Readers looking for the heart-warming comforts of My Friend Flicka may be a bit unnerved by this tart, curtly eloquent,...


FLICKA'S FRIEND: The Autobiography of Mary O'Hara

Readers looking for the heart-warming comforts of My Friend Flicka may be a bit unnerved by this tart, curtly eloquent, posthumous memoir--which often reads more like late Jessamyn West than vintage Mary O'Hara. O'Hara's rich, well-born mother died young, leaving Mary (b. 1885) with only the memory of an ""unloving frown."" (It wasn't till she was 67 that O'Hara found evidence that her mother did love her.) So childhood was divided between Brooklyn Heights (where father was a minister) and Europe--on tour with imperious Grandma May and hysterical Aunt Mellie. Marriage #1--to handsome distant lawyer/cousin Kent--was a well-bred disaster: Father disapproved (when he greeted his first grandchild with the all-purpose line, ""Well, that is a baby!,"" Mary knew he was forever alienated); childbirths were horrific; physical love was a grim disappointment; Los Angeles life was arid, with jealous outbursts from Kent (himself a philanderer) when she danced the turkey trot or studied tap-dancing. The misery of divorce followed, then, along with panic over a malignant mole on daughter O'Hara's cheek (conflicting medical advice). But Mary found solace in writing music (for profit), in Zen-ish mysticism with George Edwin Burnell, in her quiet rise as an in-demand writer (titles, continuity, script-doctoring) for Hollywood silents. And Hollywood brought husband #2: Helge, a Swedish refugee/film-extra who claimed (somewhat dubiously) royal blood and dreamed of Wyoming ranches--which led to Mary's horse life, to Flicka (first a short story, then a novel) and its successors. The celebrity years, however, also brought divorce #2, daughter O'Hara's cancer death, and frustrations in trying to bring a Wyoming musical to Broadway. So, though never self-pitying or bitter, this autobiography remains dark and chill at its center (""Perhaps I had been intended for a Vestal Virgin and had strayed from the path""); and some Flicka fans may be in for a bit of a shock. But, for those without preconceptions: a vivid memoir by a remarkable, subtly strange woman--sharply phrased, edgily candid, with evocative glimpses of such varied worlds as 1890s European spas, 1920s Hollywood, and N.Y. publishing in the '30s.

Pub Date: June 30, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982