Tag Archives: Liza Minnelli

Gift Guide 2017: Petrucelli Picks the Best Celebrity Bios of the Year (Part One)

On the morning of January 15, 1947, the bisected body of aspiring Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short was discovered on the sidewalk of a vacant L.A. lot, and at first it was mistaken for a mannequin. The gruesome chance sighting ignited one of the most sensational and flawed manhunts in the history of American criminal justice. Seventy years after the most notorious unsolved murder in American history, Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder (Liveright, $26.95) uncovers tantalizing evidence to raise fresh theories about the culprit.  Pulling from recently unredacted FBI and LAPD files, author Piu Eatwell goes further than any previous investigator, untangling the web of secrets and rampant corruption that clouded the Black Dahlia case for decades. The murder became infamous for the frightful description of Short’s severed body and for the confounding clinical way it seemed to have been carried out, pointing to a killer experienced with a knife. Image result for black dahlia deathAfter the corpse was identified as a young beauty with jet-black hair and a rose tattoo, she became instant tabloid fodder. Christened by the press as “The Black Dahlia,” an exotic flower both toxic and intoxicating, Short became a potent symbol of the dark side of Hollywood and a warning to young women about the fatal snares of glamour, adventure, and female sexuality. In an all-too-familiar transformation, Eatwell recounts the swift transition of Elizabeth Short, New England ingénue, to transient temptress violated by a delinquent man (or lustful lesbian lover). This is the best book of the year: What sets Eatwell’s account apart from the many speculative histories, fictional retellings, movies and TV documentaries, is her gripping re-creation of the period through letters, memoirs, newspaper accounts and other evidentiary documents. So who killed Liz? Read and savor!

The second best book of the year: The Way It Was: My Life With Frank Sinatra (Hachette Books, $27). I loved it because I grew up during the years of the Westchester Premier Theater, where I saw all the greats, giving flowers and getting autographs. And we all knew it was run by the Mafia. That’s just part of Eliot Weisman’s candid memoir (he also was thisclose to Liza and Steve and Eydie); the memoir takes an inside look at the final decades of Frank Sinatra’s life. Frankie invited Weisman into his inner circle, an honor that the budding celebrity manager never took for granted. Even when he was caught up in a legal net designed to snare Sinatra, Weisman went to prison rather than being coerced into telling prosecutors what they wanted to hear. With Weisman’s help, Sinatra orchestrated in his final decades some of the most memorable moments of his career. There was the Duets album, which was Sinatra’s top seller, the massive tours, such as Together Again, which featured a short-lived reunion of the Rat Pack—until Dean Martin, having little interest in reliving the glory days, couldn’t handle it anymore—and the Ultimate Event Tour, which brought Liza and Sammy Davis Jr. on board and refreshed the much-needed lining of both their pocketbooks.  Ultimately Weisman, who had become the executor of Sinatra’s estate, was left alone to navigate the infighting and hatred between those born to the name and the wife who acquired it, when a mystery woman showed up and threatened to throw the family’s future into jeopardy. Great fearless stuff!

Vanda Krefft’s The Man Who Made the Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox (Harper, $40) is the first definitive biography of William Fox: The fascinating, flawed, and brilliant man who risked everything to realize his bold dream of a Hollywood empire. It took her 10 years to research and write this compelling, well-researched massive tome that has it all: Ambition, genius, vision, glamour, greed, fortune and misfortune unfolding at the dawn of modern America. This is a landmark in film history . . . and the photos have never been seen before!

With his bestselling biography Jack Kennedy, Chris Matthews shared a new look of one of America’s most beloved Presidents and the patriotic spirit that defined him. Now, with Bobby Kennedy: The Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, $28.99), Matthews returns with a gripping, in-depth, behind-the-scenes portrait of one of the great figures of the American twentieth century. Bobby kennedy 9781501111860 hrDrawing on extensive research and interviews, Matthews pulls back the curtain on the public and private worlds of Robert Francis Kennedy. He shines a light on all the important moments of his life, from his early years and his start in politics to his crucial role as attorney general in his brother’s administration and his tragic run for president.

If you ask “who?” when we urge Head of Drama: The Memoir of Sydney Newman (ECW Press, $22.95) you will learn that this is the autobiography of the creator of Doctor Who . . . as well as a legend in British and Canadian TV and film.  For the first time, his comprehensive memoirs—written in the years before his death in 1997—are being made public. At the BBC, overseeing a staff of 400, Newman developed a science fiction show that flourishes to this day: Doctor Who. Providing further context to Newman’s memoir is an in-depth biographical essay by Graeme Burk, which positions Newman’s legacy in the history of television, and an afterword by one of Sydney’s daughters, Deirdre Newman.

Cher. Liza. Bette. Beyoncé also needs only a one-word introduction. She is a singer, an artist, an activist, a mom and an icon. In the first bio-graphic book of its kind, Beyoncegraphica  (Aurum Press, $29.99), her genius is explored like never before, with fun, informative infographics looking at the highlights and successes of her career–from costume changes to record sales, http://cloud.firebrandtech.com/api/v2/img/111/9781781316511/Mher impressive vocal range to her work off-stage, as well as including the all-important breakdown of some of her most popular dance routines. Beyoncé’s astonishing accomplishments are showcased against fellow legends of the industry in addition to celebrating her achievements in her own right.

Henry Fonda and James Stewart were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood for 40 years. They became friends and then roommates as stage actors in New York, and when they began making films in Hollywood, they roomed together again. What a wonderful life. They got along famously, with a shared interest in elaborate practical jokes and model airplanes, among other things. For Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart (Simon & Schuster, $29),  Scott Eyman spoke with Fonda’s widow and children as well as three of Stewart’s children, plus actors and directors who had worked with the men—in addition to doing extensive archival research to get the full details of their time together. This is not another Hollywood story, but a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary friendship that lasted through war, marriages, children, careers and everything else.

Miss D and Me: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis (Hachette Books, $27) is a story of two powerful women, one at the end of her life and the other at the beginning. As Bette Davis aged she was looking for an assistant, but she found something more than that in Kathryn Sermak: A loyal and loving buddy, a co-conspirator in her jokes and schemes, and a competent assistant whom she trained never to miss a detail. But Miss D had strict rules for Kathryn about everything from how to eat a salad to how to wear her hair . . . even the spelling of Kathryn’s name was changed (adding the “y”) per Miss D’s request. Throughout their time together, the two grew incredibly close, and Kathryn had a front-row seat to the larger-than-life Davis’s career renaissance in her later years, as well as to the humiliating public betrayal that nearly killed Miss D. A fun read.

Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis, who knew Lou Reed and interviewed him extensively, tells the provocative story of his complex and chameleonic life in Lou Reed: A Life (Little, Brown and Company, $32). With unparalleled access to dozens of Reed’s friends, family and collaborators, DeCurtis tracks Reed’s five-decade career through the accounts of those who knew him and through Reed’s most revealing testimony, his music. LOU-REED-A-BIOGRAPHY-ANTHONY-DECURTIS-FIRST-EDITION-2017-BRAND-NEW-NEVER-READWe travel deep into his defiantly subterranean world, enter the studio as the Velvet Underground record their groundbreaking work, and revel in Reed’s relationships with such legendary figures as Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and Laurie Anderson. Gritty, intimate, and unflinching, Lou Reed is an illuminating tribute to one of the most incendiary artists of our time.

The cyclone of stories ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee relates in Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I am One. (Kingswell, $26.99) is for all the mistake makers who have learned to forgive others and themselves-even in the aftermath of man-made, or in this case Zee-made, disasters. Ginger also opens up about her lifelong battle with crippling depression, her romances that range from misguided to dangerous and her tumultuous professional path. She’s shattered the glass ceiling for women in meteorology, but admits here first, she’s the one natural disaster she couldn’t have forecast.

At a moment of crisis over our national identity, venerated journalist Dan Rather has emerged as a voice of reason and integrity, reflecting on—and writing passionately about—what it means to be an American. Now, with What Unites Us (Algonquin Books , $22.95), he reminds us of the principles upon which the United States was founded. Looking at the freedoms that define us, from the vote to the press; the values that have transformed us, from empathy to inclusion to service; the institutions that sustain us, such as public education; and the traits that helped form our young country, such as the audacity to take on daunting challenges in science and medicine, Rather brings to bear his decades of experience on the frontlines of the world’s biggest stories. As a living witness to historical change, he offers up an intimate view of history, tracing where we have been in order to help us chart a way forward and heal our bitter divisions. With a fundamental sense of hope, What Unites Us is the book to inspire conversation and listening, and to remind us all how we are, finally, one.

 

With his trademark acerbic wit, incisive humor, and infectious paranoia, Dick Gregory, one of our foremost comedians and most politically engaged civil rights activists, looks back at 100 key events from the complicated history of black America. In this collection of thoughtful, provocative essays, he charts the complex and often obscured history of the African American experience. In his unapologetically candid voice, he moves from African ancestry and surviving the Middle Passage to the creation of the Jheri Curl; the enjoyment of bacon and everything pig; the headline-making shootings of black men; and the Black Lives Matter movement. A captivating journey through time, Defining Moments in Black History explores historical movements such as The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as cultural touchstones such as Sidney Poitier winning the Best Actor Oscar for Lilies in the Field and Billie Holiday releasing Strange Fruit. An engaging look at black life that offers insightful commentary on the intricate history of the African American people, Defining Moments in Black History is an essential, no-holds-bar history lesson that will provoke, enlighten, and entertain.

 

Gift Guide 2017: Petrucelli Picks the Best DVDs of the Year

She remains my favorite Christmas Carol. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark TV institution, Time Life has released The Best of The Carol Burnett Show, which includes the best of the best, from all 11 seasons, together for the very first time.

The six-discs feature episodes that haven’t been seen since they originally aired, plus some of Burnett’s most beloved classics on 16 fresh-from-the-vaults episodes. Classic shows include the very first episode with Jim Nabors and the emotional, double-length series finale, as well as some of the best-loved, fan-favorite sketches including “Mrs. Wiggins,” “Carol and Sis,” “The Oldest Man,” “The Family,” As the Stomach Turns, as well as a marathon of movie spoofs, along with commercial spoofs and some amazing bloopers. Once again, I’m so glad we had this time together.

 

Sleeping single in a double bed? Join the biggest names of country music with the time-Life gem CMA Awards Life: Greatest Moments 1968-2015, an attractively packaged DVD collector’s set filled with 127 unforgettable performances from five decades of the nationally-televised ceremony.

Across the 10  discs, home audiences will discover a who’s who of country artists, including Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Rascal Flatts, George Strait, Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Trisha Yearwood, Dwight Yoakam, Barbara Mandrell and Tammy Wynette, who stands by her man. Music lovers will thrill to the memorable, once-in-a-lifetime performances including Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” and Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” as well as famous country duets and collaborations including “Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” by Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire, and “Lady” by Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie. There’s also a nifty  year-by-year guide to 50 years of Award winners.

Universal has released a handful of must-have DVDs and DVD sets that are paramount to ever movie maven. Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection features 15 iconic films from the acclaimed director’s illustrious career, including Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest, plus 10 episodes from his groundbreaking TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Featuring more than 15 hours of insightful bonus features plus an exclusive collectible book, each film has been digitally restored from high resolution film elements for the ultimate Hitchcock experience.  A shower anyone?

Screen legends Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire sing and dance their way into your heart in one of the most timeless holiday classics ever, Holiday Inn.  The film, in which Crosby plays a song-and-dance man who leaves showbiz to run an inn that is open only on holidays,  features the Oscar-winning song, “White Christmas”. Astaire plays his former partner and rival in love. Holiday Inn [Blu-ray]Follow the two talented pals as they find themselves competing for the affections of the same lovely lady (Marjorie Reynolds). ‘Tis the season for one of the most sensational musical comedies of all time! An extra gift: Holiday Inn 75th Anniversary Edition Crosby includes a new bonus disc featuring the all-new full-length Broadway musical.

Discover the true meaning of the holiday season with the live action adaptation of the beloved classic, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch, director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer reimagine one of the most enduring holiday stories of all time. Why is the Grinch (Carrey) such a grouch? No one seems to know, until little Cindy Lou Who takes matters into her own hands and turns both Whoville and the Grinch’s world upside down, inside out. . . . and funny side up. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas [Blu-ray]Filled with dazzling scenery, special effects, makeup and costumes, this is an adventure even Scrooge would love. Grinch Deluxe Edition Combo Pack features collectible fuzzy green packaging.

Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection features 21 of the funniest movies from the legendary comedian. From his early days in vaudeville to his years as a top Hollywood box-office draw and star of radio, TV and live performances, Bob Hope’s innocent charm and lightning-quick wit have delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie CollectionCo-starring some of the Hollywood’s greatest stars (think Lucille Ball, W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen,  Betty Grable, Paulette Goddard, Jane Russell), this gem will entertain longtime fans and introduce a whole new generation to the unforgettable style of one of the most famous comedians of all time.
Hoping for more Bob? Time Life’s

Thanks for the Memories: The Bob Hope Specials offers the most complete collection of his television specials ever assembled.  The set contains
19 discs, on which fans will find more than 37 hours of specials, including 20 that have not been seen since their original broadcast, as well as an incredible collection of celebrity guest appearances.

Paula Parkins is such a good girl. Make that was a good girl. She is one of those good-girls-gone-bad who leads her degenerate teenage hellcats down a path of gas station hijackings, pajama party orgies and cold-blooded murder Welcome to Ed Wood’s The Violent Years, an essential exposé on crime, gender politics and sweater-stealing; let us not forget the patently deranged dialogue to the scene where the gang performs a “man attack.”

This Blu-ray new 4K print escaped from Alamo Drafthouse’s American Genre Film Archive (the largest non-profit genre film archive in the world, and Something Weird) and we could not be happier. The bonus tracks are numerous, including gutter-noir trailers from the Something Weird vault,  memorabilia scrapbook and a bonus movie, Anatomy of a Psycho, a new 2K scan from an original theatrical print.

Richard Simmons is still a show-biz heavyweight. For 30 years, he has been helping people lose weight (more than 3,000,000 pounds and counting) and get healthy with his unique enthusiasm, charm and encouragement.  Since opening his first aerobics studio in Beverly Hills in 1974, he has cemented himself in America’s pop-culture psyche with 65 fitness videos (selling over 20 million copies), dozens of infomercials, nine best-selling books, myriad parodies of his over-the-top persona, seemingly endless TV and film appearances and tabloid headlines digging the skinny on him.  Time-Life celebrates the glittery guru with Richard Simmons: Sweatin’ to the Oldies: 30th Anniversary Edition, an energetic six-disc set includes the complete collection of Simmons’ bestselling  workout programs. 

Pairing lively classics from the ’50s and ’60s with rockin’ low impact routines and Simmons’ humorous banter, encouragement and sparkly tank tops, the set offers 41 exercise routines set to rock n’ roll classics. Loaded with extras, this special anniversary set also includes 100 minutes of bonus programming featuring an exclusive interview with Richard, testimonials and success stories from Simmons’  students, a full-color 20-page album of rare personal photos and memories personally selected by Richard and a bonus disc of Love Yourself and Win–Six Steps to Self-Esteem & Permanent Weight Loss.

So what was the fuss about? Director Darren Aronofsky’s film mother! received good reviews, though many whined about the flick’s biblical allegories and depictions of violence. And the controversy continues. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in  mother! (Paramount Home Media Distribution), the visually arresting psychological thriller that will leave your heart pounding and your mind blown.  The film also stars and Michelle Pfeiffer, and stunned critics and audiences around the world. The mother! 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Combo Packs include more 35 minutes of in-depth bonus content. Join Aronofsky and cast as they discuss the production of the movie and take us through its spectacular finale. Plus, check out the incredible makeup effects that made mother! a visual tour de force. We thought we’d share the reason Aronofsky so named the film: the title’s exclamation mark, he says, “reflects the spirit of the film” and corresponds to an “exclamation point” of the ending. “To find out why there’s a lowercase ‘m’, read the credits and look for the letter that isn’t capitalised. Ask yourself what’s another name for this character?”

It’s the series that out the “fun” in “dysfunctional”.   After breaking out from “The Family” sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, Thelma “Mama” Harper’s home-spun humor earned its own well-loved sitcom for six knee-slapping seasons.  Time Life invites all classic TV aficionados and sitcom lovers to spend some quality time (across 130 episodes) with Mama’s Family: The Complete Series.  Remember, Mama always knew best.

Celebrating the Original King of Late Night, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends The Complete Collections is the ultimate 10-disc set bringing together all the greatest moments and Johnny’s most legendary guests from the show’s 30 year, 4,000 episode run.  Carefully selected from the vaults by Carson archivists, this Time Life collection features more than 27 hours of classic Johnny–full, unedited episodes and original commercials from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.  Also included is a memory book filled with incredible and rare archival photos and nearly two hours of bonus features. Let’s say it together: Hereeeeeeeeeeeeee’s Johnny!

Paramount has made film fans an offer they cannot refuse:  The Godfather Trilogy: Omerta Edition. Only 45,000 of these limited edition, numbered sets will be made making it a stunning gift for any fan. Celebrating its 45th anniversary, director Francis Ford Coppola’s opus is widely considered one of the most influential films in cinematic history.  Now the entire epic trilogy is available on Blu-ray in a spectacular 4-disc Omertà Edition, which includes the Coppola Restoration of The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II, as well as the remastered version of The Godfather, Part III. The set includes commentary by Coppola on all three films, a full disc of previously released in-depth special features, as well as exclusive new collectible Trivia Cards, Magnetic Poetry, an Anatomy of a Scene fold out and Quote Cards.

Porno for Xmas? And why not. Bat Pussy isn’t just porno . . . it’s considered one of the worst movies ever made. We’re not sure when it was made and released (possibly released in the early ’70s), but we do know it’s a spoof of the TV series Batman, and the film’s cult following relish the flick’s notoriously poor quality, technical flaws, bizarre dialogue, flaccid dicks, public urination, dildo demonstrations and unattractive stars.

Need more? The director can be heard giving actors directions, a crew member audibly belches during a sex scene and the dialogue includes gems such as My horoscope says “I’m going to fuck you in the nose!” Be honest: Even Mrs. Claus loves Bat Pussy, whose alter ego is Dora Dildo!

First Run Features always releases first-rate DVDs. A quartet of faves:
♥ Life on the Line: Season 3  This Emmy-winning series narrated by Lisa Ling that follows the medical journey of individuals fighting for their life. At hospitals around the nation, people face life and death situations every day. Episode 2: Ebola WarriorsLife on the Line zeroes in on one renowned academic hospital in Southern California. Loma Linda University Health serves one quarter of California and equips medical teams to travel around the world. From surviving Ebola in Western Africa to healing after one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on US soil, the series is an inspiring look into the resilience of humankind.
Ma’ Rosa Actress Jaclyn Jose took home the award for Best Actress at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for her powerful performance as Rosa in this riveting new film from director Brillante Mendoza. Exploring the widespread corruption and chaos of the Philippines in the Duterte era, the film follows Rosa and her husband Nestor, owners of a tiny convenience store who supplement their meager income by selling small amounts of “ice” (crystal meth).

Eventually the couple gets caught and hauled away by police, who are more interested in collecting bribes than eradicating crime. With their parents locked away, it’s left to Rosa’s children to scrounge together the money to pay off the police and free their parents, by any means necessary.
♥ Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe tells the story of the Austrian writer and his life in exile from 1936 to 1942. Zweig was one of the most famous writers of his time, but as a Jewish intellectual he struggled to find the right stance towards the events in Nazi Germany.Image result Driven to emigrate to South America at the peak of his worldwide fame, Zweig fell into despair at the sight of Europe’s downfall. This visually stunning and emotionally powerful film explores what it means to be a refugee, and exposes the difficult decision to speak out or remain silent in the face of tyranny.
♥ The Pulitzer at 100 This documentary by Oscar-winning director Kirk Simon celebrates the centenary of the Pulitzers–the revered national award for excellence in journalism and the arts. The riveting tales of the winning artists give an insider’s view of how these pinnacles of achievement are selected and how the award has the power to change lives and communities. The diverse stories explored in the film relate to immigration, race, gender, and above all freedom of speech–all issues that are ever more relevant in America today.

 Featuring interviews with notable prize recipients (including authors, journalists, playwrights and musicians such as Toni Morrison, Michael Chabon, Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel, Carl Bernstein , Wynton y of the man who created it, also brings Pulitzer-winning works to life through readings by John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, Liev Schreiber, Martin Scorsese and Yara Shahidi.

American Genre Film Archive continues to scarce us (sometimes silly) with their gory gamut.  Some faves that will become yours:
♥ The Zodiac Killer Directed by Tom Hanson, who had once owned a chain of Pizza Man restaurants, made this flick in an attempt to capture the real-life Zodiac Killer. That plan didn’t work. Instead, we got the most outrageous and compelling ”tabloid horror” vortex in the history of planet Earth. And beyond.Zodiac Killer, The [Blu-ray + DVD] During theatrical screenings, Hanson constructed in-theater ”traps” to lure the killer from hiding. These included the use of an ice cream freezer filled with rent-a-cops and a raffle with a motorcycle as a prize. Shades of William Castle! This edition is a new 4K scan from the only surviving 16mm blow-up elements. Make sure you listen to Hanson’s commentary!
♥ Ruby No, this movie was not named after my mother. It’s a still relatively-unknown gem brimming with atmosphere and suspense . . . yes, there are enough creepy special effects and blood and gore to satisfy the most demanding genre fans.Ruby [Blu-ray + DVD] Most of it takes place at night, with all kinds of marvelous influences lurking in the shadows. Directed by cult-film director Curtis Harrington and featuring an impressive cast including Piper Laurie (as Ruby, fresh from her starring role in Carrie) and Stuart Whitman. This special BD/DVD combo is the definitive original theatrical version of Ruby, with a 2K restoration, two commentary tracks and more than hours of video interviews and special features.

We remain crazy over Patsy Cline.  She was a trailblazer who defined modern country music, and broke down barriers of gender, class and genre. In her music and her life, she set a standard of authenticity towards which artists still strive. After years of hard work to overcome industry biases and her own personal hardships, she achieved enormous success, only to have it punctured by uncanny premonitions and her untimely death at age 30 in 1963.

When Patsy Cline Was CrazyHer life and legacy is showcased in When Patsy Cline Was … Crazy (UMe), a DVD that collects the acclaimed PBS documentary, Patsy Cline: American Masters, and a wealth of exclusive bonus material comprised of themed additional interview footage and rare vintage performances.  An accompanying booklet includes classic photos of Cline.

Charles Castle, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, looks like he has it all. But his marriage is falling apart and his wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract. Studio boss Stanley Shriner Hoff isn’t taking the news too well, and he’ll do anything he can to get his man to sign on the dotted line, even if means exposing dark secrets. Winner of the Silver Lion at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife remains a great piece of film noir. The Big Knife (Special Edition) [Blu-ray] Based on Clifford Odet’s famed stage work, the film boasts a remarkable cast, including Jack Palance, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Ida Lupino, Jean Hagen and Everett Sloane.

Remember when fading film stars began working in schlocky films and/or TV shows? Some of these treasures exist. Yvonne DeCarlo, John Ireland and John Carradine stars in the hellish Satan’s Cheerleaders (VCI Entertainment). Benedict High School’s cheerleaders aren’t shy and sweet. The football team knows them well . . . and Billy, the school’s disturbed janitor, would like to. In the locker room, the girl’s shower and dress, unaware of the evil eyes which secretly watch them. They don’t know that a curse has been placed on their clothes. Satan's Cheerleaders [Blu-ray + DVD]And they don’t know that their trip to the first big game of the season might sideline them for eternity. Will the cheerleaders succumb to the dark ritual of sexual sacrifice and death that’s been plotted for them? Only those who dare watch will know!

Terry Newman’s “Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore ” fits like a glove . . . or a Gucci

After working professionally in the offices of Redbook, Us Weekly, United Feature Syndicate and sundry other spots, I no longer dress when I work. And write. The daze of black ties and tuxes are over with. Forever. No more Oscars and Tonys and Grammys and other stuffy, star-studded events.

A new book? That calls for me to wear T-shirts and boxers.
Another article? Perhaps sweats or pjs.
Another blog? The naked truth in the naked truth.

It’s no wonder I didn’t make Terry Newman’s delicious new book, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore (Harper Design, $29.99). This innovative gift book took a clue from the horse-faced Diana Vreeland who, in her 1984 autobio D.V., reminded all “Where would fashion be without literature”?

Newman presents 50 fully illustrated profiles of prominent men and women of letters, highlighting their key works, signature fashion moments from their wardrobe that express their persona and how they influence the fashion world today. This segues into an examination of how this particular item of clothing or style makes up part of fashion’s lingua franca, getting under the skin of the fashion story and talking in more detail about its historical trajectory and distinctive impact on popular culture.

Under the garb are revealing anecdotes about the authors and their work, archival photography, first-person quotations, little known facts, and clothing-oriented excerpts that exemplify their writing style—make this a lively look at the authors we love.

Joan Didion, smoking and leaning against a sleet Stingway, stars out from the cover. In 2015, she was the face of Céline. Everything Didion writes is distinctly Didion; she is an original and that’s something designers can connect with. Her personalized journalism where innermost emotions and ideas are transparently communicated or experimental fiction such as her novel Democracy where she, as the author, takes center stage as narrator are bodies of work that reflect the soul. Her style does the same.

There is only one thing more interesting than a writer, and that’s a stylish writer. The shape and twist of their hair, how they hold a cigarette, or penchant for wearing a particular item is their creative DNA on display, whether it’s an exotic turban like Zadie Smith’s signature head-piece, James Joyce’s wire-framed glasses, or Samuel Beckett’s Wallabees (left).Image result for Samuel Beckett’s Wallabees Quite often a writers’ wardrobe is distinctly out of fashion and for that very reason stands out and alone. Likewise, curious fashion-hounds find writers a stimulating muse in today’s non-linear fashion climate.

For some writers, their style does not mirror, but rather, deflects. Take Sylvia Plath, her Bell Jar wardrobe was prim and proper, and a foil for her tormented psyche. The pearls and twinsets, and later, her less formal but still sensible choices, all projected assimilation and a non-confrontational, even somewhat bland persona, yet her work was dark, confessional. For Plath, fashion was aspirational: she dressed in the way she wanted to be seen, rather than exhibit her interior turmoil.

Delving into the wardrobes of literary icons—past and present—and the way they write about clothes provides a glimpse into the world they each inhabited and their moment in time. A testament to the notion that reading and writing never go out of style, this beautifully designed book is sure to captivate lovers of fine literature and dedicated followers of fashion.

My fave remains Jacqueline Susann (below). The iconic author wrote the best novel ever, Valley of the Dolls, a sordid saga of show-biz. (“Sparkle Neely sparkle!) More than 40 million copies of the bible have sold and I am not even mentioning Jackie’s luck with The Love Machine. After all, once is not enough. Susann sits on the tiled floor of her 200 Central Park South apartment, clad in a mini Pucci (circa mid-60s), diagramming Love Machine‘s Robin Stone on a blackboard.Image result for jacqueline Suzanne pucci

And the quotes! Newman choose some whoppers, the way Liza would have chosen the right Halston before she got fat and drunk and slovenly.

Dorothy Parker: “Gingham’s for the plighted maid; satin’s for the free!”

Maya Angelou: “Seek the fashion which truly fits and befits you. You will always be in fashion if you are true to yourself, and only if you are true to yourself.”

Oscar Wilde: “Fashion is what one wears oneself. Whit is unfashionable is what other people wear.”

Tom Wolfe: “You never realize how much of your background is sewn in the lining of your clothes.”

Newman writes: “What you read is as important as what you wear. And what authors wear is source material for designers’ creativity. The literary and fashion worlds are therefore synchronized, and the geek chic of librarians is a look that is set to prevail.” She adds: “Fashion is a history book as well as a mirror, and the incidental assimilation of who is wearing what, where, why, and when adds density to a cultural read.”

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Celebrity (Auto)Biographies (Part Two)

In Such Good Company (Crown Archetype, $28), Carol Burnett pulls back the curtain on the 25-time Emmy-Award winning show that made television history, and she reminisces about the outrageously funny and tender moments that made working on the series as much fun as watching it. Carol delves into little-known stories of the guests, sketches and improvisations that made The Carol Burnett Show legendary, as well as some favorite tales too good not to relive again. While writing this book, Carol rewatched all 276 episodes and screen-grabbed her favorite video stills from the archives to illustrate the chemistry of the actors and the improvisational magic that made the show so successful. This book is Carol’s love letter to a golden era in television history through the lens of her brilliant show. Get the best seat in the house for “eleven years of laughter, mayhem, and fun in the sandbox.”

Grammy and Academy Award–winning songwriter Carole Bayer Sager shares the remarkably frank and darkly funny story of her life in and out of the recording studio, from her fascinating (and sometimes calamitous) relationships to her collaborations with some of the greatest composers and musical artists of our time. While her professional life was filled with success and fascinating people, her personal life was far more difficult and dramatic.
In They’re Playing Our Song (Simon & Schuster, $28), Sager tells the surprisingly frank and darkly humorous story of a woman whose sometimes crippling fears and devastating relationships inspired many of the songs she would ultimately write. The book will fascinate anyone interested in the craft of songwriting and the joy of collaboration, but Sager’s memoir is also a deeply personal account of how love and heartbreak made her the woman, and the writer, she is.

Seventeen-time all-star; scorer of 81 points in a game; MVP and a shooting guard second only to Jordan in league history: Kobe Bryant is one of basketball’s absolute greatest players, a fascinating and complicated character who knew when he was a mere boy that he would be better than Jordan on the court. The debate about whether he achieved that is a furious one–but Kobe has surpassed Jordan on the all-time scoring list and has only one less championship than Jordan (5 to Jordan’s 6). He is set to retire after the 2015/16 season, just in time for Roland Lazenby’s Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant (Little, Brown and Company, $32) Provocative stories mixed with good old-fashioned basketball reporting make for a riveting and essential read for any hoops fan.

She inspired songs—Leon Russell wrote “A Song for You” and “Delta Lady” for her, Stephen Stills wrote “Cherokee.” She co-wrote songs—“Superstar” and the piano coda to “Layla,” uncredited. She sang backup for Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, and Stills, before finding fame as a solo artist with such hits as “We’re All Alone” and “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher.” Following her story from Lafayette, Tennessee to becoming one of the most sought after rock vocalists in LA in the ’70s, Delta Lady (Harper, $25.99) chronicles Rita Coolidge’s fascinating journey throughout the ’60s-’70s pop/rock universe. A muse to some of the twentieth century’s most influential rock musicians, she broke hearts, Delta Lady is a rich, deeply personal memoir that offers a front row seat to an iconic era, and illuminates the life of an artist whose career has helped shape modern American culture.

Call her a woman of letters. Mary Astor detailed her marital affairs as well as the many, many, many dalliances of some of Hollywood’s biggest names. The studio heads, longtime controllers of public perception, were desperate to keep such juicy details from leaking.  With the complete support of the Astor family and unlimited access to the Mary Astor estate, Joseph Egan has painted a portrait of a great film actress in her most challenging role; an unwilling but determined mother battling for her daughter regardless of the harm that her affairs and her most intimate secrets would do to her career, the careers of her friends, or even Hollywood. The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s ( Diversion Publishing, $16.99) is a look at Hollywood’s Golden Age as it has never been seen before, as Egan spins a wildly absorbing yarn about a scandal that threatened to tarnish forever the dream factory known as Hollywood.

“Casanova” is a synonym for “great lover,” Over the course of his lifetime, he claimed to have seduced more than 100 women, among them married women, young women in convents, girls just barely in their teens, and in one notorious instance, his own illegitimate daughter. Yet the real story of this remarkable figure is little known. He was intellectually curious and read forbidden books, for which he was jailed. He staged a dramatic escape from Venice’s notorious prison, the only person known to have done so. He then fled to France, where he invented the national lottery that still exists to this day. He crisscrossed Europe, landing for a while in St. Petersburg, where he was admitted to the court of Catherine the Great. He corresponded with Voltaire and met Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, assisting them as they composed the timeless opera Don Giovanni. A figure straight out of a Henry Fielding novel: Erotic, brilliant, impulsive, and desperate for recognition, Casanova was a self-destructive genius. Casanova: The World of a Seductive Genius (Simon & Schuster, $32.50) is a witty, roisterous biography exposes his astonishing life in rich, intimate detail.

The curtain has gone up on the complete memoirs of playwright Neil Simon, now with a new introduction and afterword. Neil Simon’s Memoirs (Simon & Schuster, $35) combines Simon’s two memoirs, Rewrites and The Play Goes On, into one volume that spans his extraordinary five-decade career in theater, television and film. Rewrites takes Simon through his first love, his first play, and his first brush with failure. One touching section is as he describes his marriage to his beloved wife Joan, and writes lucidly about the pain of losing her to cancer. The Play Goes On adds to his life’s story, as he wins the Pulitzer Prize and reflects with humor and insight on his tumultuous life and meteoric career.
Now, with the whole story in one place, Neil Simon’s collected memoirs trace the history of modern entertainment over the last fifty years through the eyes of a man who started life the son of a garment salesman and became the greatest—and most successful—American playwright of all time.

Claude Monet is perhaps the world’s most beloved artist, and among all his creations, the paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny are most famous. Monet intended them to provide an asylum of peaceful meditation. Yet, as Ross King reveals in Mad Enchantment (Bloomsbury, $30), his magisterial chronicle of both artist and masterpiece, these beautiful canvases belie the intense frustration Monet experienced at the difficulties of capturing the fugitive effects of light, water and color. They also reflect the terrible personal torments Monet suffered in the last dozen years of his life. The book tells the full story behind the creation of the “Water Lilies,” as the horrors of World War I came ever closer to Paris and Giverny, and a new generation of younger artists, led by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, were challenging the achievements of Impressionism.

It’s widely known that Oscar Wilde was precociously intellectual, flamboyant and hedonistic—but lesser so that he owed these characteristics to his parents. Oscar’s mother, Lady Jane Wilde, rose to prominence as a political journalist, advocating a rebellion against colonialism in 1848. She opened a salon and was known as the most scintillating hostess of her day. She passed on her infectious delight in the art of living to Oscar, who drank it in greedily. His father, Sir William Wilde, was acutely conscious of injustices of the social order. But Sir William was also a philanderer, and when he stood accused of sexually assaulting a young female patient, the scandal and trial sent shockwaves through Dublin society. As for Oscar, the one role that didn’t suit him was that of Victorian husband, as his wife, Constance, was to discover.  In a major repositioning of our first modern celebrity, The Fall of the House of Wilde (Bloomsbury, $35) identifies Oscar Wilde as a member of one of the most dazzling Irish American families of Victorian times, and places him in the broader social, political, and religious context.

He’s best known for his wistful movie scores, with “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” from the Toy Story soundtrack leading the pack. He’s been nominated for 20 Academy Awards, and has twice won Oscars for Best Original Song. But Randy Newman was also a quintessentially American pop powerhouse before he turned his formidable talents to scoring films. A songwriter since the age of 17, his earliest compositions were recorded by ’60s luminaries like The Fleetwoods, Gene Pitney, Jackie DeShannon and the O’Jays. Yet very little has been written about his personal life, including his marriages and his diagnosis with Epstein-Barr virus. Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong: The Life of Randy Newman (Overlook, $28.95) is a primer for newcomers to his work and a rewarding handbook for the aficionado.

Yes, it’s her, again. Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep (Harper, $26.99) explores her beginnings as a young woman of the ’70s grappling with love, feminism and her astonishing talent. Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice.Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon.

Mary Martin was one of the greatest stars of her day. Growing up in Texas, she was married early to Benjamin Hagman and gave birth to her first child, Larry Hagman. She didn’t make a dent in the movie industry and was lured to New York where she found herself auditioning for Cole Porter and his new show “Leave It to Me!”. After she sang the bawdy “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, she ended up on the cover of Life magazine. Six years later, she became the Toast of Broadway. Her personal life was just as interesting: In NYC, she met and married Richard Halliday, a closeted upper-class homosexual who adored her and interior decorating. There were rumors about Martin, too, being in a lesbian relationship with both Janet Gaynor and Jean Arthur.  Savor the stuff in David Kaufman’s Some Enchanted Evenings (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99)

Still known to millions primarily as the author of The Lottery, Shirley Jackson has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and psychological horror, Jackson plumbed the cultural anxiety of postwar America more deeply than anyone. Now, biographer Ruth Franklin reveals the tumultuous life and inner darkness of the author in Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright, $35). Placing Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe, Franklin demonstrates how her unique contribution to this genre came from her focus on “domestic horror.” Based on a wealth of previously undiscovered correspondence and dozens of new interviews, the tome―an exploration of astonishing talent shaped by a damaging childhood and turbulent marriage―becomes the definitive biography of a generational avatar and an American literary giant.

On May 25, 1977, a problem-plagued, budget-straining, independent science-fiction film opened in a mere thirty-two American movie theatres. Conceived, written and directed by a little-known filmmaker named George Lucas, Star Wars reinvented the cinematic landscape, ushering in a new way for movies to be made, marketed, and merchandised. And if that wasn’t game-changing enough, Lucas went on to create another blockbuster series with “Indiana Jones,” and completely revolutionized the world of special effects, not to mention sound systems. His work and legacy have led to a rash of innovation and democratization in film and television. Brian Jay Jones does a splendid job detailing Lucas’ fame and fortune in George Lucas: A Life (Little, Brown and Company, $32).

Why were Americans so attracted to John F. Kennedy in the late ‘50s and early ’60s . . . was it is glamorous image, good looks, cool style, tough-minded rhetoric and sex appeal? As Steve Watts argues in JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier (Thomas Dunne Books, $29.99), JFK was tailor made for the cultural atmosphere of his time. He benefited from a crisis of manhood that had welled up in postwar America when men had become ensnared by bureaucracy, softened by suburban comfort, and emasculated by a generation of newly aggressive women.  By examining Kennedy in the context of certain books, movies, social critiques, music, and cultural discussions that framed his ascendancy, Watts shows us the excitement and sense of possibility, the optimism and aspirations that accompanied the dawn of a new age in America.

For too long Tippi Hedren’s story has been told by others through whispered gossip and tabloid headlines. In Tippi: A Memoir (William Morrow, $28.99), she sets the record straight, recalling how a young and virtuous Lutheran girl from small-town Minnesota became a worldwide legend as one of the most famous Hitchcock girls, as an unwavering animal activist, and as the matriarch of a powerful Hollywood dynasty that includes her movie star daughter Melanie Griffith, and rising star Dakota Johnson, her granddaughter. Hedren digs deep into her complicated relationship with the man who discovered her talent, director Alfred Hitchcock, the benefactor who would become a repulsive and controlling director who contractually controlled her every move. She speaks openly about the dark pain she endured working with him on their most famous collaborations, The Birds and Marnie. Filled with 16 pages of beautiful photos, Tippi is a rare and fascinating look at a private woman s remarkable life no celebrity aficionado can miss.

In a career that has spanned more than 60 years, Robert Wagner has witnessed the twilight of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the rise of television, becoming a beloved star in both media. During that time he became acquainted, both professionally and socially, with the remarkable women who were the greatest screen personalities of their day. I Loved Her in the Movies (Viking, $tk) is his intimate and revealing account of the charisma of these women on film, why they became stars, and how their specific emotional and dramatic chemistries affected the choices they made as actresses as well as the choices they made as women. Among Wagner’s subjects are Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Gloria Swanson, Norma Shearer, Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, Dorothy Lamour, Debra Paget, Jean Peters, Linda Darnell, Betty Hutton, Raquel Welch, Glenn Close, and the two actresses whom he ultimately married, Natalie Wood and Jill St. John.  As fun and entertaining as RJ himself.

Was it magic? In Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales (Simon & Schuster, $26),  Penn Jillette tells how he lost 100 pounds with his trademark outrageous sense of humor and biting social commentary that makes this success story anything but ordinary.  Topping 330 pounds and saddled with a systolic blood pressure reading over 200, he knew he was at a dangerous crossroads: If he wanted to see his small children grow up, he needed to change. And then came a former NASA scientist and an unconventional innovator, Ray Cronise, who saved Penn Jillette’s life with his wild “potato diet.” Penn describes the process in hilarious detail, as he performs his Las Vegas show, takes meetings with Hollywood executives, hangs out with his celebrity friends and fellow eccentric performers, all while remaining a dedicated husband and father. Presto is an incisive, rollicking read.

We have never forgiven Maggie Smith for stealing Liza Minnelli’s Oscar (look it up), but Michael Coveney’s biography shines a light on the life and career of a truly remarkable performer, one whose stage and screen career spans six decades. From her days as a West End star of comedy and revue, Dame Maggie’s path would cross with those of the greatest actors, playwrights, and directors of the era. Whether stealing scenes from Richard Burton, answering back to Laurence Olivier, or playing opposite Judi Dench in Breath of Life, her career can be seen as a “Who’s Who” of British theater. The book, written with the actress’ blessing and drawing on personal archives as well as interviews with immediate family and close friends, is a portrait of one of the greatest actors of our time.

Born a Crime: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Spiegel & Grau, $28) is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life. His name is Trevor Noah. The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty.

Felix and Oscar? No way. The oddest couple was Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. Donald Bogle skillfully recreates the moving narrative of Taylor and Jackson’s experiences together and their intense emotional connection, without shying away from the controversies that swirled around them. Through interviews with friends and acquaintances of the two stars, as well as anonymous but credible sources, Elizabeth and Michael: The Queen of Hollywood and the King of Pop―A Love Story (Atria, $26) emerges as a tender, intimate look at this famous odd couple and a treasure to their millions of fans.

The first book from Ruth Bader Ginsburg since becoming a Supreme Court Justice in 1993—a witty, engaging, serious, and playful collection of writings and speeches from the woman who has had a powerful and enduring influence on law, women’s rights, and popular culture. My Own Words (Simon & Schuster, $30) offers Justice Ginsburg on wide-ranging topics, including gender equality, the workways of the Supreme Court, being Jewish, law and lawyers in opera, and the value of looking beyond US shores when interpreting the US Constitution. Throughout her life Justice Ginsburg has been (and continues to be) a prolific writer and public speaker.

In 2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed at the Super Bowl’s halftime show. The experience was so exhilarating that Bruce decided to write about it. That’s how this extraordinary autobiography began. Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to these pages the same honesty, humor and originality found in his songs. Born to Run (Simon & Schuster, $32.50) will be revelatory for anyone who has ever enjoyed Bruce Springsteen, but this book is much more than a legendary rock star’s memoir. This is a book for workers and dreamers, parents and children, lovers and loners, artists, freaks, or anyone who has ever wanted to be baptized in the holy river of rock and roll.

Unlike The Boss, Stephen Foster still has no (real, true) fame. The subtitle of a new bio,  The Life and Songs of Stephen Foster: A Revealing Portrait of the Forgotten Man Behind “Swanee River,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “My Old Kentucky Home”  (9Rowman & Littlefield, $45) says it all. He died in poverty, in New York’s Bellevue Hospital, three days after falling in his Bowery bathroom and severely cutting his throat on the broken basin. His last words? “I’m done for.” A friend found his alcohol-ravaged body at the local morgue, a body whose purse contained 38 cents and a scrap of paper on which the words “dear friends and gentle hearts” were written . . . possibly the opening line to a new song.

Cerphe’s Up:  A Musical Life with Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, CSNY, and Many More (Carrel Books, $34.99) is an incisive musical memoir by Cerphe Colwell, a renowned rock radio broadcaster for more than forty-five years in Washington, DC. Cerphe shares his life as a rock radio insider in rich detail and previously unpublished photographs. His story includes promotion and friendship with a young unknown Bruce Springsteen; his years at radio station WHFS 102.3 as it blossomed in a new free-form format; hanging out with George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, John Entwistle, Jackson Browne, and many more; testifying on Capitol Hill with friend Frank Zappa during the “Porn Rock” hearings; and managing the radio syndication of both G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Stern.

In 2015, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won its first FIFA championship in 16 years, culminating in an epic final game that electified soccer fans around the world. It also featured a gutsy, brilliant performance by team captain and midfielder Carli Lloyd, who made history that day, scoring a hat trick—three goals in one game—during the first 16 minutes. But there was a time when Carli almost quit the sport. In 2003 she was struggling, her soccer career at a crossroads. What Carli lacked were fitness, mental toughness and character. Despite all the naysayers, the times she was benched, moments when her self-confidence took a nosedive, she succeeded in becoming one of the best in the world. The candid When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26) candid reflection on a remarkable turnaround will take readers inside the women’s national team and inside the head of an athlete who willed herself to perform at the highest levels of competition.

To have been alive during the last 60 years is to have lived with the music of Paul Simon. The boy from Queens scored his first hit record in 1957, just months after Elvis Presley ignited the rock era. As the songwriting half of Simon & Garfunkel, his work helped define the youth movement of the ’60s. On his own in the ’70s, Simon made radio-dominating hits. He kicked off the ’80s by reuniting with Garfunkel to perform for half a million New Yorkers in Central Park. Five years later, Simon’s album “Graceland” sold millions and spurred an international political controversy. And it doesn’t stop there. Peter Ames Carlin’s Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon  (Henry Holt, $32) is a revelatory account of the life of beloved American music icon, a story replete with tales of Carrie Fisher, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Shelley Duvall, Nelson Mandela, drugs, depression, marriage, divorce and more.

A chat with Barbara Cook: “If someone reads my book with an open mind, he or she can come back from dark places”

The tastiest cookbook this season? Make that Cook book, as in Barbara Cook’s autobiography Then and Now: A Memoir  (Harper, $28.99). The 88-year-old icon shares her life and career, the highs and lows, some of which are quite painful to read. There are warm memories of her golden years as Broadway’s newest ingénue and Broadway’s favorite soprano in the original productions of Plain and Fancy (1955), Candide (1956), The Music Man (1957) and She Loves Me (1963) and later into a sophisticated cabaret and concert artist . . . as well as much sadder, deeply painful memories.barbaracook01_1320848280
At the lowest point of her career, she was drunk and desperate, sleeping through the day and “I didn’t shower or brush my teeth for days at a time.” She confesses that she was “so broke I was stealing food from the supermarket by slipping sandwich meat into my coat pocket.”

Today, Cook suffers from polymyalgia rheumatica, a disease that forces her to use a wheelchair. She may be slower, her voice much softer, but she refuses to give in.  As a recovering alcoholic she still attends her AA meetings. (She quit drinking in 1977.) For that we continue to applaud her. We caught up with Cook one summer afternoon at her Upper West Side apartment and had a lovely conversation, fraught with lots of coughing and short sentences, of the good and bad and both acts—before and after sobriety—of her life. Read her story, and enjoy performances we share.2016-06-27-1467056258-9031733-Cover_BarbaraCook-thumb

First things first: You have been asked to write a book for years. Why did you finally write an autobiography?
Yes, people have wanted me to write a book for some time. I kept saying, ‘Why? Who the hell cares?’ Then it occurred to me that I have had this up and down life, and if someone reads my book with an open mind he or she can come back from dark places and have a successful career. I wrote every word, mostly by hand, on white-lined paper.

And what dark places!
They were things I have lived with for so long. They were a huge part of my life. It’s the first time I am talking about them publicly . . . it was time to talk about the things I had held inside for a long time. It had always been easier not to discuss mother, my sister’s death, the shame and blame I had felt. I spent decades often thinking that I didn’t deserve the nice things that have happened for me. I drank and I ate. I found myself mad at my mother since she blamed me for my sister’s death from double pneumonia. I thought I could help people who have gone through or who are going through what I did. [Barbara’s sister died at 18 months; Barbara was three years old]

No wonder we didn’t like your mother after reading the book. She blamed you, as a child, for your sister’s death!
Yes. My sister had pneumonia, and then I got pneumonia and whooping cough. I gave her whooping cough on top of the pneumonia. (Pauses) When I was in therapy, my first therapist said something that was so smart ‘Did it ever occur to you that she caught it and that you didn’t give it to her?’ Wow. That really helped me because I grew up thinking I was responsible for my sister’s death. I started to think, well, if my sister hadn’t died father wouldn’t have left. I was five. (Pauses, quietly) I became responsible for my sister’s death and his leaving as well.

When I interviewed Liza Minnelli, she told me even recovering alcoholics must always refer themselves as alcoholics. Did Liza break rules by talking about AA? 
AA does not have rules. It has suggestions. They don’t call them rules. I supposed one can break one’s own anonymity which I don’t do.

What did you think went wrong with Liza?
I know Liza and have sat around talking with her. But I don’t think I know her well enough to talk about that.

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Cook with Leonard Bernstein, during the recording of the cast album of “Candide,” the comic operetta, based on Voltaire’s satirical novel

It’s sad seeing you in a wheelchair. Do you believe you will get out of that chair one day?
Well I guess if the condition gets good I will. My spirits are mostly okay, but nobody likes to be like this. There are days when I get down, but I don’t seem to stay down for long.

Many of your fans are gay. Your only child, Adam LeGrant, is gay. You and I are talking less than a month after the tragic massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando. When I say ‘homophobia’ . . .
(Interrupts) It affects me like everyone else. Homophobia is a stupid, horrible way of thinking. It’s getting better, but it’s still, oh God! awful.

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Cook with her son Adam at the opening night of “Sondheim on Sondheim” at Studio 54 on April 22, 2010. Photo by Bruce Glikas

Were you disappointed when you learned your son Adam was gay?
When Adam told me he had something to tell me, I had no idea he was going to tell me he was gay. I thought he was going to tell me he broke up with his girlfriend and was never going to marry her. When he said he was gay, I knew I would never have grandchildren—that entered my psyche immediately. I thought there’s something wrong. I have a son I don’t know. I was really upset and I screamed and cried like crazy for about five days. It occurred to me that  all my life I felt like a little girl with her nose pressed against the glass of a candy shop. I didn’t feel part of real life. But when I bore a son I felt more connected to the world. When Adam told me was gay, I didn’t feel connected anymore.   After crying, I thought, ‘Wait a minute. What on earth is going on with you? What the hell is wrong with you? He is your son!’

I asked Liza about why she has such a gay following. She told me her fans relate to her pain, just as they related to her mother’s pain. You are aware you have a large gay following?
Oh sure. I talked about it with friends a couple of times. But I don’t know what it’s about. Could I be they relate to my problems? Who knows? We all have problems.

You made your Broadway debut in the 1951 musical Flahooley; you won a Tony for The Music Man. A far cry from growing up in Atlanta in such poverty you used to eat dinners of white bread and ketchup. You are a legend! A special survivor!
(Long laugh ) Oh God,  I don’t think of it as way. We all think we’re special. I know I am very, very grateful of the gift I have given. Singing is a wonderful way to move and touch people. I feel that I must sing because it feels so good to get all that out! I suppose it’s a gift from a  higher power.

Where do you keep your Tony?
I have a dining room and it’s kept in a bookcase in there.

After reading your book, I still cannot figure out if you liked Elaine Stritch.
(Laughs) I liked her, but not always what she did. Her behavior sometimes. Somewhere inside her was a very nice person.

Barbara+Cook+Roundabout+Theatre+Company+2016+Ligbg69Xb9flI am going to push you in a corner. What’s your favorite song?
(Laughs) Oh my goodness! The answer is no. I have no favorite.

How about a song you never sang?
I don’t think of things that way; I think of shows I wished I had done. I wanted to do The Most Happy Fella. I auditioned again and again for that and I really wanted to do it. But if I had done that, I wouldn’t have been able to do Candide.

You will be 89 on October 25. Ever think how you want to be remembered? What will be on your gravestone?
Oh gee. Wow. No one ever asked me that. (Pauses) SHE DID HER BEST.