Thursday, August 23, 2012
DROPPED NAMES: FAMOUS MEN AND WOMEN AS I KNEW THEM
In this unconventional memoir, actor Frank Langella (Diary of a Mad Housewife; Dracula; Frost/Nixon) spares the reader the need to look up famous names in the index. Langella is smart enough to know that most people read autobiogs by second and third tier celebrities [well-known, but not superstars or household names] to see what they have to say about the mega-stars they worked with, so the book is divided into many chapters bearing the names of the famous and pretty famous. [Of course, it is also true that in a "memoir" of this nature you can avoid answering the hard questions about yourself.] In concise, well-written sections we read Langella's impressions of everyone from Bunny Mellon to Jackie Onassis to Paul Newman to Marilyn Monroe. Some of these chapters are especially well-done, such as the section on the lonely middle-aged Elizabeth Taylor [although Langella never really makes it clear why he didn't want to go on seeing her except that she "would eat him alive," which sounds like a cop out. If he no longer found her attractive, why not just say so?] You sometimes get the impression Langella only exists when he's in the company of celebrities [the wealthier, the better]; that the rest of the time he's folded up, maybe in one of those vinyl bags you put clothes in and hang in closets, in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the next party or the next invitation to the Mellon estate. While, as I've stated, this is an unconventional memoir, it's still a bit startling that Langella says virtually nothing of substance about his wife [wives? who can tell?] and children, and reading between the lines you also sense he's possibly being coy about his own sexuality [giving a supposedly "sophisticated" book a somewhat dated quality]. In the meantime, he "outs" late author Dominick Dunne, among others. So while the book has its entertaining stretches and drops many, many names, it has the usual limitations of a work by a tiresomely self-absorbed "celebrity." Langella gives the last word, more or less, to super-rich Bunny Mellon: "Don't think so much about famous people," she told him. "They already think too much about themselves."
Verdict: Readable and generally well-written, but hardly essential. **1/2.