A perfectly pleasant double feature.

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VAN JOHNSON

MGM’S GOLDEN BOY

The Van Johnson Story. Starring . . . Van Johnson.

Davis (History/Southern Methodist Univ.; The Glamour Factory, 1993, etc.) writes books about “movie people,” an enterprise now institutionalized in the Legends of Hollywood Series, of which this is the first installment—and a successful one. Davis tells Johnson’s life story in the breezy, amusing, strangely addictive style of the old MGM musicals in which Johnson used to star. Like Johnson’s films, there’s not much in the way of plot development: East Coast boy dreams of being an actor, becomes a bobby-soxer heartthrob when a car accident knocks him out of WWII (and into countless WWII movies), then spends the next 40 years doing dinner theater. And the protagonist is so fundamentally boring that he made red socks his trademark just to ensure he’d always have something to talk about at cocktail parties. Davis tries to milk what drama he can out of Johnson’s highly debatable sexuality and his disastrous, quasi-arranged marriage, but the star comes off as too obviously closeted for any of it to be terribly titillating. Instead, many of the best moments come from Johnson’s post-Hollywood days, when, between national tours and guest appearances on Batman and The Love Boat, he lounged around his New York apartment in a pair of silk pajamas Rosalind Russell gave him, doing needlepoint and occasionally lunching with Garbo. Perhaps the most frightening thing about Johnson’s life story, though, is the realization that the same studio system that produced the cosseted, thoroughly average, somewhat oblivious Johnson also produced his direct contemporary, a man who went on to serve two terms as president of the country. Davis includes, in lieu of footnotes, a chapter-by-chapter bibliographic essay that lays out the sources for all of his material. One hopes the practice catches on; it works like a dream.

A perfectly pleasant double feature.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57806-377-9

Page Count: 245

Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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