NORMA SHEARER: A Biography by Gavin Lambert
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The best film book yet from film historian (GWTW: The Making of Gone With the Wind, 1973, etc.) and novelist (Running Time, 1983, etc.) Lambert: an absorbingly close study of the career of Norma Shearer and her shading off into various manias. Better written than Lawrence J. Quirk's more intimate Norma (1988), Lambert's bio is strung on two meetings between himself and Shearer in 1973, when she was a recluse of 71 and ran off Idiot's Delight for him and then was charmed that he knew she was mimicking Garbo in her role as a phony Russian countess. Lambert's strength here is his detail on how Shearer performed in her more outstanding pictures, He Who Gets Slapped, The Divorcee (for which she won an Oscar), The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Romeo and Juliet, Marie Antoinette, The Women, and especially Private Lives. A Canadian who fled early to the movies, Shearer was afflicted with a cast in her eye that demanded strategic camerawork to avoid. She also inherited some mental difficulties that landed both herself and her older sister Athole in shock treatment and disabled her father. At 25 (pretending to be 23), she married the boss, MGM's boywonder Irving Thalberg, who personally produced her pictures until his death and kept her a star rather than a mere leading lady. No two people agree on Shearer's worth as an actress (nor on a complete list of her lovers), and Lambert seldom allows admiration to dim his critical eye. His outstanding success is in capturing the vanity that was Shearer's true north: ""Politics were remote to Norma because they invoked ideas, and she lived for feelings."" This was her tragic flaw and eventually divorced her from her children and nearly all companionship. She kept her quite happy, 40-year second marriage to a ski instructor 12 years her junior firmly in place by pinning him under her thumb while referring to him as ""Irving"" until her dying day. Lambert's last two chapters, with Shearer in decay and ending up as a blind near-vegetable, deliver nicely on his restraint throughout. Fresh and rewarding, and among the year's best movie bios.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf