Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Summer reads: Carol, Arthur, John, more Mapp & Lucia ...

Some fabulous summer reads, for dipping into, or greedily reading from cover to cover, as per those new MAPP & LUCIA items!
First a couple of perfect show-business memoirs, and a terrific new biograpy on skating legend, John Curry, a story that resonates very strongly now that athletes and sports people can come out without fear, how different it was then....

AMONG THE PORCUPINES: Carol Matthau was one of those originals I had heard about from various sources (and yes, she was the original for Holly Golightly). How marvellous to find she penned an engaging memoir back in 1992. Copies are still available folks! Carol was one of those people like Lauren Bacall, Dirk Bogarde or Rock Hudson who knew just about everybody. Here is the choice dust-jacket blurb:
A celebrated original in both New York and Hollywood, Carol Matthau (nee Grace) epitomizes a kind of glamour not known today: wife of William Saroyan (twice) and Walter Matthau (still), lifelong friend of Gloria Vanderbilt and Oona O'Neill Chaplin; muse and confidante to some of the century's most renowned writers (James Agee, Kenneth Tynan and Truman Capote - who divined his Holly Golightly as they breakfasted together in front of Tiffany's windows). But just beneath the look-no-further glitter lie the unique wit, wisdom and charm forged from private tragedy, privilege and a deep, powerful knowledge of love.
In her inimitable voice - salty, sly, incisive, hilarious - Carol tells the tales of her extraordinary roller-coaster life: from a lonely childhood in Depression-era foster homes to a fairy tale adolescence as a Park Avenue debutante, from terrifying bouts with Saroyan to sweet trysts with Matthau; from the high-society fetes of the Forties to glitzy Hollywood dinner parties to the ultimate social spectacle - the Oscars.
Filled with delicious meditations, anecdotes, and portraits of friends (Kay Kendall and Rex Harrison, Maureen Stapleton, Carson McCullers, Richard Avedon, Isak Dinesen and others), this is a tour of the high life on the arm of the original blithe spirit. 
Well yes, today's celebrities have a lot to learn before they are as effortlessly stylish as Carol Matthau. She died in 2003, aged 78 (Walter had died in 2000), but leaves a marvellous story. Her affectionate portraits of Kay and Rex are perfect too and nicely compement the memoirs of Rex and Lilli Palmer. Its the kind of book one does not want to end (like Lilli Palmer's CHANGE LOBSTERS AND DANCE) or Simone Signoret's NOSTALGIA ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE). 

Arthur Laurents (THE WAY WE WERE for which he wrote the screenplay aired on tv here over the weekend) was of course cut from a different cloth. Waspish and difficult he seems to have been disliked by quite a lot. He too wrote a fascinating memoir - I quoted from it in my review of SUMMERTIME (see below). - covering Broadway and Hollywood in the Golden Age, when he was one of the high fliers. Laurents (1918-2011) lived to be 92, his writing credits include Hitch's ROPE (below, right - Hitchcock was intrigued by Laurents' relationship with Farley Granger), ANASTASIA, THE TIME OF THE CUCKOO (the play which SUMMERTIME was based on), a favourite of ours: BONJOUR TRISTESSE, THE WAY WE WERE and THE TURNING POINT and the books for WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY, among others. 
He too was very well connected so I am looking forward to a good read;  he also won numerous awards and directed productions of LE CAGE AUX FOLLES. He knew Barbra Streisand from the start of her career, when she was in I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE, before FUNNY GIRL. She rang him shortly before he died, just as he was sitting down to Sunday breakfast, so he told her to call back later - she did, as she was trying to get a new production of GYPSY up and runnng, despite now being too old to play Mama Rose ...
Like Gore Vidal, he was also a prominent gay, having a relationship with Farley Granger in the '40s and '50s, and then a long lasting relationship with an actor, Tom Hatcher. 

Now, ALONE - The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones, a handsome new hardback, which just arrived today, I will be starting it right away. Curry seems a forgotten figure now, but in 1976 he skated to Olympic glory and overnight became world famous. He was awarded the OBE and showered with honours. Yet he remained a mystery to the world that had been dazzled by his gifts. 
Curry had changed his sport from marginal curiosity to high art. Men's skating was supposed to be muscular, not sensual and ambiguous like this. But with Olympic gold came the revelation of his secret as he informed the world that he was gay. In the extraordinary years which followed, Curry battled to transform skating into a theatrical sensation worthy of Nureyev. At his magnificent peak he brought The Royal Albert Hall and the New York Met to their feet (I saw one of his spectaculars about then with my pal Sally who was besotted about him). But behind his epic struggles lay a tortured, lonely man of labyrinthine complexity (wasn't it ever so?).
It is a story of childhood nightmares, sporting rivalries, homophobia, cold war politics, financial ruin and deep personal tragedy. Here is revealed the restless, impatient, often dark soul of a man whose words could lacerate, whose skating moved audiences to tears, and who - like many of his closest friends - died of AIDS, aged just 44, in 1994.
This chimes in with my reviews of THE NORMAL HEART and MY NIGHT WITH REG recently (gay interest label) and the fact that more Americans died of AIDS than in Vietnam. Also we realise now that today's actors and sporting stars have it easy when they come out with all the support they get on social media and from the press (Ben Whishaw had a big spread and cover story in last weekend's "Sunday Times", while Tom Daley and Ian Thorpe are the latest sports stars to come out to universal approval). How different it all was in the '70s ... Curry too had a secret relationship with actor Alan Bates (who visited him before he died), which shows how one could keep things under wraps in that pre-internet, pre-cellphone world. 

And now a return to Tilling, and the delightful books about MAPP & LUCIA, by E.F. Benson, and the television series (now on dvd) made in 1982 where Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne are perfection, as indeed are all the cast, as it captures that 1930s dreamworld where well to do people had domestic staff. It was filmed too at Rye, where Benson lived, as per my previous post on them, as the Mapp & Lucia label.  There were six book intially, but there are now four more, written in the style of Benson taking the characters forward through the war years and after. Indeed the latest one, AU RESERVOIR, kills them all off interestingly in old age, so I don't imagine there will be any more. 

LUCIA IN WARTIME and LUCIA TRIUMPHANT by Tim Holt are great reads, but LUCIA ON HOLIDAY and AU RESERVOIR by Guy Fraser-Sampson are simply too much. LUCIA ON HOLIDAY takes us to Italy, Lake Como to be precise, where the Mapp-Flints (thanks to a generous Majarajah) follow Lucia and Georgie to their luxury hotel, and Georgie - now with his opera singer muse Olga Braceley - becomes entranced with his superb, handsome new valet Francesco (who is not what he seems) with his addictive 'turksh' cigarettes. 
Real people are also written in, we get the famous writer and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio here, while AU RESERVOIR writes Noel Coward and John Gielgud into the story as they appear in several chapters, as Mapp tries (in vain of course) to prove that Lucia does not know them. How it is all worked out is simply too delicious for words. Perfect summer reading.

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