MERCHANT OF DREAMS

LOUIS B. MAYER, M.G.M., AND THE SECRET HOLLYWOOD

Big bio of Louis B. Mayer, the most thorough ever, from the tireless Higham (The Duchess of Windsor, 1988, and lives of Cary Grant, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, and others). Higham researches Mayer (1885-1957) as richly as he did Wallis Simpson, but the mogul doesn't register here with the same hormonal impact as the duchess—although one reads a life of Mayer not only for gossip but also for Hollywood history. The book does outweigh Diana Altman's Hollywood East (p. 889), a business-oriented bio of Mayer, but it falls into the same need to detail the studio background, thereby draining momentum from Mayer's life. Few readers will find much that's new here, despite Higham's copious interviews, including many in which he disagrees with his interviewees about legendary incidents—for example, disputing MGM story chief Samuel Marx's suggestion that studio exec Paul Bern (Jean Harlow's husband) was murdered and that Mayer tampered with the evidence to make the death look like suicide: Higham contends that, on the fateful morning, only Irving Thalberg, not Mayer, arrived at the Harlow/Bern manse. Higham tells of Mayer's affair with Paramount chief B.P. Schulberg's wife and of his lust for Jeanette MacDonald; of Mayer having an underling take a year in jail for Clark Gable after the star killed a woman with his car; of the studio chief's spending perhaps $400,000 to cover up John Huston's similar trouble; of Mayer's fears that the bisexuality or homosexuality of many of his actors, including Garbo, would be exposed. But mainly Higham tells of the son of an immigrant junk dealer who built the greatest studio on earth and then was fired by top money-man Nicholas Schenck. The MGM story still again, though L.B. stands at center stage. (Photographs.)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 1993

ISBN: 1-55611-345-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1992

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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