The story of the author’s life as stepdaughter to the blacklisted screen and television writer Ring Lardner Jr., with a subcurrent of foggy but appalled unhappiness.
A disembodied narrative voice gives this memoir’s first third a hazy, uninflected tone. “What I remember most about Coldwater Canyon is an old wooden gate falling on my head,” Lardner writes. “I don't know how this happened.” As a tool for the scattershot memories of youth, this dreaminess is effective. The dreams take on more edge and gloom after Ring Jr.—referred to throughout as her father by the author, who was three when he married his brother David’s widow—is convicted of contempt of Congress for replying, when asked if he is a member of the communist party, “I could answer, but I’d hate myself in the morning.” The middle section, comprised largely of letters, clippings, and addenda from Ring Jr., covers his prison years. It highlights the mundanity of getting by during his year in Danbury Prison, when his sense that communism extended beyond economic equality into cultural and political spheres only sharpened, and the thrill when her mother found work on TV or radio. (Frances Chaney was also a communist and suffered from the blacklist.) Finally come the consequences for the author of those early years: her mother's distancing (“Acting was my higher power, baby. That's the only place that I knew about God”), her father's drinking (a five-page letter to him from Dalton Trumbo spells it out in spades), both parents’ relentless chiding of Kate about her weight (father called her “Potato Dumpling,” while mother preferred “Miss Turnip”), and the general family reticence. Little wonder Lardner turned to drugs, which perhaps induced the haziness that returns in the memoir’s third section, chronicling what should have been the good times: college, marriage(s), children. Happily, therapy worked for her, and she can tender a clean and sweet chronicle of her father’s death.
One melancholy baby, with every right to be so. (Photos)
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").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)