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Hollywood Memoirs Past and Present: from Juicy Langella and Schwarzenegger to Keaton and Marshall

Photo of Aljean Harmetz By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood September 29, 2012 at 4:29PM

Hollywood memoirs have been movie industry currency for decades. Recently there has been a flurry of books by aging actresses and actors. The newest is “My Mother Was Nuts” by Penny Marshall, which was published by Amazon on September 18th. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story,” which will be for sale in October, promises the whole truth about his affair with his housekeeper and the birth of their [now 14-year-old] son a week after his wife, Maria Shriver, gave birth to their fourth legitimate child.
"Annie Hall"
Diane Keaton as "Annie Hall"

Penny Marshall has the distinction of being the first woman director of a movie that grossed $100 million at United States theatres.  She followed that movie, “Big,” with “A League of Their Own.”  Diagnosed with brain and lung cancer a few years ago but insisting that she is cured, Marshall wrote this breezy, name-dropping memoir as an antidote to people who kept saying she was dying.

Three more memoir writers fall in a different category.  Shirley MacLaine has published a dozen books that make large and small points about her spiritual journey.  Whoopi Goldberg’s last irreverent book, “Is it Just Me?” is about the decline of civility and the havoc it is causing her as well as the rest of us.  And, a few months ago, Ryan O’Neal tried to come to terms with the death of Farrah Fawcett three years ago by publishing “Both of Us,” an unvarnished look at their on-and-off 30 year relationship.

With so much to choose from, what should a reader do?  In an essay in The Daily Beast several months ago, former book editor Michael Korda -- himself the author of a memoir, “Charmed Lives,” about growing up as a member of England’s movie royalty --   has one suggestion.  “Almost all ghostwritten books are dull, homogenized, bland, and sanitized, a kind of mass product, like Kleenex,” he wrote. 

And he added, “The ones actually written by a star, though few and far between, are likely to be much more interesting, though sometimes crazy, self-indulgent, and full of attempts to settle old grudges.” Korda tips his hat to two memoirs:  Christopher Plummer’s “wildly self-revealing” “In Spite of Myself” (2008) and Diane Keaton’s “moving, real, honest” book.

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.