Two so-so recent biographies of the euphoric film-director Preston Sturges (1898-1959), by James Curtis and Donald Spoto, and Sturges's posthumous autobiography, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges (1990), are now followed by a critical biography that has a keener eye for the nuts and bolts of Sturges's scripts and his filmmaking than Curtis, Spoto, or even Sturges himself had. Film-historian Jacobs draws on interviews with Sturges's wives and survivors, including his fellow workers and artists, and from his personal letters, diaries, scripts, and photographs. Before he even leaves for Hollywood in the early 30's, Sturges has already lived several lives--and is only 34. After his birth in Chicago, his much-married mother leaves his father, elopes with wealthy Solomon Sturges, tours Europe with her best buddy--free-styled bacchante Isadora Duncan--and starts up her own line of cosmetics, with 16-year-old, penniless Preston as her New York office manager, salesman, and factotum. Loathing culture and Shakespeare, Sturges keeps these early years a screwball frolic, desires most to be an inventor. In 1929, Strictly Dishonorable makes him a hit Broadway playwright. He marries an heiress; writes three flops; and gets called to Hollywood, where scriptwriting at last pays off, leading him to a rare slot as writer-director. Here, we follow Sturges through draft after draft of The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, Unfaithfully Yours, and many lesser works that Jacobs sifts for comic genius. For fun, Sturges is also a restaurateur. Then, after 13 years on top, the descent begins and the third highest-paid man in America ends up busted and a wanderer. Jacobs rarely smiles, but this dig into the archaeology of Sturges scripts and photos (54 b&w) is most welcome--and raising Preston is still enough.