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McGilligan works overtime trying to justify such a massive book about only a part of Welles’ life, but it’s also buoyed by a...

A boy wonder’s life—overlong but also filling.

Few directors in film history have generated more biographies than Orson Welles (1915-1985), and anyone tackling the job anew better have a fresh angle or something new to report. Veteran film scribe McGilligan (Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, 2011, etc.) meets this challenge by focusing exclusively on Welles’ early years, but his success is mixed. When he’s not leaning heavily on the work of his many predecessors—mainly Barbara Leaming, as well as Peter Bogdanovich, Simon Callow, and Frank Brady—as well as the bitter memoirs of Welles’ former friend John Houseman, he’s expanding heavily on stories they either succinctly boiled down or scraps they left behind, from Welles’ youthful poetry to day-by-day accounts of his international trips to microscopic rehashings of minor scuffles. While the book is needlessly long, McGilligan does illuminate the full scope of a truly charmed youth, and he reminds us that while it may be unfair to say that Welles peaked early, there were definitely a lot of peaks, even before he triumphed as the 25-year-old whiz behind Citizen Kane. The pampered son of an alcoholic businessman and a progressive socialite, he was raised to be a genius, and he didn’t disappoint. He was only 20 when he staged a revolutionary all-black Macbeth for the Federal Theater (“The great success of my life,” he called it), followed up by a modern-dress Julius Caesar and more theater successes, making the cover of Time even before he cooked up the idea of a live-radio Martian landing. Then it was on to Kane, which the author pieces together in generous detail, with specific attention to the much-debated relationship between Welles and co-scenarist Herman Mankiewicz.

McGilligan works overtime trying to justify such a massive book about only a part of Welles’ life, but it’s also buoyed by a dependably powerful subject at the center.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-211248-4

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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