How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2009
Geez - the previous "review" must have been written by someone who is most comfortably bound inside the walls of the proverbial "box"! Derivative? Nothing interesting? The "husband" should spend less time doctoring and more time editing? Hum. "Jaded" comes immediately to mind. As a life-long admirer of the legendary Elizabeth, I "thought" I knew all the why's and wherefore's. "Thought"!! Each page of this compelling book painted a more complete picture of the events in Taylor's life than I thought I knew. The unique vantage point of this book notwithstanding, Mr. Mann has captured the unequaled glamor, and never since equaled level, of Taylor's star power more accurately than any other bio on this lady. For those who have yet to read this book, I will not go into particular situations, and the reality of them, for fear of spoiling the revelations. But, I will say the way certain events played out through the "spin" of the lead characters' publicists, as opposed to what was actually happening, rewrites much of the "history" Taylor fans have come to know - particularly the "Liz - Eddie - Debbie" situation, and the Hedda Hopper involvement throughout Taylor's life, too. Now, back to the "unique vantage point" - this book is about HOW Taylor constructed a level of stardom that had never, and will never, be seen again. It's all about the business behind the "life", and how cunning strategy, and plain old good luck, formed the public personality we've come to know as "Elizabeth Taylor". And, along the way, it gives us a more personal insight into the "private" Elizabeth Taylor than we've ever read before. "Derivative"? Uh..........I BEG to differ!!!
Allan Trivette
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Mann says he chose to emphasize Taylor's star years, although he includes a fairly lengthy treatment of her childhood. By the end of the book, it's apparent that he did so because he had so little access to people close to her and beyond a Hedda Hopper archive, he had no access to novel documentary material. The book has a breathless, often over-analyzing tone. Mann is quick to make generalizations but rarely puts Taylor or her career in a bigger context. He describes her as the last big star, but it's clear that she was really more of a transitional figure than a defining one. As an adult she was part of the studios last big cohort of truly outstanding major stars, although some people such as Paul Newman emerged later and had much longer working lives. Ironically, one of the few working contemporaries from this era is Taylor's old nemesis, Debbie Reynolds, which Mann notes in passing. In many ways, Taylor actually belongs to an earlier cohort of performers, having grown up at MGM during the latter part of its peak years. Unlike most children who grew-up on the set in those days, she came to be a rebel and seemed to lack happy memories of that time. Significantly, though, the basic skills that the studio taught, like hitting her marks, helped carry her through her later boozier years. The book ends abruptly in 1980 with the simple statement that Taylor had achieved the lasting career as "star". Yet, even then she had become a figure of derision, mostly because of her weight and Mann has to concede that some of her later choices (defending Michael Jackson, appearing in "The Flintstones") were not particularly smart. Taylor was hardly the first star to use her name for merchandising (Polly Bergen's cosmetics and Esther Williams' swimming pools predate her, among others) and she was hardly the first to trade more on celebrity than output. Perhaps she survived longer as a celeb than others, but none of this really lives up to Mann's premise for the book. There's little that will be new to film buffs. This is not as well constructed or as carefully executed as Donald Spoto's bio, and there is only minimal new "dish". If anything the book contains odd omissions. In considering all things gay and Hedda Hopper, Mann never mentions her gay son, who was best known as the detective on "Perry Mason", supporting the closeted Raymond Burr.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2009
I thought this book was a fantastic read. I grew up with Liz Taylor movies, and knew most of the media-generated stories about her; but I had no clue as to what she was really like and had no idea she is/was as gutsy and loyal a woman as you'll ever meet. These stories of her years in Hollywood really paint her in an admirable light, and it is easy to see how the stars of today really learned from her. The "birth of the papparazzi" chapter of Liz and Richard Burton in Rome is terrific, as are the many stories of her really heroic deeds while protecting her friends. I loved the author's biography of Kate, and this stands right alongside it as a sophisticated, literary star biography. Can't wait to give this to friends for the holidays!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2011
I didn't know much about Liz Taylor, she was before my time, being a star of the 1950's and early 1960's. I decided to get this book because I really liked her diet book, which was written after she got out of rehab, and wanted to find out more about her. In spite of the positive and sympathetic portrayal of her by the author, the more I read, the less I liked the woman. She came through as being greedy, demanding, and a spoiled brat. I learned several things about her from reading this book:

1. She gave up her US citizenship to avoid income taxes and kept her British citizenship. That meant she was not actually a US citizen when she was married to Senator Warner. She lost some of my respect there and so did he. Of course it was obvious he just used her to get elected.
2. The public hysteria was not spontaneous, it was hype generated by Taylor's personal publicists. I did not know that before I read this book.
3. She did not actually raise her several children herself, hired nannies did it and she just visited with the kids for a little while in the evenings. On the one hand, I think she would have been a better, more grounded person if she had been a more involved, hands-on mother, but on the other hand, it might have been hard on the kids. So who knows.
4. Mann tries to make the case that Taylor was single-handedly responsible for changing the times sociologically. I disagree. Times change, yes, but there are many factors involved. Taylor was just acting out the "me first want it all now no matter what" excesses that were normal for her. Typical of an addict, indulging her addictions was what her life revolved around, and so she could not understand the effect her behavior was having on other people.
5. Taylor never really succeeded in making the transition from film star to actress because she had no interest in doing that. She had no interest in acting. She just wanted to be a rich famous celebrity because of the lifestyle it afforded her, and wanted to marry a rich man to keep her. She was tired of working for a living and had the idea a woman is nothing without a man. So I guess she was a product of the thinking of that era. I think that is at the bottom of her many marriages, antiquated thinking.
6. Taylor's last major film was 1966 which is why I didn't know much about her before I read this book. It was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
7. Taylor managed to turn in a real acting performance with movies she made with Burton after the Cleopatra disaster, because she had his coaching and she wanted to please him. She never did anything noteworthy regarding acting after they split and her acting never ranked with the likes of Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, or Sandy Dennis for example because she coasted on her looks. Her attempt at stage acting when she was married to Warner was because she was bored and trying to find something to do to get her out of town since she didn't fit in with the other Washington wives.

All in all, a very interesting book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 31, 2010
How to Be a Movie Star by William J. Mann
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
406 pages
Biography
3/5 stars

Summary: Not a traditional biography, How to Be a Movie Star examines Elizabeth's life in the star system taking particular interest in how she became a movie star while also touching on her infamous love affairs.

Thoughts: I just reviewed Furious Love about Elizabeth and Richard but I wanted to read this too because I've always been fascinated by her. In fact my favorite Barbie as a child was named Elizabeth Taylor (because I thought it was the most beautiful name in the world) and I desperately wanted violet eyes like her (or rather like she allegedly had; also Meg in Hercules fueled that desire).

I appreciate Mann's mission but I didn't think he did a very good job. The biographic parts were good but he didn't tie it back to how she was a movie star very well. She had "it" and that's not easily quantifiable. I also think it may have suffered in not being as interesting as "Furious Love" since I read them so close together.

There was also an awful lot about Hedda Hopper who declined as Liz rose. I understand that she was influential for a time and Mann had access to her archives but she was probably the second most mentioned person in the book and I don't see that she's important enough.

Overall: Interesting for those who didn't live through Liz's life.

Cover: Um, gorgeous? Liz is SOOOOOO beautiful.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Whether Mann has overreached is of no concern to me, nor would I be aware of discrepancies in the story. Certainly Taylor is an iconic figure, from the forties to the late sixties, a veritable cottage industry of public relations, filmmaking, marriages, affairs, studio battles and larger-than-life escapades that have entertained fans for decades. From the early days, when Taylor's mother, Sara, engineers her daughter's career to the scandals that capture a nation's attention, Mann writes a great story of romance and scandals, of passions and larger-than-life appetites. Reading this book is definitely a guilty pleasure, like diving into fifties movie magazines, filled with studio hype and happy-family images of studio stars.

The book begins with the infamous Taylor-Burton affair and the filming of the extravagant, lengthy film, Cleopatra, an unhappy Eddie Fisher- another purloined husband- lurking in the shadows. By the time Cleopatra has finished, Taylor has become a sophisticated, demanding star, a long way from the young girl who cut her teeth on the paternal studio system of MGM. Year by year, Elizabeth takes charge of her own life, although some might question if she ever exerted any control given her excessive lifestyle. But Mann's work is about the making of a star and the publicity that keeps her in the public eye, a demanding task with a fickle public, where dramas and tragedies abound. Thanks to Taylor's personality and appetite for life, she becomes one of the most notable stars of her generation, as much for her outrageous personal life as her work.

Mann covers it all- the feud with Hedda Hopper who is incensed at the star's behavior, the husbands, the love affair with Burton, the diamonds and the fascination of the public: "She stole other women's husbands and turned living in sin into just another way to live." We get all the details, from National Velvet to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Mann confines the story to the late sixties, leaving the fallow years to an Epilogue, glossing over the addictions, foolish relationships and strange friendships. This is a paean to glamour and the idea of stardom, Elizabeth Taylor the singular source of endless gossip and curiosity, a woman of extraordinary beauty. Mann reminds us of this country's naivete and hero worship in the heady days of Hollywood glory, Taylor part wonder, part monster, poking her finger in the eye of convention. Compared to today's watered down Hollywood, this is a great adventure. Luan Gaines/2009.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2011
I have read many other Elizabeth Taylor books, but in my opinion, this one was the best. It's not your average biography. The author only concentrates on some points in her career as opposed to going over her entire life story like many other books on her. I learned so many interesting facts from this book and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about Elizabeth Taylor or who just wants to read an amazing biography!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2013
I've been on an "actresses from the golden age of Hollywood" book bender lately and who better to include than Liz?? This book wasn't what I was expecting. I was at least hoping for entertaining but by the time I had reached the halfway point, I suddenly had the urge to start skimming.

Going in a bit different direction than other biographies, this one focuses more on the making of the Liz "brand" back before creating a brand persona was the norm. It aims to more clearly define fact from fiction and focusing less on scandal details. We all know the many published stories about Taylor and her private life. We also know much of it is fabricated, as almost all publicity in Hollywood was in those days. But this book aims to delve a bit deeper into that subject, which is why the people interviewed for this book are a different crew from those used for other Taylor biographies. I did enjoy seeing Taylor through the eyes of the industry folks who all contributed to her hype, press and manufactured "private life", created exclusively for public consumption. It added a dimension to her that I found decidedly human.

However, William J. Mann's writing becomes tiresome halfway through the book. The many (too many for my taste) references to Hedda Hopper, suggestions that neither Marilyn Monroe, nor Judy Garland could handle their celebrity like "La Liz" and the endless speculations grew irritating and tiresome. On occasions too numerous to count, the author goes off on a stream of assumptions based on the occasional bits of documented fact. Statements like, "she must have been", "one can naturally arrive to the conclusion that" and "she was likely" are sprinkled throughout the book. By the time I got past the halfway point, I felt like I was reading one LONG gossip session, unsure what was fact and what was the author's musings. Eventually, I began skimming past the many descriptive segments about Hedda Hopper, which in doing so, inadvertantly highlighted the sarcastic and gossipy tone in some sections of this book. And as I read on, it became clear to me that the author has a strong "NOBODY is better than Liz" mentality and it comes across now and then in certain statements that could've/should've been omitted.

Still, all the assumptions and speculations notwithstanding, this book still provides another look at the movie icon, adding a new dimension to my mental image of her. Ultimately, I chose not to focus on the independant issues I had with this book and took it in its entirety. I do appreciate what the author was aiming to do. Unfortunately, material like this can fall into gossip columnist territory way too easily.

As for the 1 star in my title, the Kindle version does not include any pictures, which was immensely disappointing and a major fail when it comes to a book like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It is impossible to write about Elizabeth Taylor and not make the words sound interesting. As such, author William J. Mann has a guarantee for success and in his novel HOW TO BE A MOVIE STAR he relishes the retelling of the Taylor glory days - and what times they were!

Let's applaud Mr. Mann for leaving out the nasty asides, speculation and preachy moralistic viewpoints. It has been well documented that Ms. Taylor lives and plays by her own rules and doesn't give a damn about what others think. However, as the author culls volumes of tidbits from already published sources, the reader is often left with a reheated helping of facts that any Elizabeth Taylor fan already knows. Oh, there are still one or two points that Mann brings to the front (Elizabeth Taylor demanding cigarette holders colored to match the outfit she was wearing) that do nothing to deter the already enhanced legendary status attributed to the woman but nothing is told to the reader to add to the allure of the star or, better yet, to explain how Elizabeth Taylor managed to beat impenetrable odds to keep the public in love with her.

Although detailed here and in other books (see, for example, FURIOUS LOVE by Kashner and Schoenberger or ELIZABETH by Taraborrelli), no one has yet to explain how one woman's life style could have her condemned from pulpits, on the floor of Congress and in the Vatican (not once but twice) and end up not only getting her man, but an Oscar to boot (Her marriage to Eddie Fisher, and public outrage that followed, ended in her winning an Oscar for Butterfield 8 while Le Scandale where she left Fisher for Burton concluded in her winning back the people who tried to stone her and having them award her an Oscar for Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf). To give the author some credit, Mann does hint vaguely that Taylor was a magician in the fine art of public relations and knew how to work the system but he still doesn't submit any valid proof that her reprieve was the doings of a carefully orchestrated publicity ploy.

So, although hardly objectionable, there is nothing new being told here. A person who reads HOW TO BE A MOVIE STAR without having read the overly detailed life of Elizabeth Taylor in other books will find the story fascinating even if Mann delivers more questions than answers.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 1, 2011
After Elizabeth Taylor passed away last week at the age of 79, I realized that there were only two major books about her that I hadn't read yet. "How to Be a Movie Star" was one of them. I appreciated all the anecdotes about Elizabeth's rise to fame and her torrid personal life. There are some interesting stories in the book that I'd never heard before. The author takes a nontraditional approach with this biography, only focusing on certain colorful periods of Elizabeth's life and not always telling stories in chronological order. The book touts itself on only covering Elizabeth's time in Hollywood, but I actually found that disappointing. It almost feels like the author got tired of writing...he covers the demise of the Taylor/Burton marriages (both of them) in a single paragraph, sums up the next 25 years or so of Elizabeth's life in another page and a half, and calls it a day. Her final marriage, her perfume empire, and her amazing work with AIDS patients are summed up in a couple of sentences. Her curious friendship with Michael Jackson isn't even mentioned once. I thought that was sloppy and disappointing, because the rest of the book was pretty good. Elizabeth's life was remarkable until the very end...surely the last fourth of it deserved more recognition, even if it wasn't the main focus of this book.

Elizabeth Taylor was the most glamorous movie star the world has ever seen, and I don't think the world will ever see anyone like her ever again. Rest in peace, Elizabeth. You will never be forgotten!
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