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Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector (Hollywood Legends Series) Hardcover – October 18, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

A biography of the accomplished actor and staunch pacifist who changed the way America considers grounds for conscientious objection

About the Author

Lesley L. Coffin is an independent scholar and M.A. candidate in biographical studies at New York University.
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Product Details

  • Series: Hollywood Legends Series
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi (October 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1617036374
  • ISBN-13: 978-1617036378
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #917,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I watch Turner Classic Movies and enjoy seeing films of Lew Ayres including the Dr Kildare Series and also films such as Holiday and All Quiet on the Western Front. Author Lesley Coffin has written an excellent biography of actor Lew Ayres known not only for his film career but his conscientious objector status during World War II and his tireless heroic work as a medic during World War II. The author covers his early years as the child of divorced parents, his mother's remarriage, and his early interest in a career as a musician and his discovery as a film actor. His first major film appearance was opposite the legendary Great Garbo in the silent film The Kiss. His breakout performance was that of Paul in the film Classic All Quiet on the Western Front--the author describes how he got the part in this film and an inside look at the filming (there is an editing error where Louis Wolheim is referred to as John Wolheim). Ayres made films for such studios as Republic Pictures, Columbia, Warner Brothers and MGM. It should be noted that the film Holiday was produced by Columbia Pictures not MGM as the author states. Perhaps more fact checking and editing would have taken care of this. Ayres starred as Katharine Hepburn's wayward brother in Holiday (Hepburn did not begin her career at MGM until the Philadelphia Story in 1940). Holiday was another breakout role after which he worked for MGM. Ayres became very popular in the Dr. Kildare series opposite Laraine Day and Lionel Barrymore (who played Dr. Gillespie). Barrymore and Ayres became good friends and the chemistry they had in the film transferred over to real life. Ayres also worked in other feature films at MGM with co-stars that included Lana Turner and Greer Garson.Read more ›
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By CJS on December 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was disappointed in this book. Yes, we did learn more about Ayres than previously known. There were numerous quotes from Ayres , an appendix of letters sent to government officials during WWII when Ayres came out as a conscientious objector, a complete filmography, and extensive footnotes. However, I felt there could have been more interviews with those who knew and worked with him. I felt there could have been fewer errors - for example, on page 44 a photograph identified actor Henry Travers as Charles Butterworth and on page 70, actor Leslie Howard's name was spelled as Lesley Howard. It is these kinds of errors that make me distrust the rest of the book. However, the most disappointing was at the end of the book that mentioned Ayres death. There was no closure to the book to indicate where Ayers was buried, was there a memorial service and who attended and who did the eulogy, what happened to his wife, what happened to his son, and does he have any grandchildren. The only quote from his son was he remembered Ayres as a nice man who gave him cookies - certainly he has more memories than this. Many questions were left unanswered and to me, a good biography needs to provide closure.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, part of the Hollywood Legends Series, looks at the life and career of actor Lew Ayres. It is particularly effective in the the respect that it manages to clarify a mountain of misinformation that had been circulated about Ayres' background by the publicity machine of MGM. Ayres had often been described as an Ivy League college dropout and an only child from a wealthy family who got into the acting profession on a lark. The reality of Ayres upbringing proved to be an eye opener. Born in Minneapolis, his parents divorced when Ayres was a toddler. Raised in reduced circumstances by his single mother, Ayres was a chubby kid and a loner who was not particularly interested in school and only excelled in music. Lew's mother Ida remarried and Lew didn't get long with his stepfather. His father remarried soon after the divorce and was mostly an absent parent. It was Lew's paternal grandmother to whom Lew was closest to and understood Lew's early desire to become an actor.
Eventually Lew's stepfather relocated the family (which included a half-sister and half-brother) to San Diego. Lew never went beyond the tenth grade and joined a dance band for a short period. From that point, he began his film career in earnest and met with rapid success costarring with Greta Garbo early in his career.
From that point on there were numerous successes in films such as All Quiet On The Western Front and Holiday and some duds that did Lew and his career little good. In fact, Ayres had his share of 'has been' moments that found his career sinking and plenty of rebounds. This book does a terrific job when it comes to detailing his career and providing critical analysis of his various activities as an actor and director.
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Format: Hardcover
This well-researched book should generate a reappraisal of Lew Ayres (1908-1996), one of American films' most enduring and interesting figures on screen and off.

With unprecedented access to private papers, oral histories, and interviews with those who knew the actor, the author, Lesley Coffin creates a balanced portrait of a complex man, whose yearning to be at the center of the spotlight in movies in the studio era seems to contradict his inner search for peace throughout his life. From his surprising beginnings as a member of a traveling band to his experiences as an actor with varying successes and failures, and his memorable, principled decision to be a non-combatant in WWII, the arc of this deeply curious man's life is conveyed in this book.

Beginning work at the end of the silent era into the dawn of the internet age, Ayres' played a vast range of characters. From Paul, the doomed German youth destroyed by war in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT to the highly influential DR. KILDARE movies to his Oscar-nominated role in JOHNNY BELINDA and his years of work on television, the author captures the kaleidoscopic journey of Lew Ayres as an unusually sensitive actor, writer, director, producer, lifelong student and human being.
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