JUDY HOLLIDAY by Will Holtzman


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An unengaging biography of the gifted stage/screen star (Born Yesterday, Bells Are Ringing), with almost everything played for cheap--sometimes even distorted--effects. Holtzman starts off with a righteous, grossly inflated chapter on Holliday's 1952 appearance before the HUAC (""By portraying her as gullible and easily misled, they minimize her modernity while at the same time asserting their male authority and moral superiority""); and this material will be belabored again when it comes up in the chronological narrative--though the HUAC isn't shown to have had any long-run effect on Holliday's career or personal life. Likewise, Judy's over-attachment to her protective Jewish family (mother, uncles) and the breakup of her parents' marriage are harped on, with dollops of pseudo-psychology but no convincing follow-through. And the rest is delivered in standard celeb-bio-ese. ""People were drawn by Judy's smile but spellbound by her gaze""--so, though not conventionally beautiful, the bright, stagestruck N.Y.C. kid got strong reactions early on: as one of The Revuers in Greenwich Village (with Betty Comden and Adolph Green), as an unlikely Hollywood starlet, in small roles, and then as the last-minute replacement for Jean Arthur in Born Yesterday. The film version followed; marriage and motherhood; typecasting woes; ill-fated affairs with Peter Lawford (""she seemed to want to convince herself that she had come through her many trials intact"") and Bells Are Ringing co-star Sydney Chaplin; a recurring weight problem; and, after divorce, the relationship with musician Gerry Mulligan. Throughout, Holtzman (Seesaw) does well enough at bringing together the show-biz facts, especially the sad details on the disastrous Hot Spot. And he bends over backwards to portray Holliday in the best possible light--as a victim, as a selfless professional. But the undocumented assemblage of anecdotes and suppositions here generates little conviction, with far too much apparent dependence on a few, far-from-objective sources. (The book often seems to the biography of Judy's friend Yetta Cohn; the nasty depiction of Comden, Green, Leonard Bernstein, and others suggests one-sided research.) And only the built-in pathos of Holliday's drawn-out death from cancer (she was kept in the dark) registers much impact. Otherwise: a ragged, padded production which Judy's fans may nonetheless want to pick through.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1982
Publisher: Putnam