Sunday 18 February 2018

Books for Christmas: Celebrity Biographies

George Harrison is given a sitar lesson by Ravi Shankar, Sringar, India, 1966 Photo: Harrison Family; Portia Webb
George Harrison is given a sitar lesson by Ravi Shankar, Sringar, India, 1966 Photo: Harrison Family; Portia Webb

Mark Sanderson

The best of celebrity biographies and memoirs, from the "quiet Beatle" to the real Annie Hall.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World by Olivia Harrison

A wonderful picture book revealing the intimate side of “the quiet Beatle”. The testimony of family, friends and colleagues acts as captions to photographs tracing the guitarist’s journey from the bombed-out back streets of Liverpool to Hamburg and on through the years when the world lay at his feet. Here’s George playing tennis with Bob Dylan, goofing around with Spike Milligan and in the pits with Damon Hill. All that’s missing is the music.

The Life of Lee by Lee Evans

The phenomenally successful comedian treats each chapter as a stand-up/fall-down routine in which the odd boy from a rough background in Bristol moves on to a tough adolescence in Essex. It would have made for grim reading had the club singer’s son not chosen to play everything for laughs – his resilience is remarkable – but the pain beneath the bravado is palpable. This elevates an end-of-the-pier show (which actually closes above the waves at Southend) into a celebrity biography of real substance (while cunningly leaving room for the Hollywood sequel).

Then Again by Diane Keaton

This is as much a portrait of Keaton’s late mother as it is of herself. Besides extracts from the 85 journals Dorothy Hall left behind, this memoir contains letters, lists, individual memories lovingly burnished, some very arty photos and lots and lots of deaths. It is hard to imagine a more actressy affair, and parts of the book reek of pretension, but fans will cherish her accounts of relationships with Woody Allen, Al Pacino and Warren Beatty. The anecdotes are excellent, and the self-modesty not false.

Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman by Patricia Bosworth

A massive biography, written with Fonda’s blessing, which aims to be myth-busting rather than muckraking. Bosworth, granted access to Hanoi Jane’s FBI files, considers the actress as a political activist as well as a movie star, workout guru and wife of tycoon Ted Turner. Yet it is the portrait of Jane as a doting daughter to her demanding (and philandering) father, Henry, that colours the years that follow.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

This sort-of-sequel to her brilliant memoir Wishful Drinking was prompted by the bipolar actress’s fear that she would lose her memory when she embarked on a course of electroconvulsive therapy. As it happens it only affects her short-term memory, so she has no trouble in regaling us about a double date with Teddy Kennedy or why Elizabeth Taylor pushed her into a swimming pool. Nor has it affected her ability to pull the heartstrings as she describes how she cared for her dying father, Eddie. Playing Princess Leia has cast such a shadow over her whole life that the star remains at war with herself.

Small Man in a Book by Rob Brydon

Apart from brief accounts of his infancy and school days in Wales, this is an intensely detailed CV of the comedian until he eventually found fame in the television drama Marion and Geoff: continuity announcing, presenting a home shopping show on cable and, above all, recording voice-overs. You’ll have heard him a thousand times plugging everything from Ribena and Hula Hoops to Tango and Pot Noodle. There’s little food for thought though, and, curiously for such a versatile impressionist, it’s the photographs that provide the biggest laughs.

Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon

Cannon, best known for her role in the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, became Cary Grant’s fourth wife in 1965. The marriage produced a child but didn’t last long. The actress is by no means as interesting a character as the difficult star, but this sad account of Hollywood in the Sixties has an impressive cast which only makes the marital nightmare glitter all the more.

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