Scattershot, intermittently engaging profiles of Old Hollywood icons.




This biographical anthology from the New England Vintage Film Society celebrates the lowly thespians whose theater training turned them into Hollywood royalty in the dawning era of sound films.

While silent movies were a quintessentially visual entertainment whose performers needed striking looks and expressive pantomime, the new-fangled talkies that arrived in the late 1920s required actors who could, well, talk—and talk well. That meant ransacking the nation’s stages and vaudeville houses for actors with the resonant voices and verbal agility to bring to life film’s new aural dimension. This uneven collection of essays—highlighting big stars as well as a raft of character actors, and decorated with dozens of striking photos—charts that migration with varying degrees of sophistication. Some of the pieces are shallow, and weakly written, rehashes of a star’s early theater appearances; they treat the stage career mainly as a training ground where actors learned their craft and incubated their future movie personas. Others explore the mutual adaptation between stage and screen styles more seriously; Cinzi Lavin’s illuminating piece on Mae West, for example, shows how the pioneering vamp jumped from stage to screen by toning down her presence, keeping her razor-sharp timing and camouflaging her bawdy repartee with double-entendres that deftly evaded studio censors. The articles on luminaries such as Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Spencer Tracy are too skimpy to add much to our understanding of these already well-mapped stars. The book’s more useful contribution is in its many profiles of character actors such as Charley Grapewin and Eddie Quillan, old vaudevillians with long-honed skills at building indelible stock characters. Jon Steinhagen’s sprightly profiles of two seldom-sung Tinseltown mainstays—Warren William, the ultimate suave lothario, and Lee Tracy, eternal embodiment of working-class operators with brains and moxie—stand out as the kind of rapt, perceptive close-ups that make for vibrant film criticism.

Scattershot, intermittently engaging profiles of Old Hollywood icons.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453587744

Page Count: 570

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2011

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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