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

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by Aljean Harmetz
September 29, 2012 4:29 PM
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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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