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How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood Hardcover – October 21, 2009
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In the 60s, Elizabeth Taylor's affair with the married Richard Burton knocked John Glenn's orbit of the moon off front pages nationwide. Yet, despite all the gossip, the larger-than-life personality and influence of this very human woman has never been captured. William Mann, praised by Gore Vidal, Patricia Bosworth, and Gerald Clarke for Kate, uses untapped sources and conversations to show how she ignited the sexual revolution with her on-and off-screen passions, helped kick down the studio system by taking control of her own career, and practically invented the big business of celebrity star-making. With unputdownable storytelling he tells the full truth without losing Taylor's magic, daring, or wit.
Readers will feel they are sitting next to Taylor as she rises at MGM, survives a marriage engineered for publicity, feuds with Hedda Hopper and Mr. Mayer, wins Oscars, endures tragedy, juggles Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton and her country's conservative values. But it is the private Elizabeth that will surprise--a woman of heart and loyalty, who defends underdogs, a savvy professional whose anger at the studio's treatment of her led to a lifelong battle against that very system. All the Elizabeth's are here, finally reconciled and seen against the exciting years of her greatest spirit, beauty, and influence. Swathed in mink, staring us down with her lavender eyes, disposing of husbands but keeping the diamonds, here is Elizabeth Taylor as she was meant to be, leading her epic life on her own terms, playing the game of supreme stardom at which she remains, to this day, unmatched.
A Q&A with William J. Mann, Author of How to Be a Movie Star
Photographs from How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood
(Click on Images to Enlarge)
|1939: Elizabeth with her mother Sara, and brother Howard||1941: Elizabeth's first publicity photo, Universal Studios|
|1945: Elizabeth posing with Roddy McDowall||Early 1950s: Publicity photo (photo not included in the book)|
From Publishers Weekly
In his proficient and titillating biography of one of the last greats to emerge from the Hollywood studio system, Mann (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn) spotlights Taylor's feverish, sensuous years during the high '50s and '60s, when she set her own standards of fame, both moral and professional. Tinged by scandal as well as touched by greatness as an actress, Taylor was the first female movie star to earn a million dollars for a movie plus a share of the profits (Cleopatra in 1963). Mann relishes depicting Taylor's larger-than-life appetites, whether for men, jewels or food, and marvels at her ability to arouse and sidestep scandal, as well as to demonstrate continually a singular devotion to her acting craft, as captured in A Place in the Sun and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Taylor managed not only to play along with the old Hollywood system perfectly—for example, allowing MGM to orchestrate her first marriage to Nicky Hilton in 1950 in order to pump publicity for her film Father of the Bride—but to flout it outrageously, e.g., by becoming the ultimate home wrecker in Eddie Fisher's marriage, and all to her advantage. Mann employs an authoritative voice, promising intimacies but still remaining respectful of his subject, and concentrates on Taylor's skillful use of marriages and illness to get what she wanted. By refusing to apologize for her flagrant adulterous affair with Richard Burton, Taylor possibly spurred the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Mann suggests. Reading this life is like gorging on a chocolate sundae. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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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.
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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