MADCAP: The Life of Preston Sturges by Donald Spoto

MADCAP: The Life of Preston Sturges

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A passable life of the fabulous whirlwind who produced The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Hail the Conquering Hero, and other lesser successes, and then went into the directorial decline that strikes so many of Hollywood's most original directors. Spoto (The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock; Lenya: A Life) diligently assembles a coherent life of Sturges and finds rich things to say about him in rounding out the larger passages of Sturges' career. He has gotten close to Sturges' remaining family and access to some fresh material. But one wishes a stylist of wit and elan had undertaken this project, someone a match for Sturges. The future director's early decades were unbelievably romantic and becharmed, with his mother buddying around with Isadora Duncan and marrying oddball after oddball, Preston fleeting about the Continent, helping his ever-divorcing mother found a cosmetics business, and, as Spoto points out, having ""no youthful experience that encouraged him to deep personal relations. This set a somewhat poignant pattern for his later life."" Indeed, Sturges' finest screenplays repeat the bursting frolic of his youth until a viewer is dizzied by screwballs piling up on the screen. At 31, he had a terrific Broadway success in Strictly Dishonorable, then went to Hollywood, wrote The Power and the Glory (often seen as a first draft for Citizen Kane), decided that directors were mining his scripts, and became the first writer-director or auteurist in Hollywood. His successes pinwheeled out of him for about 13 years, with the greatest all coining together in three years. Spoto unfortunately is quite scrappy in discussing the masterpieces (he thinks The Lady Eve falls apart!), although he does ring some sad notes on Sturges' decline. A man wonderful to read about even in a less-than-wonderful bio.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown