THE QUALITY OF MERCY: An Autobiography by Mercedes McCambridge

THE QUALITY OF MERCY: An Autobiography

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Actress Mercedes McCambridge's friends call her Mercy--but ""the quality of the Mercy that I am is very strained, and it droppeth like a ton of bricks onto everything into which it stumbleth."" So the tone of this disjointed, digressive memoir is sour yet jaunty, exuberantly bitter and downbeat. McCambridge starts off by announcing that her official biography is all lies (no Spanish nobles in her past), that she hates religion-touters, that Joan Crawford was ""a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady."" Then she goes on to mix memories--of her ""ghoulish"" Catholic girlhood (family obsession with death, a chum's near-fatal abortion) and her apprenticeship in radio acting--with the story of her fight to get credit for The Exorcist (as the voice of the Demon). And, though ""radio is still the best!,"" there are scattered anecdotes about movie-making (impromptu appearances for the ever-colorful Orson Welles) and theater work. But McCambridge is at her most vigorous here when talking about friends, lovers, and alcoholism. Her two ex-husbands have ""each been married three times. . . and I say whatever they get they deserve."" There are kinder words for Billy Rose (""I loved to hear the man talk, and so did he""), for Adlai Stevenson (a platonic affair, but ""He loved me so. . . he told me so""), for Giant soulmate Jimmy Dean, and for Marlene Dietrich--who, after Mercedes' second stillbirth, ""moved in for two weeks, . . . cooked German pancakes and chicken paprika and bought me some black leather slacks!"" And there is the fairly well-known McCambridge alcoholism saga--not the drinking itself, but the coming-out-in-public and the fierce credo: ""I'm a first-class citizen with a treatable, recoverable disease."" Somehow, through it all, this ""morbid,"" angry, proud lady remains likable; and though her autobiography is far too quirkily paced and lacking in chronological drama to be richly satisfying, there's a distinctive, rancorous voice here. . . and some stories that radio buffs, movie fans, and others will want to tune in on.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1981
Publisher: Times Books