A worthy but toothless consideration of one of Hollywood’s most distinctive performers.

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THE LIFE OF JOAN CRAWFORD

Hollywood biography machine Spoto (High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, 2010, etc.) presents the life and career of screen queen Joan Crawford (1905–1977), a movie star whose iconic status owed as much to the actress’s sheer willpower as to her perfect bone structure and improbably large, expressive eyes.

Crawford, in marked contrast to her rival Greta Garbo, employed a maniacal determination and inhuman work ethic to earn and maintain her place in Hollywood’s firmament of stars. Born into poverty, uneducated and profoundly insecure, Lucille LeSueur parlayed a successful dancing career on Broadway into a movie work, acquiring the name Joan Crawford in a magazine contest held to christen MGM’s newest contract player. Spoto deftly analyzes Crawford’s changing persona through her long career, from plucky flapper to suffering matron to leering grotesque, and recounts her failed marriages, numerous affairs and alcoholism with great sympathy. In fact, this perhaps overly reverential treatment is a bit of a letdown, as Crawford’s outsize diva histrionics, promiscuity and alleged abuse of her adopted children are key components of her continuing fascination for film audiences. Spoto discounts or explains away Crawford’s less-than-salubrious reputation, and the result feels a bit whitewashed. Crawford’s daughter Christina’s infamous autobiography Mommie Dearest (1978), and the subsequent film, cemented the public image of Crawford, perhaps unfairly, as an unhinged martinet, obsessed with order and cleanliness. Spoto works hard to refute Mommie Dearest’s damning portrait of the actress, but Crawford’s housekeeping mania, strict discipline and emotional instability are widely acknowledged. Christina’s brother Christopher, who corroborated her account, is described by the author as a troublemaker who was constantly running away from home, which begs a fairly obvious question. Still, the book is useful for its diligent consideration of Crawford’s films and legacy.

A worthy but toothless consideration of one of Hollywood’s most distinctive performers.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-185600-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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