BETTY GRABLE: The Reluctant Movie Queen by Doug Warren

BETTY GRABLE: The Reluctant Movie Queen

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unpretentious, mostly affectionate biography of unpretentious, mostly pleasant Betty Grable, ""who was always more motivated by a good time than by any ambition for career success."" The ambitious one was Betty's lame, cane-waving stage mother Lillian, who pushed wee Betty into dancing and singing--first in hometown St. Louis, then in Hollywood, where the teenager did chorus bits in early talkies and band-singing around San Francisco. Then came minor success--doing a featured number with Edward Everett Horton in The Gay Divorcee--but Betty's real break was the publicity that erupted with her engagement to ex-kid-star Jackie Coogan. And while the marriage fizzled (with complications, perhaps partly Lillian's fault, from Jackie's lawsuit against his mother and stepfather), Betty became Paramount's ""Betty Coed"" in campus musicals. True stardom didn't come, however, till after a Broadway triumph in Du Barry Was a Lady and Down Argentine Way back in Hollywood: by 1943 Betty was the top female star and the quintessential wartime pin-up. Private life also fell into place, after perhaps-platonic affairs (""Despite Betty's good-natured lasciviousness, she possessed high intrinsic morality"") with Attic Shaw and married-man George Raft (""a pussycat to the core""): a sneak marriage to bandleader Harry James, two daughters, and (despite Harry's philandering) quite a few good years. (Warren is dubious about a Grable/Dan Dailey affair.) In the Fifties, however, Betty's career slid, the marriage crumbled. She toured, raspy-voiced, in Hello, Dolly! and, finally, in Born Yesterday, accompanied by an adoring much-younger lover (avoiding marriage, perhaps, because of feared public opinion). . . till death from cancer. Warren plumbs no depths here: as for Betty's lifelong somnambulism, he says ""It would be interesting to hear the psychological explanation""; he cheerfully sighs or smiles at her gambling, bawdy talk, and odd sense of humor (""She was highly skilled when it came to simulated burping""). And trivia--like Betty's fondness for Twinkles--helps to pad out this slim volume. But it's all friendly without excessive gushiness, never seamy; and old-time fans will be neither bored nor offended.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's