Compelling chronicle of the Man of Steel’s bumpy ride through Tinseltown.
Believers in truth, justice and the American Way beware: Rossen’s tale of showbiz Superman, from his radio debut in 1940 to the bloated blockbuster Superman Returns in 2006, is likely to disillusion even the most idealistic fans. Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman made his comics debut in 1938 and soon after became a hot commodity in nearly every entertainment medium. From radio and cartoons to TV and (eventually) movies, Superman became as globally ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse. As his image became more iconic, however, behind-the-scenes soap operas not only stalled the property’s development, but also contributed to the ruin of careers, marriages and even lives. Siegel and Shuster received little compensation for their creation despite the billions of dollars of revenue it produced; at one point, the near-destitute pair was forced to sue Time Warner for an insignificant sum just to pay their bills. Actors who have donned the cape have found themselves victims of typecasting, which was particularly distressing to Christopher Reeve. The mysterious death of TV Superman George Reeves in 1959, as well as the injuries and accidental deaths of production staff over the years, have only added to the dark cloud that hovers over the franchise despite the smashing success of the first two movies and moderate popularity of TV shows like Lois & Clark and Smallville. The narrative occasionally delves too deeply into the comic’s mythology for casual readers, but it’s not just a trivia-fest for diehard fans. (There are some delicious tidbits, though: Who knew that Mario Puzo penned the first draft of the screenplay for Superman: The Movie? Or that Charles Bronson, James Caan and Robert Wagner, among others, were offered the lead?)
Solid research and crisp prose make this Superman book a winner.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)