His name is not a household word except, perhaps, among the glitterati. He was a prominent interior decorator who, from the...


BILLY BALDWIN: An Autobiography

His name is not a household word except, perhaps, among the glitterati. He was a prominent interior decorator who, from the mid-30s until his retirement in 1973, worked for or hobnobbed with the famous. The book drips with names: Jacqueline Onassis, Greta Garbo, Ina Claire, Cole Porter, the Duchess of Windsor, the ""glamorous, notorious Morgan sisters."" It also drips with ""yellow, dark brown, cream-colored"" curtains, ""Chinese wallpaper with brilliantly colored flowers and birds,"" upholstery material of ""scarlet chintz covered with brilliant Persian flowers,"" Louis XVI chairs, French commodes and other items of decorative interest. This ""autobiography"" was scripted by Gardine from tapes made shortly before Baldwin died in 1983. Baldwin's speaking-writing style is arch and hyperbolic. A woman may look ""absolutely marvelous wearing beautiful clothes,"" have ""most extraordinary crystal blue eyes"" or sometimes be ""madly intelligent."" Men are described as having ""enormous looks"" or being ""wildly successful."" Even as a child Baldwin had a precious quality. At a tender age he decided to regale the guests at a posh hotel with ""little exhibition dances."" His performances were stopped after a ""very cross old bitch"" complained. He was reared in an opulent Baltimore household, adoring his nursemaid, his gentle mother and legions of doting aunts; his cold disciplinarian father and cantankerous sister were hated, naturally. It's all rather Tennessee William-ish, but in a frothy way. His tale is crammed with anecdotes. The director of a class play at a prestigious Connecticut prep school insists that the entire cast (including Baldwin, who played ""a vamp"") rehearse in the nude to enable them to lose their inhibitions. A Baltimore couple of impeccable lineage but little money live off the husband's career as a gigolo. Their abandoned daughter ultimately marries a Rothschild. Many of these vignettes have little point other than to demonstrate that Billy can recall the clothes, the chitchat, and the table decorations at various dinner parties. . .and that he was present. In a sense it's unfortunate that this book was not published six months ago. It might have made mildly satisfactory vacation fare in that it is gossipy, has a certain fey charm, and is totally inconsequential.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985