Thursday, January 31, 2013
JEAN ARTHUR: THE ACTRESS NOBODY KNEW
This excellent biography of the star of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many other films not only examines Arthur's famous and not-so-famous roles, as well as her early life and career, but goes behind the scenes of her movies and delves into the personal life of this very private individual. Otter, who obviously admires Arthur, reveals the actress with all her good points and bad without ever being unbalanced or relentlessly negative. The bio is bolstered by many interviews with those who were close to Arthur and knew her well, or who worked with her, and were witness to her often contradictory nature. Arthur was on the short list to play Scarlett O'Hara, was an early feminist and individualist, but she also suffered from almost pathological stage/camera fright and could be difficult to deal with, to say the least. Otter offers interesting explanations for the woman's behavior. Arthur is another star whose sexuality was been called into question, and the author examines rumors of an alleged affair with Mary Martin. [Apparently many people think Martin modeled herself on Arthur, but to me they were so different -- and Martin was basically a musical stage star and singer whereas Arthur was a film figure -- that I've never seen the connection.] Otter theorizes that Arthur's husband wouldn't have stayed with her for so long [they eventually did divorce] if he knew she supposedly preferred the ladies, but mixed marriages of that type often last for decades, especially if one partner gets something out of the alliance. In any case, the author doesn't uncover any lesbian liaisons so the verdict is still out on Arthur, and who cares? More importantly, this book gives her her due as a unique screen presence and a highly talented actress.
Verdict: Informative, authoritative, and highly readable. ***1/2.