BETWEEN FLOPS: A Biography of Preston Sturges by James Curtis

BETWEEN FLOPS: A Biography of Preston Sturges

Email this review


A detailed yet shallow biography of the director/screenwriter whose early-1940s satire/farces continue to grow in stature. Son of a continent-hopping Isadora Duncan disciple (founder of Maison Desti cosmetics), Preston grew up with a series of stepfathers, no real education, a hatred of ""culture""; he worked in his mother's business; he tried being an inventor (with a wealthy first wife to back him). But at 29, challenged by an actress-girlfriend, he quickly tossed off a play, The Guinea Pig, which gradually had a modest success--followed by the total triumph of Strictly Dishonorable. The hot new playwright soon had a couple of flops, however, along with a flop marriage to heiress Eleanor Hutton. So Sturges turned to Hollywood, first as a play adapter, then as a screenwriter (the forgotten The Power and the Glory and many lesser projects), finally--after insistent wangling--as director-writer with The Great McGinty, the first of a flurry of artistic/box-office hits that took on the American Dream in charming but unsettling fashion. Curtis offers summaries and some critiques of the whole Sturges canon, including the series of flops that finished him off; but the film-criticism is mostly on a banal level (""Deftly the film moves from rowdy comedy to stark drama as the images of despair and loneliness and futility pass across the screen""), without a hint of the depths and textures of recently published Sturges commentary by Stanley Cavell or AndrÉ Bazin. The private life is superficially complete too--the marriages, the drinking, the philandering, the sideline as a restaurateur--but there's no attempt to probe very deeply into what emerges here only as a problematic, contradictory, not-very-pleasant personality. Still, though the early chapters draw heavily on Sturges' own memoirs, the later ones offer often-intriguing interview material. And movie buffs will probably welcome this conscientiously researched study for the sheer compilation of data.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1982
ISBN: 0595007821
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich