: May 1, 1996

Do we really need yet another James Dean biography? Spoto (Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor, 1995) thinks so. James Dean had starring roles in only three motion pictures, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant, but he has been the subject of more full-length biographies than the directors of those films—Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, and George Stevens—combined. This latest addition to the Dean canon comes from a biographer known best for airing the dirty laundry of such artists as Alfred Hitchcock, Lotte Lenya, and Laurence Olivier. Ironically, the basic thrust of Rebel is to denounce Spoto's predecessors for vastly inflating the alleged sexual escapades of his protagonist. Quite rightly, too. As Spoto points out, there is virtually no convincing evidence for the portrait of Dean as gay hustler or sadomasochist that has been painted in previous books. The basic trajectory of his life is familiar: Dean's trauma over the death of his doting mother when he was nine, his lifelong search for a replacement for the love thus lost, his meteoric rise as an actor and his sudden death. Anything but a Dean-worshipper, Spoto brings a different spin to this material; his Dean is a terribly immature and selfish young man, alternately arrogant and shy, ill-mannered and sweet. Spoto has spoken to several Dean acquaintances (most of whom had not been interviewed much before) and draws heavily on newspaper and magazine accounts from the period, as well as on the memoirs of other actors and directors. The result is perhaps the most detailed biography of Dean to date but, at 400 pages, a bit of a bore for all but the most hardcore fans. Spoto's analysis of Deanolatry in his opening and closing chapters is simultaneously on-the-money and rather cruel, as is his portrait of the troubled, talented, but callow young man on whom that worship has been posthumously lavished. ($125,000 ad/promo; author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1995

From Victoria and Albert through Chuck and Di, a panorama of British monarchy that, despite its resonant title, is just intelligently slung rehash. For anyone who's missed the past 150 years of Royal Family news and gossip, celebrity biographer Spoto (Liz, Marilyn, Marlene, etc.) has put the whole history in a user-friendly if unexciting genealogical package. Though he sets out ambitiously to ``examine the hazards of sovereignty in our time,'' he succeeds in writing a gracefully fleshed-out timeline of the Windsor family history, packed with just as much information about famous royal nannies as about who was sleeping with whom. Calmly and without sensationalism, he puts their affairs, both sexual and otherwise, in chronological order, giving royal scandals, including the affair between George V`s homosexual son Prince George and Noâl Coward, no more importance than child care. And judging from the descriptions of cold parents and isolated education, the poor young Windsors have repeatedly been crippled by their own aristocratic privileges. The family, which George VI dubbed the ``firm,'' descended from Germans whose first dynastic sovereign, Victoria, bore Albert's last name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. They did not become the Windsors until WW I, when George V and his advisors decided to secure the British monarchy by giving it a British moniker. (In reply, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Victoria's grandson, announced that he was going out to see a production of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). Spoto describes how British royalty stayed alive as crowned heads rolled all over Europe: by redefining itself, by going on exhausting PR tours of the Commonwealth, and by exploiting the media, which continues to exploit right back. A survey course in Windsors, with no new ground covered—and the old ground has just about had it. (b&w photos) (First serial to Cosmopolitan; Book-of-the-Month Club alternate; author tour) Read full book review >
BLUE ANGEL by Donald Spoto
Released: Aug. 1, 1992

Spoto's second book on Dietrich (Falling in Love Again, 1985- -not reviewed), minus the sexual fantasy and foot-slogging style that marred his recent Laurence Olivier (p. 42). Spoto captures well the high kitsch of the twilight of the German aristocracy into which Maria Madgelene Dietrich (1901-92) was born. Her mother drilled the spontaneously honest child never to show her feelings—the birth of the actress's famous mask of alluring remoteness. Ten years of violin lessons trained her for the musical side of her career (her violin teacher deflowered her, she told Billy Wilder) and for some of her funniest and even moving scenes under the direction of Josef von Sternberg, the Svengali who—in The Blue Angel—turned Dietrich into a goddess after many roles in drama school and German silents. The skill, emotional depth, and richness of the actress's finest work (Judgment at Nuremberg) were overshadowed by the sheer emission of star-power in such ``rapturously photographed'' early films as The Devil is a Woman—her own favorite picture—because she was then, Spoto points out, at her most beautiful. Dietrich married early and never divorced (though she remained parted from, if friendly with, her husband) and became a doting mother and grandmother. In private, she was nothing like the insolent indifference of her screen image, but was an intelligent, ambitious creature who was addicted to lengthy long-distance calls and who died a reclusive, wealthy alcoholic. Her lovers included Gary Cooper, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra—and on and on. Spoto's best biography—warm, well balanced, restrained. (B&w photos—75—not seen.) Read full book review >
Released: March 11, 1992

Despite having conducted dozens of interviews with those who knew Olivier, Spoto (author of biographies of Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, and others) offers little important new material—and few fresh insights—in this long, uninspired biography. Aside from lots of sexual tattle, much of it unsupported by sources, and an unconvincing minority opinion on Vivien Leigh's mental troubles, most everything here has been covered before (and, often, better) elsewhere. Like Anthony Holden (Laurence Olivier, 1988), Spoto takes a largely unfriendly view of Sir Larry—seen throughout as primarily ambitious, envious, ungrateful (to Gielgud especially), and ``emotionally inaccessible.'' Also like Holden, Spoto emphasizes Olivier's guilt-ridden nature; unlike Holden, though, Spoto links it to a struggle with bisexuality, supposedly evidenced by a ten- year affair with Danny Kaye (cf. Michael Korda's recent roman Ö clef) and quasi-sexual attachments to Noel Coward, Kenneth Tynan, and others. As for women, there were brief encounters (Greer Garson, Sarah Miles, Claire Bloom, etc.) and three unhappy marriages; in Spoto's iffy version, Joan Plowright is an uncaring opportunist, Vivien Leigh a self-indulgent sensualist (rather than a manic-depressive). And his interpretation of Olivier's amazing career and art is only slightly more persuasive: the stage and film work, the rise and fall at the National Theatre, all receive conscientious attention—but Spoto's attempts at analyzing the Olivier genius largely slide into psychobabble and platitude: ``This awareness of inadequacy was suffused by a mysterious gift, enabling him to pass the single beam of his own humanity through the prism of a role—and the emerging, manifold ray reached the countless different lives of his spectators.'' Sure to be read for the gossip, and worth skimming for curious bits of interview material, but—with its flat delivery and spotty documentation—an only so-so addition to the crowded Olivier reference room. (More than 75 halftones—not seen.) Read full book review >
LENYA by Donald Spoto
Released: May 3, 1989

The first full-dress life of Lotte Lenya reveals with deep warmth a story few biographers could ruin, and Spoto does his best work since 1983's The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. The famed widow of composer Kurt Weill re-created her abysmal childhood repeatedly throughout adult life. Her mother spent her youth and middle age caring for alcoholic, abusive husbands who were emotionally distant. Little Linnerl (Lenya) was often beaten by the worst of these, and became a Viennese prostitute at 12, wound up starving in Berlin as a teen-age actress, and for a while was mistress to a wealthy Czech refugee. Her early marriage to struggling musical genius Kurt Weill, an introverted intellectual, was a mixed blessing for both. She made the very serious, solitude-seeking Weill a playful, charming, sensuous mate, but nonetheless openly carried on affairs with young men and with famed dancer Tilly Losch, which Weill put up with rather than lose her. Their lives improved when Weill fell in with Bertold Brecht and began composing the smash operatic hits The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, The Threepenny Opera, and The Seven Deadly Sins, which also featured Lenya and made her a star. Then the rise of Nazism drove all three to America, where Weill had one great Broadway success after another (sans Brecht). After he died in his early 50's, Lenya dedicated the rest of her life (30 years) to marrying Weill's German shows to his Broadway fame. Her own concerts of Weill songs led to the Greenwich Village revival of The Threepenny Opera, a dazzling success, to more Weill revivals, to her own appearances on Broadway in Cabaret and in movies (From Russia with Love, etc.). She married three more times, each to an alcoholic homosexual who predeceased her but for whom she could care. Says Spoto: ". . .she had become, onstage and off, a digest of much that a woman can be, fears to be and longs to be in contemporary society." Lenya's sheer, habitual courage and charm shine from the page. Read full book review >