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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another Great Book

Just had thirty or so pages of Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Have Known Them by Frank Langella with chicken/dumplings at Hadley's. It would have been as easy to sit there all afternoon reading. The book arrived this morning and it'll be finished by nightfall. I found out about Langella's memoir at Cinema Retro, that dependable signpost to best reading/viewing in addition to marvelous articles/reviews generated by moderator Lee Pfeiffer and staff members. Retro's coverage of Dropped Names steered me to Amazon and a bargain-priced copy for $13.98 (just pages at lunch were worth that). Part of reason for buying was longtime conviction that Frank Langella is about the best actor working. His are among select contemporary pics I try never to miss.

Yvonne Criss-Crossed Burt in 1948 --- She'd Do As Much for Frank in 1974

What Langella does here is profile the famous names he's encountered over a long career, these including many Golden-Agers headed for the barn. And it's not just ones you'd expect. FL does pungent looks-back at Gilbert Roland, Oliver Reed, Yvonne DeCarlo (a notably saucy section) --- he doesn't spare barbs, but Langella views each with understanding and appreciation for greatness they once had, whatever trying times were upon them by 70's and afterward occasion when the young actor worked with, and learned much, from said seasoned pros (the Jo Van Fleet reflect is sheer spun gold for Langella finding humor and pathos in a grand old actresses' approach toward the finish line). The Oliver Reed portion is both celebration of an all-time great immoderate and scathing indictment of 90's Hollywood waste and ego-excess, the movie being execrable Cutthroat Island, from which Reed was summarily removed after drunkenly suggesting what seemed an outrageous change to his character/cameo (to which you may say --- if only they'd used it).

This is Pret-Near the Oliver Reed That Frank Langella Encountered When They Met in 1995

The photo at left shows Langella with his yellow pad on the beach, proof enough for me that he, not a ghost, wrote this book. The perspective is just too individual for any stand-in to have penned. Each chapter is bite-sized, tasty, insightful. I laughed enough to attract Hadley's waitress attention (young Langella meets Bob Mitchum on The Wrath Of God --- expected howl-arity ensues). This is no casual star-tour, though. Langella observed these people with a laser. I don't wonder for the knowing and masterful performing he's done since the first thing I saw him in, a fairly wretched ABC-TV remake of The Mark Of Zorro in 1974 (which he covers nicely in Stars Dropped). Miraculous was Langella's portrayal of Richard Nixon in 2008's Frost/Nixon --- he makes the character perhaps more sympathetic than writing/directing intended --- made me sure enough root for Dick! Then there was Starting Out In The Evening (2007) where he was a J.D.Salinger'ish writer recluse. Frank Langella's at least as accomplished a scribe as actor, that amounting to considerable, with Names Dropped work of a hugely entertaining piece with the best this artist has given us.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Kevin K. said...

This is one of the few books I've bought that my wife read from cover to cover -- actually, she skipped around from chapter to chapter depending on her interest in each celebrity until she got through the whole thing. Fantastic book.

We saw Langella in his first Broadway preview performance of "Frost/Nixon." He didn't look exactly like Nixon, but in about two minutes I was convinced I was watching Tricky Dick himself.

We've since seen Langella in his subsequent Broadway shows, and let me tell you the guy delivers. He's definitely old school -- heightened reality, perhaps, but you can't take your eyes off him, even when he isn't speaking. Just watching him light a cigarette in a key moment of "Man and Boy" was riveting. If you ever have a chance to see him onstage, do so -- you will not be disappointed!

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you haven't read it already, please read the recently published MY LIFE AS A MANKIEWICZ, by the late Tom Mankiewicz. If you liked Langella's book the way you described, I'm sure this one would be a perfect followup as far as firsthand accounts of show business over the last half century.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Always a Langella fan since I first saw him on Broadway in the 1970s. This book is fabulous -- the best celebrity autobiography since that of Christopher Plummer.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Sooke said...

I first became aware of Frank Langella in the 1970 film "Diary of a Mad Housewife" - and how good he was playing Carrie Snodgress' narcissistic bastard of a lover.

5:50 AM  

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