LEGENDS: Remembering America's Greatest Stars by Tom Shales

LEGENDS: Remembering America's Greatest Stars

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Eulogies to great stars recently dead, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic of The Washington Post. As eulogist, Shales leaves out a subject's warts while seeking something fresh to say about him/her. Most often, he strips out the star's famed essence and lets it speak for its owner, sometimes in a song deeply tied to that performer, sometimes with a typical tip of the performer's hat. The subjects are Crosby, Astaire, Gleason, Welles, Hayworth, Natalie Wood, Rosalind Russell, William Powell, Jack Benny, Bolger, Danny Kaye, Durante, Fonda, Chayesfsky, Lucy and Desi, Belushi, Hitchcock, Richard Burton, Cagney, Bergman, Cary Grant, Gilda Radner, and a few others. Most of these essays were written especially for the Post as tributes: ""These people seemed troupers and pros and dynamos, and also had, again, that mercurial something that set them apart, made them seemed destined for greatness of some sort. They were members of an extended family, photos in an album, friends one almost knew."" The pieces are well-done, charming, and avoid banality, but are less forceful tributes than three-dimensional, warts-and-all pictures might have been, such as those found in David Thompson's revised A Biographical Dictionary of Film, which treats many of these same subjects at similar length but with more compelling intelligence, especially Welles and Grant. Where Shales glows is when seen sitting before his TV set: ""Browsing through cable TV is like sifting through old boxes in the attic. You turn the channel and you never quite know what year you'll find yourself in. . .Television is the national scrapbook now--where movies and programming and news events and fashions are perpetually recycled--and one browses through it with mixed emotions."" Often touching, as with Jack Benny, and here and there better than skin-deep with the public personality, but hardly ever actually reaching out and touching the skin of the man or woman beneath the image.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1989
Publisher: Random House