Thursday, December 20, 2012
SITTING PRETTY: The Life and Times of CLIFTON WEBB
Clifton Webb wrote several chapters of his memoirs, but never completed the project. In this excellent book those chapters are published for the first time, with annotations by David L. Smith, who not only fleshes out [and occasionally corrects] Webb's memories but adds the biography that forms the bulk of the book [with comments from Webb's notes included]. Far from being an overnight sensation, Webb had a long career as a dancer and actor before he hit it big in motion pictures and became a most unlikely movie star in middle age after appearing in Laura. He created the character of Mr. Belvedere in Sitting Pretty and its two sequels, was Barbara Stanwyck's husband and gave one of his all-time best performances in Titanic, played an aging silent movie star turned professor in Dreamboat with Ginger Rogers, and did many other movies, some more memorable than others [but he was always excellent]. Whatever his private life [Smith doesn't make any revelations in that regard or uncover a single relationship the man might have had except with his mother, Mabelle], people have always assumed Webb was (stereotypically) gay, and Smith perhaps tries too hard to refute that -- and is, frankly, unconvincing. But for Pete's sake, this is the 21st century -- would Smith think less of Webb if he were gay?! That is the only real flaw in an otherwise noteworthy tome. Whether you're reading Webb's own words, or Smith's, the actor comes across as a combination of a charming, urbane, sophisticated and cultured man and a precious, occasionally snooty "old queen," but in any case makes a witty and welcome companion for a couple of hours of reading pleasure.
Verdict: Gives Webb his due as an actor and entertainer. ***1/2.