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one of us is wave one of us is shore
one of us is wave one of us is shore
by Geneva Chao
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.95
2 used & new from $9.92

5.0 out of 5 stars A book of sparklers, May 27, 2016
Otis Books/Seismicity Editions has been on a roll of late, producing a steady stream of interesting and compelling books. Well, strike the word “steady,” for part of the excitement about their recent activities has been the sheer unpredictability of what comes out. Last time it was the so-simple-why-didn’t-anyone-think-of it brilliance of the Cross-Strokes anthology (edited by Cherkovski and Mohr), which explores the intersectionality between San Francisco and Los Angeles in unexpected and vivid ways.

Now comes Geneva Chao’s full length poem in five parts, without a capital letter in sight, one of us is wave, one of us is shore. I guess there are some capital letters here and there, most reliably in the proper names of those from whose work she draws her epigraphs: Philip Sidney, Lisa Robertson, Stacy Doris, Nathalie Stephens, Brian Stefans; and here and there an “O” in French, a stylish acknowledgement of the poet’s place between languages. “O bel inconstant, y a que toi dont je me languis,” writes Chao, and as I make it out it something like, “oh beautiful unfaithful one, it is only you for whom I pine.” There is an air of romantic indecision like the films of Max Ophuls or Claire Denis, and of strong emotion that can’t be contained by one tongue, and so the poetry in continually flip-flopping between French and English, as though there were too much to say, and also to maintain a dignified, intriguing discretion.

Yes, and its opposite, too, “a gleeful breaching/ of fences,” a daring display, a “head open for viewing.” The five sections of the poem correspond, up to a point, to traditional phases of rhetoric and logic, the thesis, the antithesis, the synthesis, but Geneva Chao has left the forensic society long ago and is moving into territory unknown. It is a book of pedagogy too, generous in its instruction: “I teach you to run from end to end/ of the garret to crowd/ your head with vista:/ / what is a direction/ other than another direction,/ to collect and to stuff/ in a pocket a petals each oracle of love.” I quote at length to show more of Chao’s inventive syntax (“petals” above, where after the article “a” one might have expected a single “petal”) and to illustrate something of the effusive, hectic movement of the verse—maybe a filmic movement is the best way to describe it.

Anyways it makes you never want to read anything that’s just in one language any more. It is a slim book but filled with froth and pale fire and fantasy, a shock to the system like a perfect glass of champagne.

Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show
Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show
by Daniel de Visť
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crack Up and Reunion of a Great Team, May 1, 2016
It's a little bit repetitive, that's all, especially the part in which he announces, frequently, with the air of one discovering some bit of ancient wisdom, that the theme of the Andy Griffith Show is none of the things you thought it might be, like the relationship between a father and son, but instead it is the friendship of Sheriff and Deputy. He must say this in every chapter, and I couldn't figure out why, like, it's not so insightful, is it, even if it were true, and he never proves it. But outside of that, I have to give Daniel de Visé the author, five big Southern stars!

He's not afraid, that's why. He shows us that the Andy Griffith Show portrayed a utopia of Southern whiteness in a time of civil rights struggle, and he points out that even in its day, the NAACP and similar groups asked Andy why he would employ no blacks on his show. And Andy's reasoning comes across as specious, but he's not there to make Andy look good anyhow. He gives Andy Griffith his due, especially in his work with Elia Kazan on A Face in the Crowd, but it's clear that Don Knotts is the comic genius of the show, that Mayberry was never the same after Knotts left and in fact that Knotts went on to establish an even greater partnership when he teamed up with Tim Conway.

The book is frequently heartbreaking when we learn of the difficult Depression childhoods of both Andy and Don—one was born in a dresser drawer and slept there until he was four. And there was also the Days of Wine and Roses lifestyle of Andy and his first wife, Barbara—for when they married on the set of the long-running historical pageant The Lost Colony, it was Barbara, with her cool lovely voice rather like Joan Baez, who was the starry soprano, while Andy was just a second rate impressionist, Once Andy gets into No Time for Sergeants, however, Barbara loses her shine and takes a distant back seat to her husband, turning their home life into a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with her playing it as Elaine Stritch did—out to kill. These parts—the story of a talented woman losing her agency—are so depressing. When Andy became a star, the couple were invited onto the legendary "Person to Person" show hosted by war correspondent Edward Murrow. De Visé recaps the episode in which a plainly ill at ease Barbara is asked to recall her youth singing folk songs in North Carolina, and Andy pulls out a guitar and she has to sing "I gave my love a cherry without a stone/ I gave my love a chicken without a bone/ I told my love a story without an end/ I gave my love a baby with no cryin'." Because we know that she was in anguish over being actually unable to give her love a baby, "something in Barbara's voice rendered this lovely moment unspeakably sad."

Late in life Andy and Don got together and watched Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, which saw the young actor play the part of a Barney Fife whose mental disabilities created a weird sort of Mayberry around him. Thornton in turn idolized both Andy and Don, and told Andy he was the reason he had taken up acting. In turn, Andy told him that he (Billy Bob) was more of a son than his own son. The son, Sam, was adopted and apparently never did right by Andy, letting him down with the alcoholism that seemed to run in the family, even in an adopted one. We forget today how swamped with alcohol American culture was in the post war period. Well, we were reminded of it on Mad Men, but Daniel de Visé's book really makes you realize how deeply all of these people—almost all—were drunks.

It's amazing that either of them became stars, for success was an unlikely prospect for them and they had very few connections! The sybaritic star and impresario, Maurice Evans, discovered them both and shoehorned them into his production of the great Ira Levin service comedy No Time for Sergeants on Broadway. Evans was not above promising Don a part which wound up going to the sexually more available Roddy McDowall. It is plain that the Homintern was alive and well on Broadway, just as the West End, in the mid-fifties. I do think that Daniel de Visé gives shade to the quite worthy "Destry" musical which the genius of Harold Rome turned into a splendid tunefest. But he is such a witty writer one forgives him even his lapses in judgment. A radio western that features Don as a sidekick to a kid became a surprise hit "with the Cracker Jack set. At the end of some broadcasts, no doubt to the delight of Manhattan parents, the station gave away a pony." A writer less sure of himself might have written "horror" instead of "delight," but de Visé trusts his readers to catch the irony.

Middle Time
Middle Time
by Angela Hume
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.54
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "First, there was humming....", April 19, 2016
This review is from: Middle Time (Paperback)
Angela Hume’s book is beautifully organized and capacious, like an old-time opera trunk with little pockets and drawers for everything she needs to bring with her. And yet side by side with this old time feeling of comfort is a peristaltic scream of different manifestations of loss and expunction. I didn’t know what to expect from “Middle Time,” though the enigmatic cover painting by Mary Burger, the Bay Area’s premiere colorist, should have told me that a discomfiting, bottomless rencontre of grief and survival was at hand.

Hume’s way of working involves a Kabbalistic knowledge of fragment theory, and a typical page might resemble a sophisticated dance notation for a Frederick Ashton ballet, or the way a Tarot reader might place down carefully the selected cards on a shaky table. Like cards her words appear, comport themselves, in rhizomatic intervals, each fragment speaking of a larger loss, yet themselves never losing individual potency and suggestion.

In a diaspora of meaning-- linked I have no doubt to the ongoing crisis of climate change and a deteriorating planet—“a lifetime of toxic exposures”--one can feel the intense determination of the poet to share what she knows and to assist others in the recovery of what can be saved from the ruin. Like Bersenbrugge, Hillman, Neidecker, whose work she admires and echoes, Hume is aided by her own highly developed sense of form—a mastery which enables her to reveal the changes in thought from line to line, as though a brain were working through the powerful stuffs of our present position, and like the old-time scale models they showed us as kids, you can see the thoughts occurring through a clear vessel.

500 Capp Street: David Ireland's House
500 Capp Street: David Ireland's House
by Constance Lewallen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.95
54 used & new from $16.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Houseful of Brooms and Dooms, April 10, 2016
Constance M. Lewallen’s delightful guide to 500 Capp Street is now the book I give to newcomers to San Francisco who would like a taste of the past, a taste of the present, a good tip for the perfect date night, and also, writing at the top of her form, one of the most erudite, yet readable, art historians and critics of our day—a true treasure of San Francisco.

Since the book came out, a few months back, the a philanthropic trust has reopened to the public after serious refurbishment, an opening timed perhaps to the reopening of the Berkeley Art Museum and that of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. These will all be destination sites for visiting art lovers, and perhaps a kooky, private citizen’s home might seem a strange point of triangulation for the uninitiated, but once you read Lewallen’s book you will see, maybe there’s something to this—maybe David Ireland (1930--2009) is in fact the quintessential Bay Area artist.

Even if you can’t come to San Francisco this lovely little book will leave you feeling that you’ve been there The color photographs are exquisitely reproduced, right down to Ireland’s distinctive amber-tinged walls, they actually do possess that yellow drench, like an Argento film, the saturation accomplished with numerous, even countless coats of paint. A young art student I know called it a “pisssoaked look,” and yeah, kind of. Lewallen speaks knowledgeably of 500 Capp Street in the tradition of the “house as total-work-of-art,” the gestamkunstwerk, and that seems right. It’s inspiring to consider a place in which the owner has treated every surface, every piece of furniture, as handcraft and perhaps an eccentric devotion to the smoothness and antiquey-ness of things. It’s on a block in San Francisco which John Ashbery, writing in 1983, describes as “unremarkable” and “rundown,” but with the recent tech-fueled gentrification of the city, bohemians friends have been evicted left and right on that block, driven away by insane rent prices, so that the restoration of 500 Capp has an awkward side to it, though maybe its instant anachronism will heighten its numerous charms.

Lewallen describes Ireland’s slow movement into the world of conceptual art, for he was not a young artist ever, it seems. and his house is a monument to many strange careers. He conducted African safaris for wealthy white tourists in the 50s, and really the board might consider posting a “trigger warning” at the doorbell telling how many parts of wild beasts will be on view in different rooms, like the home of an old planter in White Mischief—so it’s disconcerting and a little foul. However there are many splendid rooms, vistas, head-scratching moments and sighs of wonder, both in the house and in the book under review. It is truly a one-of-a kind experience, and as Lewallen hints, it will make you forever question the shifting lines between sculpture and architecture.

Lewallen is also adept at putting this house into a lineage of other houses and structures worked on by Ireland during his lifetime, and this one does seem the best, though now I’m curious to go back to 65 Capp Street and to the “Rodeo Room” at the Headlands Center for the Arts across the Golden Gate Bridge from my apartment. In the photo of the Rodeo Room here, the walls gleam the color of spun gold, but brighter, like the oleomargarine of the forties, like it has been rubbed with the pollen of a billion marigolds.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 22, 2016 5:06 PM PDT

The Devastation
The Devastation
by Melissa Buzzeo
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.61
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Translating Water through the Sun, March 17, 2016
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This review is from: The Devastation (Paperback)
Whether she is a poet or a philosopher—and she is possibly both—Melissa Buzzeo writes novels of high adventure, and The Devastation shows her mastery at the art of making the reader look every at once for the adventure that lies within. Like the eerie amulet worn by the cover model on the front of her newest book, the text itself both mirrors and holds up to light a secret knowledge, but one which begins to glare and throb in recent years—the years of extreme climate change—into being, so that even children, even dogs and cats, know the signs and the outward lineaments of what was once the deepest secret of the world—its promised destruction.

Animals and little ones know that we’re all in it, like the filigree splayed around the pale white opal in the heroine’s necklace, in Andrew Kenower’s exquisite photographic rendering. “Sometimes we remember the properties of matter/ And as such we cannot touch/ The partitions the sky took of our mouthes.” In reading The Devastation readers will be reminded, some of them, of the so-called “War Trilogy” that the poet H.D. wrote in the 1940s in the middle of Hitler’s blitz of London, and the poems that Edith Sitwell wrote during the same great devastation, in which she too took on the antique language of, say, the King James Version of the Bible, like “mouthes,” where we today would say “mouths,” had we still mouths to drink water from. After several books in which water was the main element, The Devastation threatens us with a dryscape. I asked the author about this disparity—with doubt stabbing me: *was* it disparity, or its human face, despair?

In her books up to and including 2013’s For Want and Sound (Les Figues), author Buzzeo used the idea of water to convey “current, connectivity, currency,” she told me, “ the possibility of connection—language itself. (And maybe also a sort of sexuality? --and a kind of nothingness?)” In the wake of a bad breakup, she abandoned writing entirely, for the term of three years, and when it returned to her, it did so with difficulty, with the resistance one sees shining out of the very best parts of The Devastation. It is a book of broken beauty, but a beauty nevertheless—maybe something new under the sun. I had the feeling I had while reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, that the brave heroine puts aside the things of bourgeois white fragility to encounter the landscape as it really is, with its destroyed systems of knowledge, and in doing so achieves a deeper understanding of freedom and even of love.

Buzzeo writes, “You buy flowers and plants. You steal notebooks.” We can see the equivalence, and the opposition simultaneously, of the verb in each sentence (“buy” and “steal”), and that holds us in suspension. “You go to the library till the very last day. The humiliation of this. The courage of this. The evaporation. Till the very last day you find roots.”

My reading of the text encourages me to see a bit of hope, like the bedraggled thing that emerges from Pandora’s box of horrors, only at the very end. “You find roots.” In the stolen notebooks “you write the returning of we.” Now, as the Lambda Nominations are announced, we find out that The Devastation has been nominated for the Best Lesbian Poetry award, against some stiff competition. That would indeed be an award richly deserved. Perhaps the nomination panels are responding, as I do, to the beauty of Buzzeo’s form and the inventiveness of her structure. We all of us are looking for roots, and let us all find them, even on the very last day.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 19, 2016 9:08 AM PDT

Sick on You: The Disastrous Story of Britain's Great Lost Punk Band
Sick on You: The Disastrous Story of Britain's Great Lost Punk Band
by Andrew Matheson
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from $11.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Natalie not only Wood, but usually did.", March 7, 2016
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A friend here in San Francisco, the poet Michael Layne Heath, recommended this book to me at a reading at Dog-Eared Books. And Michael is one guy who really knows his British rock gods of the60s, 70s and 80s. I had never heard of Andrew Matheson nor the Hollywood Brats, and now that I have been reading Matheson's memoir, I can tell you I am liking what I'm hearing, except that they are so obviously a sort of New York Dolls without the requisite swagger or catchiness—the anthemic quality isn’t there. though maybe if I were 17 or so, whatever I was when the Dolls became popular, I could understand “Chez Maximes” or “Sick on You” with the passion that “Personality Crisis” inspired in me.

That’s sort of what makes the continual putdown of the NY Dolls in Matheson’s book so brilliant. He knows that the US band wiped the floor with his rubbishy little quintet, and yet he doesn’t miss a cheap shot on any page. Maybe it’s a punk stratagem, to sneer at your betters, or your peers, say. A handful of bands escape Matheson’s condescension, in particular the Stones and the “Fabs” (the Beatles I suppose), but everyone else is a waking poser, from Marc Bolan to Jethro Tull. I keep thinking that Matheson was himself only 17, 18, 19, 20 when the events of the book take place. I was about to say the Brats’ “rise and fall,” but they never really went anywhere, so the rise is out, and as for the fall, well, every page is filled that English squalor I remember from viewing of Withnail and I,” or the chapter in Gravity’s Rainbow when Tyrone Slothrop visits his English girlfriend’s family and they feed him the most revolting snacks in the world.

So maybe a teen would be always knowing what was number one every week on “Top of the Pops” and “The Old Grey Whistle Test” to the exclusion of any other interest and that’s fascinating, Matheson really pulls it off. He is a very good writer, and some of the locutions will have you rolling on the floor with giggles, like the way one band when “from mere to eternity.” Maybe a little short of the puns and anagrams of "In His Own Write" or "Tarantula," but sort of in that league. He also has a thousand funny euphemisms for his testicles and his, well, his pleasure-giver. It’s hard to figure out today what went wrong for this hopeful band, except that the business was so corrupt, and the hint is that if you were young and cute and slept with the Malcolm McLarens of the popworld you had a shot at it but otherwise if you were straight and kept to it, you would wind up in a crummy flat with broken windows on the Bermondsey Road, stealing eels from trucks to keep body and soul together. Matheson had some great outfits, and he must have affected a sort of bloke appeal, for in one chapter the elderly artist Francis Bacon tries to buy him and his friends cocktails, but no go there. We catch glimpses of about a dozen great stars of the scene, and there’s one pathetic moment, the nadir perhaps, where Matheson attempts to have his favorite LP (“Something Else,” by the Kinks) autographed at Kinks headquarters. It is far too long, and everything about it is in bad taste, but when you read it you think, this is exactly like the opening episode of Scorcese’s VINYL TV show on HBO, so the Brats must be in the air somehow? This is their moment—forty years on. Maybe one day they will get back together and record their patented set opener, “Melinda Lee,” which they must have played in every set, and yet they forgot to record it—typical somehow, and sort of sad, like if Todd Rundgren had forgotten to record “Hello It’s Me” and today nobody could recall it very precisely.

Dagnabbit Rabbit: A fun rhyming story about nature and getting along.
Dagnabbit Rabbit: A fun rhyming story about nature and getting along.
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's up, Doc?, March 1, 2016
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Karen Anderson Philips is an accomplished colorist who knows how to use the picture book form to tell a story visually, though she has poet Maureen Driggs inventing a gnarled crabby farmer who gives a monologue that might have been written by Robert Browning about a plague of rabbits eating all the carrots in his garden. Yes, like Browning, Maureen Driggs knows how a soliloquy can sketch out a whole system of social relations that practically tells itself once we realize what sort of man our farmer is. Or maybe he's a gardener, someone who just enjoys a few carrots daily and grows them in his backyard. He's certainly not Big Farma as they say.

I'm thinking of Browning's "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" here, which begins, "Gr-r-r — there go, my heart’s abhorrence!/ Water your damned flower-pots, do!/ If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,/ God’s blood, would not mine kill you!" But instead of Brother Lawrence, the speaker here hates with a passion the rabbit, later revealed to be multiplying, that is eating his backyard carrots. Just when the speaker thinks he has everything under control, he is totally surprised to find out the rabbits have outsmarted him (by, for example, making friends with the hound whose task it is to scare them away). Karen Anderson Philips supplies the perfect drawing, beautifully colored in soft, pastel strokes, of the dog lying asleep with a band of satisfied and quite full bunnies with carrot juice running down their fur, all of the snoring the sleep of the happy, while the gardener screams, "Dagnabbit, Rabbit!" We note the euphemism represented by "Dagnabbit," standing in for a term not often used in children's picture books. But this is a book filled with a sunny, old-fashioned charm, like Beatrix Potter, or the novels of Mary Lasswell about the three old ladies who loved to drink that my wife's grandmother read religiously ("Suds in Your Eye," "High Time," "Wait for the Wagon," etc, by Mary Lasswell. The surprise is that the rabbits are not really the humorous scoundrels that the story paints them to be, it's—

Oh dear, I was almost about to reveal some serious spoilers, but I won't do that, not to this charming, ever surprising, and wonderfully told little book. All I can say is, you will never guess what happens, but it's lovely.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2016 6:57 AM PST

A Fine Romance
A Fine Romance
by Candice Bergen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.54
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A perceptive writer speaks from the catbird seat., January 31, 2016
This review is from: A Fine Romance (Hardcover)
Candice Bergen is a legendary star, not famous for her acting perhaps, in fact when she was coming up in the 1960s she had reviews that would just about have slayed anyone not made of steel. She has always had to roll with the punches of bad reviews, but of course she won Emmy after Emmy for her role in sitcom Murphy Brown, which paralleled her own life to a certain degree and which put her on top for the first time in her life. This book details the making of Murphy Brown by one who was on the set in practically every scene, a gifted writer who can bring us into moments of intense artistic concentration, and takes us backstage to where the difficult decisions are being made. She is always self-aware, to a degree not given every Hollywood star, and the parts where she senses the crew turning against her, and the steps she must take to win them back, are comparable to the way Henry James wrote about strong women in the late 1890s—with bitter self-knowledge.

About halfway through the book, however, one stops rooting for Candice Bergen, and her daughter Chloe too. It's not her fault her husband, Louis Malle, was fabulously rich and invented the little sugar packets you see on the tables of every French restaurant in the whole nation of France, and nor is it her fault that the passion ran out of her marriage and her husband began to look around at other, younger women, such as the French sex-kitten "Miou-Miou," to name but one. Watching him die must have been a horrible bore, but she went ahead and did it, even though it played hell with her filming schedule. Se had always the staring incomprehension of Malle's older children, Manuel and Justine, to deal with and being cast as the wicked stepmother is not a pleasure for anybody. When Candice remarries and forgets to invite Malle's older children to her wedding—tres mal! But she tells us they became friends after that and today everyone is happy together. I wonder why she tells us that Manuel and Justine are the children of the Canadian glamor icon Alexandra Stewart? Surely that was just Justine—and Manuel was somebody else's son? Maybe faulty copy editing, the way that several of the other fine hundred reviewers have mentioned that redundancy plagues A Fine Romance. We hear over and over again that Malle owned a truffle farm with no cell phone service—a dealbreaker for a busy actress—and also we hear about those sugar packets.... But then when she meets Marshall Rose, I'm sorry, Candice Bergen, we none of you wanted to be out on the streets or anything, but this guy is too rich!

He makes the truffles and the sugar packets of your previous husband look like de rien! Why did you let him talk you out of giving up your own apartment, which as redundancy tells us is the prettiest apartment in New York, and move in with his grand mansion, ceding your cute flat to Chloe?

You also seem to remember that, since Murphy Brown, your film career has suffered and you have been relegated into tiny jokey parts in US comedies, parts the late Margaret Rutherford might have turned down as too vulgar, and yet you forget to mention the best film work of your life, the lead in the 2003 beleaguered-wife thriller "Footsteps," written for you by the one and only Ira Levin? If this picture was on DVD of even humble VHS tapes, more people would know about your shining moment. On the Ira Levin internet sits, some know-it-alls have advanced the theory that Marshall Rose has suppressed this picture entirely, which he could do in an instant of course, preferring the public to think of you as a beautiful clown and klutz. Say it isn't so! Get "Footsteps" into the hands and hearts of the general public and let us see justice done! Ad while you are at it, what about "The Adventurers," (1967) based on the famous Harold Robbins novel? It's not only you, it's Olivia de Havilland and Charles Aznavour and Leigh-Taylor Young and the beautiful Jobim music which brings back a whole era. It was named one of the worst movies ever made, but we still want to see it! Get Marsh to release this one too.

My First Hundred Years in Show Business: A Memoir
My First Hundred Years in Show Business: A Memoir
by Mary Louise Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.38
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surrounded by pills her whole life and now she gets revenge, January 4, 2016
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Mary Louise Wilson keeps topping herself in this list of everyone who’s ever had clay feet or acted mean to her. She is a wonderful writer, every bit as piercing as Diana Vreeland whom she played in Full Gallop, a play she wrote herself with Mark Hampton, who turned on her, though for the first four years of their collaboration he was like, her soul brother, but then mysteriously another woman (screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, who worked with Alfred Hitchcock and Alan King) came between them and Mary Louise found herself confronting new version of the script that she had not authorized.

No one told Mark Hampton that the Wilson version of Full Gallop was inferior, except for the seductively autocratic Jay Presson Allen. That was the problem with these people she surrounded herself with, they buckled under the opinions of Oscar winners and couldn’t see that somewhere, under the self-deprecating putdowns. Mary Louise Wilson was a real artist.

She makes a lot out of the fact that there are two guys called Mark Hampton and the one who betrayed her was not the more famous of the two.

Another couple who betrayed her was her brother and sister, each about five or ten years older than she, and a couple of neurotic nuts who could have played in Grey Gardens. Indeed Mary Louise won a Tony for her work in the Musical of Grey Gardens, for she had lived through the confusion of living with self-centered nuts with bodies like living, electric lies! There was her black boyfriend she met in Cincinatti when both were starring in Volpone—he was a piece of work. There was Judy Holliday, the top Broadway star who was certifiably crazy and who, during the run together in the flop Hot Spot (the early 60s musical set in the Peace Corps), said only one word to Mary Louise Wilson: “Salts.”

She was so powerful and so crazy she sabotaged the play beyond a success, by climbing down out of her star dressing room and re-writing the scenes so she never had to act in a single scene with her leading man. Or was it crazy Gerry Mulligan, then Holliday’s boyfriend, who sabotaged her? It’s hard to say.

I know one guy who is going to love this book and I’m going to send it to him now!

Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press
Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press
by James McGrath Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.09
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A "window seat on the world", November 28, 2015
A friend told me I knew too little about the black press of the 20th century and, with my interest in mass media, that it was silly of me to be so ill-informed. He recommended a forthcoming book which is now on my bookshelf, the life of Ethel Payne, the queen of American journalism. Folks called her the queen of back journalism, but after reading even a few chapters she jumps across racial boundaries and takes on the title from peers from her white counterparts. Yet she is hardly celebrated at all. Is there a reason for this? McGrath Morris does his best to make us understand what it might have been like for the young Ethel Payne, growing up in a racist society and struggling for every meal, yet driven by parents who believed fervently in education as the way out for an embattled race.

Payne herself was sometimes—not her worst enemy, that's a cliche—but sometimes she was not her own best advocate, and time after time in the book McGrath Morris shows her getting tired or frustrated with this or that plum job and then moving on, sometimes without a clear vision of what she wanted to do next. Periods of joblessness ensued, but like a cat she always managed to use her extensive network of friends and business contacts to find something worthy of her talents. She was a journalist who learned quickly, and she could put away scruples when she had to, and best of all she stood up for what she believed in, and risked the ire of many powerful forces of evil. Her personal life? Well, it isn't easy at the top, especially for a successful woman, and especially, or so she believed, for a black woman. The contretemps in which she criticized Vernon Jordan in 1980, when he survived an assassin's bullet only to be told by Payne in her nationally circulated column that he had no right being out late at night with a white woman not his wife—this story alone could make a whole movie, and yet we wee Ethel Payne as acting perhaps without knowledge of the facts and at the least, uncharitably, bit again, she was not afraid to chew up and spit out even black men if she thought they were making fools of themselves.

The dramatic moment of McGrath Morris' story is his account of the 1955 Bandung Conference, an episode of world history very little covered today. This was am international conference for representatives of five Asian nations and five African nations‚ no white powers invited, and the first time in modern history such an event occurred. Indonesia was the country selected to host this amazing meeting of minds, and all around the world far-seeing blacks saw and celebrated that something new had come into being—a conference in which white nations were treated as not the majority of the peoples of this earth. US emigre novelist Richard Wright wrote, "Only brown, black and yellow men who had long been made agonizingly self-conscious, under the rigors of colonial rule, of their race and their religion could have felt the need for such a meeting." Great minds fought like tigers to get to Bandung but in the end, many leftist intellectuals like Paul Robeson and W E B DuBois found their entrance denied via the machinations of the State department. McGrath Morris points out that of nearly 800 delegates, not a single one was female, and in general very few women managed to get into the conference at all. But Ethel Payne went! And her coverage made her a household name, angering Eisenhower but sealing her reputation among the black readers of the black press. (Adam Clayton Powell, the controversial black Harlem congressman, also went to Bandung, but ironically he was so fairskinned that security refused to give him black status, preventing him from entering some assemblies, so he clung to Payne, claiming to be as black as she. (I can't really repeat his exact words here.) The biographer digs in and brings us an hour by hour account of the riveting, surreal congress, and Payne's strategies to give her American audiences a sense of what was going on without censorship from either the right or left. She was present at, and wrote about, nearly every important civil rights initiative. And while she pioneered the rights of black women, she refused to write the "women's pages" pap her editors sometimes asked her to write about. Very few figures from the entertainment world, for example, make it into the pages of McGrath Morris' book—perhaps they were judged too peripheral or self-aggrandizing.

Can a white biographer write an adequate biography of a black subject? Can a male biographer write successfully, thoroughly, of a woman's life? I'm glad this isn't a test case for biography, because there are more than a few places in which McGrath Morris' race and his gender show themselves all too painfully. And yet he has written an exciting, provocative book that makes one stand up and cheer for Ethel Payne, while shaking one's head at the vicious racial climate through which she had to pass and which prevails today. I don't know.

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