While it lingers over past wrongs, this work about writing Frank Capra’s biography remains entertainingly sincere.

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FRANKLY

UNMASKING FRANK CAPRA

A memoir recounts the arduous process of producing a book on a celebrated film director.

McBride (Two Cheers for Hollywood, 2017, etc.) explains that creating an extensive, warts-and-all biography of an American icon was no simple task. In fact, it was a monumental time- and energy-consuming process that eventually produced a book in 1992. The story begins much earlier with the author’s efforts in Hollywood. He was a screenwriter with some successes (co-writing, for example, the film that became the Ramones vehicle Rock ’n’ Roll High School), a journalist, and author. His earnest interest in movies pushed him to “seek out and interview every venerable director I admired.” In 1975, he was able to interview Frank Capra while “on self-assignment” for Daily Variety. It would prove the first of many interviews that would lead to seeking out all there was to know about the man behind such classic films as It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But not all of the discoveries would be pleasant ones. Capra, it turns out, made plenty of enemies in his time, particularly during the Red Scare of the 1950s when he had “thrown colleagues to the witch hunters to save his own skin.” McBride battled everyone from lawyers to a distrustful university archivist to uncover and publish the details of Capra’s epic journey. Readers are reminded that this was an uphill battle all the way and that the biography genre “challenges you on every level as a researcher and writer, critic and scholar.” Although the idea of the story behind a biography of a film director may not sound like riveting stuff, the tale is marked with deceit, a car crash, and a desire to know. What does it take to produce a less-than-glamorous portrait of a man who many consider a genius? The author deftly shows exactly what it took and the specifics are most telling. The book dives deeply into concerns like the fair use of material, including presenting information on a court case involving a biography of J.D. Salinger in 1987. Somewhat less thrilling are the many foes McBride seeks to expose. Did a university archivist really send a graduate student to spy on the author while he worked through Capra’s papers? Does it matter at this point? Still, McBride has some intriguing things to impart and he is not afraid to reveal them. He considers Michael Bay “the worst director in modern Hollywood.” And don’t get the author started on the idea of the film director as auteur. While he’s indisputably cranky in places, McBride’s overall honesty strongly comes across in these pages. Who knew something as seemingly innocuous as penning a biography would entail so much lasting conflict?

While it lingers over past wrongs, this work about writing Frank Capra’s biography remains entertainingly sincere.

Pub Date: March 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-949950-47-2

Page Count: 601

Publisher: Vervante

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2019

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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