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The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris Hardcover – April 15, 2003

3.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Blair has unquestionably led an exciting life, but her autobiography is likely only to engage dedicated Hollywood historians. Now 79 and living in London, the author was on Broadway at 15, married to Gene Kelly at 17, a mother at 19, an actress and political activist throughout her 20s and a movie star by her early 30s. Aside from her famous husband, she's probably best known in America for starring opposite Ernest Borgnine in 1955's Marty, but after decamping to Paris she distinguished herself in a string of European films. She spends two-thirds of the book describing life in Hollywood with Kelly in terms of nearly constant delight. She meets everyone: Greta Garbo, Bertolt Brecht, Orson Welles and the pope. The result is a shopping list of fame, and Blair's paeans to all she encounters, from "the beautiful, the brilliant, the funny and charming Lenny Bernstein" to Kelly's "gently spoken, loving, and loyal" secretary are monotonous. She recounts movie gossip dutifully and the unpleasantness of McCarthyism righteously-a proud leftist, she found herself blacklisted-but the book becomes more compelling as she moves past Rodeo Drive. "I broke out of the cocoon," she writes, reflecting on escaping her marital idyll and feeling independent for the first time. Once this turmoil is over, the writing returns to list-making: Picasso makes a cameo; Blair hangs out with the Chaplins; and Marlene Dietrich lends her a lipstick. Blair's years in Paris come through most vividly; eventually, she settles down in London with director Karel Reisz. 96 photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

She was a starry-eyed ingenue, dazzled by the bright lights on Broadway. He was a rising young movie star, destined to become a Hollywood icon. When Betsy Blair married Gene Kelly, it was a dream come true, but like most fairy-tale romances, there was a dark side to the glamour and glitz. Always an independent and inquiring spirit, Blair was soon attracted to left-wing politics, and her Communist-sympathizing activities in turn attracted the attention of HUAC investigators. Just as industry blacklisting hampered her acting ambitions, so did Gene's worshipful pampering stifle her emotional development. Divorcing Kelly, Blair immigrated to Europe where, in the arrondissements and cinemas of Paris, she found both the love she desired and the professional and personal identity she craved. From the Great White Way to the Champs-Elysees, Blair starred at the epicenter of entertainment's most famous and infamous era. In a refreshingly candid, yet cautiously respectful, memoir, Blair recounts how one Hollywood insider found fame and fortune outside its confines. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375412999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375412998
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #633,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Graceann Macleod on May 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Betsy Blair has a lot of interesting stories to tell - she was married to one of the 20th Century's entertainment geniuses (not that we get to hear a great deal about what made him tick), and she survived the infamous Blacklist. She has an unfortunate habit of trying to put a happy face on every situation, however, and the only times her real grit shows through are when she expresses her bitterness (over the way she was shafted in her divorce from Kelly, and in the way she disappeared from view in the Blacklist, for instance). Her anger when she reads through her files from the FBI and the armed forces is palpable. I would have liked to see more of that feist and less of the Pollyanna attitude.

I can understand a woman's need to come into her own and to be independent. After all, Blair was a teenager when she met and fell in love with the older Kelly, and she was a mother before her 18th birthday. She had a LOT of growing up to do. In this disjointed memoir, it is difficult to determine when that growing actually took place. She stayed with Kelly until it was no longer convenient to do so (i.e., when she fell in love with another man after a series of affairs), and then stayed with that man until she found yet another. That doesn't sound terribly "independent" to me.

I might have been able to give the book five stars if it weren't as I said above, disjointed. For instance, at the end of a chapter that has nothing at all to do with it, she describes a charming encounter when, on Coronation Day in London, she, her daughter and her then-husband are making their way through Hyde Park Corner in order to get to their viewing area for the festivities. This is a lovely anecdote about the Londoners making a path for them and serenading them with "Singing in the Rain.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First things first: this is not a book about Gene Kelly. It's Miss Blair's memoir and quite an interesting book. The writing is natural and charming, you might find yourself smiling several times as you read along.

The first part about Broadway and (later) Hollywood is about a very young woman awakening to the world, learning her craft and knowing people who will have a strong influence in her life. It also shows how someone living in a comfortable position can identify with less fortunate people and become a communist (thing that seems to bother other reviewers here).

Later, after divorcing Kelly and travelling to Europe we learn about her work with Antonioni, Welles and Bardem (uncle of actor Javier Bardem). The book ends after meeting director Karel Reisz.

I had the chance to meet Miss Blair after the publishing of this memoir and asked her if she'd write a second volume. Unfortunately, she wouldn't: she told me that she had had a perfect happy life with her second husband and thought it would be boring to read.

In any case, enjoy this volume and check her work in Marty, Calle Mayor, Betrayed or A delicate balance, you might be surprised at how good she is in these films. She also worked in The hours playing Ed Harris' mother at the end of the film. You won't be able to see her work in this scene thanks to Julianne Moore's insistence in playing it herself. The scene was finally cut and reshot with Miss Moore in a dreadful and unbelievable aging makeup.

(The British edition adds a new Prologue.)
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Format: Hardcover
Betsy Blair does a wonderful job of taking us inside the Golden Age of Hollywood, an age she says she felt unaccountably lucky to be a part of. So she's not the greatest writer, as several people here have pointed out. So what? If you want great literature, read Proust or James or Wharton.

But if you want to get a feel for what everyday life was like for the people who gave us some of the great cinema of the 20th century, then read this. Also, of course, if you're a fan of the brilliant, incomparable Gene Kelly.

Some of the criticisms in these reader reviews are downright bizarre. Betsy's politics seem to be a big point of contention. Good grief, she was 17 years old when she went to Hollywood. She's supposed to have a sophisticated understanding of Marxism at that age?? As she states repeatedly in the book, she was young and inexperienced and had a lot to learn. The fact that she was smart enough to eventually repudiate Communism while still holding on to her liberal beliefs obviously rankles some reviewers.

Then there's the carping that she was enjoying the good life while claiming to stand up for the downtrodden. In reply, I quote from page 228: "I don't remember being uneasy in the idyllic life I was leading. It was, after all, running in tandem with my left-wing beliefs. I was not clearheaded or clearsighted enough to see that there might be a contradiction there, that perhaps I was uncomfortable about my unearned luxury -- unearned not by Gene, but by me."

Hey, folks, it's called growing up. Blair grew up and wrote this delicious book. As for the claims that she's constantly "name-dropping" -- hello? She lived in a place where famous people lived. They came to her house. They ate at her table.
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