ALBUMS OF EARLY LIFE by Stanley Kauffmann

ALBUMS OF EARLY LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the eminent film and theater critic: ten short, shapely pieces of memoir which, at their very best (not too often), suggest the intense but austere emotional close-ups of Lillian Hellman's finer autobiographical vignettes. City-boy Kauffmann remembers his proud teenage summers of working on a farm--encountering full adult responsibilities and mortality in the raw. He recalls (in glimpses that are rather too austere and sketchy) his ill, prematurely old mother. He lists his late-teenage encounters (one real affair) with older women, leading to disillusionment: ""I saw that romance was a male invention, licensed by women and sometimes pitied by them."" But far better than these slightly precious, sepia-tinted flashes is the longest piece here, ""Album of a Director""--about Stanley's ten years, beginning in college in 1931, as right-hand man to the old-fashioned, charismatic director of a Manhattan-and-upstate theater troupe; Kauffmann captures both his joyful, limitless theater passion (scavenging props from an Albany undertaker, improvising solutions to mid-performance disasters) and his growing discomfiture as the quasi-protÉgÉ of a mentor whose narrow views and obsessive attachments (whether or not actively homosexual) were destroying the company: ""I couldn't spend the rest of my life as a supporter of something increasingly chipped. . . ."" Less rich, but amusing and intriguing, are Kauffmann's 1940s work as a comic-book editor, his stab at doctoring a doomed Broadway-bound play, his 1954 debut as ""Terry Kirk,"" writer of westerns (he needed money). And there's quiet power in his wartime experiences as a volunteer orderly--enough bedpans, madmen, and corpses to make up for being 4-F while friends were being killed. Other pieces here seem forced (deals with London publishers, acquaintances who committed suicide)--but, on the whole, this is a graceful, keen-edged gathering of memories that cannily skirts the pressures and longueurs of full-scale autobiography.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1980
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin