Archive for the Books Category


Posted in Books, Literature, Phenomenons on September 14, 2011 by Miranda Wilding


ROGER EBERT is a fixture at the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL…and this year is no exception.

Not only is the PULITZER PRIZE winning movie critic planning to squeeze in 15 to 20 screenings, he’s also promoting a new memoir LIFE ITSELF, which hit stores Tuesday. ROGER is scheduled to sign copies Wednesday at a downtown INDIGO BOOKS and on Friday at THEATRE BOOKS.

After a bout with thyroid cancer, ROGER no longer has the ability to speak. He remains a prolific writer, however…and a voracious user of social media. THE CANADIAN PRESS emailed ROGER a list of questions about his new book.

Here are the responses…

CANADIAN PRESS: In the book, you recall some of the things you’ve done and the places you’ve been with incredible accuracy. You say that when you were ill and bed ridden, you started walking around London “in your mind,” picturing the streets you’d turn down and the roast turkey and peaches you’d order during such an outing. Was that process part of why you wrote this book and how did it jog your memory?

ROGER EBERT: Not being able to speak, I found myself stuck inside my memories and I was surprised how many and vivid they were. Before I got sick, I was much more outer directed and didn’t realize how much stuff was squirrelled away in there.

CP: You paint some very vivid pictures — from an exact description of how your beloved STEAK & SHAKE burgers are made, to what it was like to work in a newsroom in the 60s and 70s. It sounds like it must have been a lot of fun revisiting some of the things you’ve done — can you talk a bit about your writing process, including how you decided what to leave in and take out?

RE: There could have been a great deal more about movies, but I didn’t want to write a movie book. I was more interested in the mysteries of life, especially after cancer changed my life so dramatically and forced me to confront my mortality.

CP: Can you talk a bit about the way you pieced this together — did you work from journals? Interviews with family members?

RE: I worked entirely between my head and the keyboard. No journals. Some old family photo albums helped a little and many of those photos are in the book. Basically I wanted to explore a midwestern boyhood and the unexpected paths it found.

CP: You also write about some of the amazing places you’ve visited and your compulsion to return to the same spots, the exact cafe, even the exact table. Your wife CHAZ calls it “touching your bases.” You say it’s a way to “measure the wheel of the years.” Can you elaborate on that?

RE: I sit in a particular cafe or sprawl on the grass in a particular park or read a newspaper in a particular greasy spoon and say, “I’ve done this before. I’m doing it now. I will do it again.” It was pretending immortality. Now I’ve touched a lot of those bases for the last time. After one of our vacations in London, a friend asked CHAZ, “What did you see?” She said, “We saw the places Roger saw on his previous trips to London.” She used to joke that it was hard to get me to do something the first time and then impossible to get me to stop doing it.

CP: You didn’t set out to be a movie reviewer. You wanted to be an op ed columnist and then a novelist. You say in the book that your 1967 reviews are written in much the same style as today. Why do you think your style hasn’t changed?

RE: I always write subjectively, in the first person. My writing isn’t formal, as based on theory. It’s my voice.

CP: You discuss your struggles with alcohol in the book. You haven’t had a drink since 1979 and talk about going to ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS meetings in a church hall on Bloor Street at the film festival that year. Did you have any qualms about including that in your book and how did the decision to stop drinking change your life and writing?

RE: I felt I couldn’t leave it out and make any sense of what happened during many years. Stopping drinking saved my life, probably lengthened it and made it a lot happier. There will not be a tragic final curtain.

CP: In the book, you note that stars used to be less protected and cocooned and write about the access you used to have, including being on the set of BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID. Why do you think this change has happened and how has it affected your job?

RE: The stars were more self confident in those days. They didn’t shelter within a cocoon of publicists. That means in interviews they came across as more colourful and interesting.

CP: You say in the book that, generally speaking, your favourite movies are the ones about good people. What do you mean by that?

RE: Sad movies don’t make me cry. Movies about goodness make me cry. I am moved by people trying to be nice, decent and brave.

CP: Going back for a moment to your favourite places — you also vow in the book to keep visiting them. How are you feeling these days and how does your health affect your ability to travel to film festivals?

RE: My health is fine, except for my obvious troubles — and problems with shoulder and back pain after the surgeries, as they were trying to rummage around and find bones and tissue to transplant in a facial reconstruction.

CP: The book’s final chapter is entitled GO GENTLY and in it, you say that you don’t fear death. Earlier in the book, you write that you and your high school classmates had no idea how lucky you were and that your job running a campus paper was pretty much the best gig you’ve ever had, about how you miss the majestic theatres of old. Did writing this book help you take stock of your life and make you view it any differently? If so, how…?

RE: At the time, it was simple a life — mine. Now I realize what good fortune I’ve had. And how many people helped me.


Posted in Books, Theatre on September 25, 2010 by Miranda Wilding


Freckles shouldn’t be any kind of a drawback for JULIANNE. Everyone that I know thinks that she’s incredibly beautiful…and I totally agree.

JULIANNE MOORE is tickled pink about a glowing early review of a new musical based on her FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY children’s book.

Then again, it was from her daughter.

The actor recently took 8 year old LIV to a performance of FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY: THE MUSICAL and was delighted to discover that she didn’t have to bribe her daughter with sweets to stay still.

“When kids watch shows, they’re not very quiet. Usually when I bring my kids to a musical, whenever there’s a ballad, they ask for more candy. She didn’t turn to me once.”

The off Broadway musical is adapted from JULIANNE’S bestselling adventures of a 7 year old relentlessly teased by her schoolmates for having bright red hair and freckles, something the actor knows a lot about.

“I think what they did is absolutely charming. It’s not so easy. I mean, it’s a picture book. It’s a small book. To make it into a show that lasts an hour and a half and maintain the message — a very simple childhood message — I think is pretty phenomenal.”

Now showing at New World Stages, the show features a cast of seven adult professionals and officially opens OCTOBER 1. The music and lyrics were written by GARY KUPPER, with a book by him and ROSE CAIOLA.

ROSE CAIOLA, who runs the MANHATTAN YOUTH BALLET as well as the MANHATTAN MOVEMENT & ARTS CENTER, got the project up and running when she came across JULIANNE’S first book and thought it would be perfect to workshop with children.

To mount it as a real theatrical event, she decided to cast adults, including Hayley Podschun (Pal Joey, Hairspray) as Strawberry.

JULIANNE, the star of such adult dramas as BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, THE HOURS and CHLOE, has tried to let the producers mount their adaptation without too much interference.

“They’ve been incredibly receptive to all of my notes. I certainly never expected it to be a production of this scale.”

Ms. Caiola said JULIANNE’S tweaks have genuinely helped: “She’s really agreed with most of what we’ve done. Little notes here and there have helped to make the show better. She gave me this wonderful opportunity and I want to make her happy.”

The musical, which includes original songs such as I CAN BE ANYTHING and DIFFERENT, stays close to the message JULIANNE hopes to convey in her books: Be happy being who you are.

“There are things about yourself that you’re not going to like necessarily. What we hope will go away as children doesn’t always go away,” stated JULIANNE, who has finished work on a third Freckleface book and plans a fourth.

“I hoped my freckles would go away. They didn’t. They’re still here. I still don’t like them, but they don’t loom as large a problem in my life any more because I have other things that are more important.”



Posted in Books on August 17, 2010 by Miranda Wilding

I love books. But I never have time to read any more.

EW has an interesting slideshow devoted to twenty never to be forgotten volumes and the very last words in each of them.

Now this is a bit unexpected. Two of my all time favourites – THE GREAT GATSBY and WUTHERING HEIGHTS – are here. But they don’t actually move me or rock me to my core.

However, these do in an exceptional way…

Goodnight stars; Goodnight air; Goodnight noises everywhere.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

I never saw any of them again – except for the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

And finally…

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Wow. That’s hot.

I couldn’t help myself. Had to end on an exotic irresistible bang. Nothing else could possibly do.

To get a gander at the gallery, go here


Posted in Books, Feminism on August 15, 2010 by Miranda Wilding

This article is written by SUSAN BRAUDY at THE HUFFINGTON POST

I’ll stop cracking my knuckles, gentle readers, to tell you how powerful I felt after reading the inspirational page turner FIGHT BACK & WIN by GLORIA ALLRED, the famous world changing women’s rights lawyer from California.

OK. I’m no slouch.

I’ve corrected history about the notorious and violent Kathy Boudin. I also nudged social history for six years writing and editing MS. MAGAZINE.

But I don’t hold a candle to GLORIA ALLRED.

Reading her excellent memoir made me hear the approaching drumbeat of legal matriarchy. I can’t think of another lawyer or judge who’s made a bigger contribution to women’s rights.

GLORIA BLOOM ALLRED was a classmate at the Philadelphia High School For Girls who I didn’t really know very well. I remember she was adorable with a pixie haircut and seemed to attract crowds of boys. I liked her husky voice.

I did notice about ten years ago that she was making a big splash in Los Angeles. She recently attended my high school reunion.

I didn’t.

But I heard she was really entertaining and at one point asked people to tell something they’d done in high school that they’d kept secret.

I wrote to her about a sexual harassment situation that will appear in my memoir but is beyond the statute of limitations. She responded by suggesting we get together, so I read her book to prepare myself.

It’s quite a book.

There are those who erroneously blame Ms. Allred for taking headline cases. But as a media pro I know that headlines fuel cultural change. Ms. Allred’s most recent case is the defense of DEBRAHLEE LORENZANA who alleges she was fired from her bank job for being too attractive.

GLORIA ALLRED is a hero who fought for twenty three years to force the system to acknowledge wrong doing to one woman. GLORIA won the plaintiff millions of dollars in damages. I’ll never forget reading GLORIA’S chapter in FIGHT BACK & WIN about this client, a devout sixteen year old Hispanic teenager named RITA MILLER who wanted to become a nun.

Back in the early 70s, she wrongly believed her priest knew the difference between good and evil and allowed him to rape her. This was before we had a clue about such atrocities. But he wasn’t content to exercise his cruel power alone. He recruited six other priests who raped her, sometimes together.

When she got pregnant they gave her $350 dollars and shipped her to the Philippines for an abortion. She refused the abortion and almost died of malnutrition.

RITA MILLER came to Ms. Allred to force the priests to take DNA tests because she wanted to know who her daughter’s father was. Ms. Allred believed RITA’S fantastical story and sued the Archdiocese Of Los Angeles who repeatedly denounced the attorney and her client.

One LA Bishop charged on TV that RITA was “a bad girl with a bad reputation.” In fact she had never had a date or kissed a boy.

GLORIA ALLRED finally won her case for RITA MILLER in 2002 after lobbying the state to extend the statute of limitations for childhood abuse by priests.

Then there was MEGAN WRIGHT, the tragic student at Dominican College near Manhattan, who alleged she was gang raped on campus. Her mother said that the college failed to do what the law required, unwilling to jeopardize its reputation with applicants. MEGAN felt unsafe returning to college and committed suicide.

Ms. Allred is suing the college.

On another note, GLORIA ALLRED was pissed because she wasn’t allowed to join the all male celebrity Friar’s Club. She litigated and won.

When the Beverly Hills club refused to let her use the steam room, she suggested separate days for men and women. They again refused.

Ms. Allred became the first to file a claim with the California State Board Of Equalization under a new statute that denied tax deductions to members of clubs of over 400 members practicing sexual discrimination.

Finally GLORIA was admitted to the steam room. She wore an 1890s bathing suit.

The men quickly covered their private parts when GLORIA took out a tape recorder and sang IS THAT ALL THERE IS?

(God damn it. I wish to hell I could have been there for that…)

Read the book. Crack your knuckles.

Of course you won’t get the nostalgic feeling I have or the pride in my classmate who’s changing the world.

But you’ll be inspired.


Posted in Books, Feminism, Film on July 18, 2010 by Miranda Wilding


Let me be clear.

I love this article by PATRICIA ZOHN. It forcefully encapsulates why BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and HOLLY GOLIGHTLY continue to fascinate after half a century.

I adored AUDREY HEPBURN. She was a classic screen beauty with incredible talent.

But I never wanted to be her.

I admired the mesmerizing charismatic take no prisoners women who often lead some poor man (whether he was good or bad – he was certainly never indifferent) down the garden path in their films: ELIZABETH TAYLOR, RITA HAYWORTH, ANN MARGRET, FAYE DUNAWAY, SOPHIA LOREN, LAUREN BACALL…

AVA GARDNER is a special case. Her real life temperament and mine are identical. Plus she was southern.

I’ve always felt a strong connection to her.

I have far more in common with those women than I do with AUDREY. But Ms. Hepburn (along with GRACE KELLY) was always my quintessential style icon.

Nearly everything I ever learned about poise, elegance and true femininity was derived from AUDREY and her magnificent performance in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.

But that’s just me…

Each time I put on a black dress, I am convinced that if I elongate my neck and put my hair up and perch the sunglasses and put on the kitten heeled slingbacks and fasten the pearl clasp and spray on my vintage L’Interdit…I might be transformed into AUDREY HEPBURN’S HOLLY GOLIGHTLY from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.

Truth be told, there is probably not one woman alive of any age who does not hope against hope that her left clavicle could contain even a soupcon of AUDREY HEPBURN on Fifth Avenue, 5 am in 1960.

Roger Corman, the lifelong professional Hollywood skeptic asked me, “How can you say anything new about Breakfast At Tiffany’s?”

But SAM WASSON has proven he can in his small sized but big hearted and original book that tells how they captured AUDREY’S magic.

Oh, she had lots of help, of course.

A feisty director, two eager producers, a costume designer, a fashion designer, a tunesmith and his lyricist, a cinematographer and more. SAM WASSON regales us with facts and a little recreated fiction drawn entirely from rigorously sourced first person material.

And personally, I don’t care if they all actually said those precise words or not. I was so happy to be a fly on the wall of the gestation of this film, which like other films I’ve been writing about this year, tells the tale of a very modern, ahead of her time woman and the damage she inflicts.

Mr. Wasson has demystified her, but not too much. If we can’t fantasize about being Holly any more, then what’s the point?

I don’t actually agree with Mr. Wasson that AUDREY was the dawn of the new woman, as she followed hard on the ballet flats of PATRICIA in BREATHLESS (1960) and other films of the New Wave.

But the hyperbole is close to right. She was just as much one of the Women Of The Wave, as I have dubbed them – a wave that broke first on the shores of France and then cascaded to England and the US in no time at all.

So she was certainly the Dawn Of The American Woman and Lord knows, after all those years of DORIS and MARILYN, we were ripe for something new.

It turned out to be AUDREY HEPBURN, she of the hybrid upper class accent that came along just at the right moment, not quite as deadly as PATRICIA in BREATHLESS or CATHERINE in JULES & JIM, but sharing with those diaboliques certain attributes: beautiful but not perfect, independent but damaged, sexual and needy but unwilling to pay the price of permanent connection.

But short of trying to smell like AUDREY and look like her, could you actually be like her? What was it that made her get under our skin?

TRUMAN CAPOTE’S original novel had more of the dark; the film softened Holly up a bit: a fun girl, not a call girl, a damaged Texas child bride who needed petting and affection, just like a kitty cat. This vulnerable waif, washed up on the shores of the Upper East Side, was so original, such a pleasure to behold, that to aspire to being Holly has never gotten old.

SAM WASSON took a minute away from working on his next book (about BOB FOSSE) to talk with me. We examined the mysterious alchemy that made Hepburn’s Holly into the icon she is today.

PATRICIA ZOHN: Truman Capote took as his many role models for Holly a number of wealthy or privileged young women (Gloria Vanderbilt, Babe Paley, Carol Marcus) as well as some more anonymous candidates. But you seem to also suggest the screenwriter George Axelrod has not been given his due as changing her from call girl to fun girl and imparting a certain warmth and honesty to her persona. And then there is the profound influence of Hubert de Givenchy. Who is really responsible for Holly Golightly?

SAM WASSON: In short, all of them…and more.

Truman Capote (obviously), Audrey, George Axelrod (for the reasons you mention), Givenchy (for imbuing Holly with that aura of experience and sophistication), Blake Edwards (for fighting any number of fights to make sure that all around him could do the work they did), Henry Mancini (for reminding us, through Moon River, just who she was on the inside) and the producers Richard Shepherd and Marty Jurow (who thought it would be a good idea to make a movie of Breakfast At Tiffany’s when no one else did).

There is no single auteur responsible here. Making Holly Golightly into the girl that exists up there on the screen was a synergistic process, a fusion of likeminded (and sometimes divergent) individuals who by some strange process of fortitude, good luck and original vision managed to, all at once, pour themselves into Audrey Hepburn.

Out came Holly.

PZ: You point out that beginning in the sixties, women found that Audrey’s character Holly was someone they wanted to emulate. Can young woman today still find something to connect with in Breakfast At Tiffany’s even as the notion of sexual freedom is not as much of an issue?

SW: Absolutely.

Sexual freedom may be licked, at least for now, but there are any number of issues out there that women in the movies will continue to grapple with.

For example, Sex & The City, back when it was relevant, dealt with that post freedom question. How much of a single life does a woman want? In that sense, it’s a nice bookend for some of what Breakfast At Tiffany’s contends with.

But as for young women today, as in right this very moment, I’m a little worried. Many people before me have said what I’m about to say, but it’s so important it’s worth saying again, even if it’s old news: as long as Hollywood is turning out inane roles for young women (see most any of today’s romantic comedies), it’s going to be hard to see any issues portrayed with any kind of serious consideration.

Hollywood is not interested in the way we live now, they way it was, say, when Paul Mazursky made An Unmarried Woman. Accordingly, it’s going to be difficult – whether you’re a young woman, young man, old woman or old man – to find something to connect with.

PZ: You take pains to document that there was a disconnect between Audrey’s personal life, where she was tethered to the notion of being a good wife and mother – which meant catering to her husband and children (helped, of course, by her husband Mel Ferrer’s domineering ways) and the role of this free spirit in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

She does divorce him eventually and then takes up with Albert Finney. Was this film then also the beginning of a new freedom in her personal life and is it a case, then, of life imitating art?

SW: You mean Two For The Road? Yes, I think so. Audrey Hepburn reached a new phase, emotionally and artistically, on that picture. But I’m certain she was largely unchanged by Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

As an actress, her confidence stabilized somewhat, but there were no great breakthroughs for her personally or conceptually. No one involved in the making of the picture, except maybe Axelrod, intended it to advance the trajectory of women in the movies. They just did what they had to do. And out came a revolution.

PZ: Your end notes show how carefully researched and meticulous you tried to be in hewing to the truth. Yet you fall back on a neodocumentary style of recreations in the text which you acknowledge to be partial conjecture. Why?

SW: History is conjecture and all retelling of it a recreation. When writing about the past – especially a past that you didn’t witness firsthand – there are bound to be gaps in understanding. It’s the Rashomon thing.

I merely wanted to show the reader how I did it, that it took a considerable amount of research and a considerable amount of interpretation to connect the dots, like Tim Curry in that bravura last scene in Clue, when he’s running around the mansion explaining how all the murders happened.

In that sense, Fifth Avenue, 5 AM is no different than any other serious work of historical nonfiction. And I don’t consider that to be a falling back nor so I think of it as neodocumentary technique. Every biographer, or as I said, historian, has to endeavor the very same thing. I simply wanted to take you behind the scenes of how I took you behind the scenes.

PZ: How is it that you are so smart about women at the age of 28? Is Holly the kind of woman you would want to date or is there too much potential for heartbreak?

SW: Am I smart about women? Thank you! Though I’m not sure my girlfriend would agree with you. But what does she know?

Holly is not the kind of woman I would like to date. Audrey was never my dream girl. Obviously, I have enormous respect for her and I’m fascinated by her work. I’m not sure a human being could really get any lovelier.

But if you want to know my type, I must admit I like them a little saucier and a little sillier. Like Emma Stone.

Do you know her? She knocks my socks clear off my feet.


Posted in Books, Feminism, Film on April 28, 2010 by Miranda Wilding


Musings about life, literature and other rarely seen writing by MARILYN MONROE will be published this fall.

FARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX announced today that FRAGMENTS would come out in October. Editor Courtney Hodell said the book would include poems, photographs, reflections on third husband ARTHUR MILLER and other men in her life, as well as references to works by JAMES JOYCE, SAMUEL BECKETT and numerous other authors.

“I think the book will show that she was a thoughtful person with a real interior life,” Ms. Hodell commented.

“She was a great reader and someone with real writing flair. There are fragments of poetry that are really quite beautiful – lines that stop you in your tracks.”

The book features a long essay about the actor’s first husband James Dougherty, notes about performance and the roles she was working on, lists of resolutions and a letter to acting coach LEE STRASBERG. MARILYN wrote on everything from spiral bound notebooks to stationery from the Waldorf Astoria.

The writings date from 1943, when she was a teenager, to near the end of her life. MARILYN MONROE was found dead in her Los Angeles home in 1962 at age 36.

The book was commissioned by ANNA STRASBERG, LEE STRASBERG’S widow and the manager of Ms. Monroe’s estate.


Posted in Books, Film on November 1, 2009 by Miranda Wilding



No posters or photographs of ORSON WELLES hang in the living room of his eldest daughter, CHRIS WELLES FEDER.

His memory is preserved, imperfectly, through a shelf of books that Ms. Feder said have yet to capture her father’s many sided life.

“There are some excellent studies about him. But I feel that the Orson Welles I knew doesn’t really exist in these books because many of the people who wrote them never got closer than a long distance phone call.”

Ms. Feder, author of the popular Brain Quest series for young people, may be one of the reasons ORSON WELLES’ story remains incomplete. She has talked to few of his biographers and acknowledges that she has had a hard time reconciling the genius of CITIZEN KANE with her dynamic but distant father, who died in 1985.

But in recent years, she has reached her great goal of peace with her late parent and found the words.

In 2002, she privately published THE MOVIE DIRECTOR – a collection of poems.

She now has written the memoir IN MY FATHER’S SHADOW, which has just been released by ALGONQUIN BOOKS.

“I wanted to write a book that would give Orson Welles a human face,” remarked Ms. Feder, who was interviewed on a rainy afternoon at her apartment in downtown Manhattan.

“I wanted to show him with all his warts and holes, but also with the qualities that don’t come through in the other books.”

Her father’s spirit flickers in her eyes, but she more resembles her mother and ORSON’S first wife, actor VIRGINIA NICOLSON. CHRIS WELLES FEDER’S features are refined, her voice light, her diction even and untheatrical. Her true inheritance from her father, she claimed, is a love of the arts and an appreciation for people of different backgrounds and cultures.

Her book is new to followers of ORSON WELLES – who married three times and had three daughters – if only because she is the first blood relative to write about him.

In her memoir, ORSON is a performer even in real life, a maker of bold entrances and sudden exits, a composite of his most famous characters – as imperious as CHARLES FOSTER KANE, as unknowable as HARRY LIME of THE THIRD MAN, as wounded as FALSTAFF in CHIMES OF MIDNIGHT.

Growing up, Ms. Feder was awed by her father, wondering just where she fit into his life. They rarely lived under the same roof and didn’t see each other for years at a time.

But, when together, he would call her darling girl, draw sketches of them, guide her through a church in Rome, the Prado museum in Madrid, or, in England, bring her for a day in the country with VIVIEN LEIGH, LAURENCE OLIVIER, KATHARINE HEPBURN and SPENCER TRACY.

“When he was with me he was always delighted to see me and he was very warm and loving. But, of course, times would pass when I didn’t see him.”

“He was not an uncaring man. He was not a cold man at all. When you want to have a creative life, it’s very difficult sometimes to also fit in a personal life. When my mother was divorcing my father, she was flying to Rio and she was stopped at the airport and asked by a reporter, ‘Why are you divorcing him?’ She said, ‘Orson doesn’t have time to be married.’ ”

Ms. Feder writes about her famous stepmother RITA HAYWORTH, remembers her brief times on the sets of his movies and confirms a rumoured liaison ORSON had with actor GERALDINE FITZGERALD that nearly ended Ms. Feder’s life before it began.

Another Welles biographer, Joseph McBride, said that IN MY FATHER’S SHADOW offers the most detailed portrait ever of ORSON’S marriage to VIRGINIA, so marginalized that at least two Welles books spell her name Nicholson. The two were both actors who met as teenagers, worked together in an early, unreleased Welles movie HEARTS OF AGE and married in 1934, before either had turned 20.

The newlyweds shared a New York apartment and began a marriage that turned troubled and nearly tragic. In 1937, VIRGINIA became pregnant with
CHRIS and she and ORSON moved to a farmhouse outside the city. ORSON was a rising star on radio and in the theatre. He was working nonstop on a production of JULIUS CAESAR.

ORSON worried enough about his pregnant wife to suggest she keep company with GERALDINE FITZGERALD, whom he would soon cast for the theatre in HEARTBREAK HOUSE.

Ms. Fitzgerald, who later starred in such film classics as WUTHERING HEIGHTS and DARK VICTORY, was apparently closer to ORSON than his wife realized. She discovered letters from Ms. Fitzgerald that revealed that she and ORSON were having an affair. As VIRGINIA explained years later to her daughter, she tried to throw herself out of a hotel window -
but couldn’t get it open.

“I was seeing my pregnant mother falling like a rag doll from an open window, then hitting the sidewalk, lying limp and still, both of us lost in a widening pool of blood,” Ms. Feder wrote.

ORSON and VIRGINIA NICOLSON divorced in 1940, a breakup that lead to a Wellesian moment of comic irony. VIRGINIA’S second husband was writer CHARLES LEDERER, the nephew of MARION DAVIES, the long time mistress of WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST.

He was the man who helped inspire the title character of CITIZEN KANE, a film the newspaper tycoon tried hard to destroy. Ms. Feder was not only technically related to her father’s famous enemy, she even visited the San Simeon castle that ORSON renamed XANADU in his film.

Some of Ms. Feder’s most personal experiences with her father came through his movies. She and ORSON watched THE THIRD MAN together and she made him proud by telling him she found his character villainous, yet worthy of pity. She is still moved to tears by watching CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and his portrayal of FALSTAFF, especially the climatic scene when the aging merrymaker is rejected by his former friend, the newly crowned HENRY V.

“I think that my father, especially as he grew older, felt that many people betrayed him and let him down and didn’t help him when he needed help, whether it was financial help – trying to raise money for his films, or whether it was breaking promises,” Ms. Feder said of ORSON, who for much of his life made low budget films or started projects he never finished.

She worried incessantly about letting her father down. Determined to impress him, she begged to be in one of his movies and was granted a small part – Macduff’s son – in his 1948 production of MacBETH. It was the most unpampered of film sets. She wrote about a scene in which she is chased by a would be killer and stabbed. She remembers her father shouting at the actor who played the assassin that he was being too gentle.

“I got pounded on the back but not so hard that I couldn’t take it and finally my father/director was satisfied. I scrambled to my feet and looked up at him expectantly, but all ready he was turning away and talking with his assistant. At that moment, the fun and excitement I had felt at being in Daddy’s movie drained out of me.”

She said that she wanted to write an honest book, a term she acknowledges her father may have disliked. He was a great confabulator, she stated with affection, more beholden to complicated truths than plain facts.

“I know that while he was alive, all of us who were intimately connected with him were under strict orders never to talk to the press, never to say anything about him,” commented Ms. Feder, who recalled her father’s response when he learned biographer BARBARA LEAMING wanted to interview her.

“Oh, Barbara, you’ll love Barbara. She’s charming. By all means talk to her. Absolutely. Tell her anything you want.”

“Just don’t tell her the truth.”


Posted in Books, Literature on July 21, 2009 by Miranda Wilding



While his books captivated millions of readers around the world, FRANK McCOURT – who died Sunday after a recent health battle – spent the earlier part of his life enthralling a smaller but no less impressionable group of people: his students in the NEW YORK CITY public school system, where he taught for 30 years.

It was when FRANKBROOKLYN born and IRELAND raised – reached his 60s that he decided to put memories of his impossibly impoverished childhood in LIMERICK (and his mother ANGELA) to paper. The result was ANGELA’S ASHES, published in 1996 to enormous accolades and acclaim, including the PULITZER PRIZE and the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD.

In 2005, his book TEACHER MAN affectionately chronicled his hurdles and triumphs as an educator.

Now, his former pupils are returning the favour, remembering Mr. McCourt as “a legend in the halls,” according to a woman who identifies herself only as NICOLE on a NEW YORK TIMES blog dedicated exclusively to remembering the 78 year old author.

“I still remember the first day of English class…and the only time Mr. McCourt assigned us a book to read for the entire term,” recalled another graduate of his class, AGATHA ARIOLA.

‘You will read Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again,’ he had said in a melodic accent that I, a sheltered, first generation Asian American, found so refreshing from the harsh Queens accent I often heard on the 45 minute subway commute to Stuyvesant HS.”

“Class was 40 minutes of storytelling by this wonderfully gifted and engaging author and I was encouraged to write from my own voice as a child of immigrant parents. Although my creative writing is now mostly kept in my journals for personal reading, Mr. McCourt left me with the legacy and appreciation of family and the desire to go out into the world and seek the experiences that create memories.”

In terms of his teaching style, Mr. McCourt “laughed and sneered, entertained and enthralled me and 30 other kids,” wrote DIANE, from the class of 1986.

“We read You Can’t Go Home Again and My Papa’s Waltz, wrote children’s stories, sang songs and assigned ourselves our own grades (0-100). His writings truly capture the magic of his classroom. He was a good soul and will be missed.”

As another legend, veteran NEW YORK newspaper columnist JIMMY BRESLIN, put it to the Daily News for its Monday editions: “He never hurt another human being that I know of. This guy was real from the go. And so he’s a real loss to the city because there’s nobody with his backbone to replace him.”

Mr. McCourt’s students – and his other fans – will have a chance to pay him tribute at a pubic memorial, being planned for September, stated younger brother MALACHY McCOURT.


Posted in Books, Literature on July 20, 2009 by Miranda Wilding


LISA SCHWARZBAUM of EW was good friends with FRANK McCOURT and his wife ELLEN FREY.

She reminisces fondly about the times she shared with them.

To read her article, please go here


Posted in Books, Literature on July 20, 2009 by Miranda Wilding


It’s been a gorgeous week here on the west coast…and a simply splendid weekend.

Temperatures have been in the 90s every day. The weather has been glorious.

Over the last several days, two lovely, compassionate, brilliantly talented men that I adore have gone.

So much for revelling in the summer…

Godspeed, Mr. McCourt. You made this world a more wonderful place to be…

FRANK McCOURT, a former New York City schoolteacher who turned his miserable childhood in Limerick, Ireland into the phenomenally popular, PULITZER PRIZE winning memoir ANGELA’S ASHES, died Sunday afternon in Manhattan.

He was 78.

Mr. McCourt resided in Manhattan and Roxbury, Connecticut.

The cause was metastatic melanoma, said Mr. McCourt’s brother the writer MALACHY McCOURT.

Mr. McCourt, who taught in the city’s school system for nearly 30 years, had always told his writing students that they were their own best material. In his mid 60s, he decided to take his own advice, sitting down to commit his childhood memories to paper and producing what he described as “a modest book, modestly written.”

In it Mr. McCourt described a childhood of terrible deprivation. After his alcoholic father abandoned the family, his mother — the ANGELA of the title — begged on the streets of Limerick to keep him and his three brothers meagerly fed, poorly clothed and housed in a basement flat with no bathroom and a thriving population of vermin. The book’s clear eyed look at childhood misery, its incongruously lilting, buoyant prose and its heartfelt urgency struck a remarkable chord with readers and critics.

“When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all,” the book’s second paragraph begins in a famous passage.

“It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.”

ANGELA’S ASHES, published by SCRIBNER in 1996, rose to the top of the best seller lists and stayed there for more than two years, selling four million copies in hardback. The next year, it won the PULITZER PRIZE for biography and the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD.

Two more installments of his life story followed: ‘TIS (1999), which described his struggle to gain a foothold in New York and TEACHER MAN (2005), an account of his misadventures and small victories as a public school teacher. Both, although best sellers, did not achieve anything like the runaway success of Mr. McCourt’s first book, which the BRITISH director ALAN PARKER brought to the screen in 1999.

He also wrote a childrens’ story, ANGELA & THE BABY JESUS, which was published in 2007.

Not to be outdone, Mr. McCourt’s younger brother MALACHY, an actor, brought out two volumes of his own memoirs: A MONK SWIMMING (1998), which also made the best seller list and SINGING HIM MY SONG (2000). Then, when it seemed that the McCOURT tale had been well and truly told, CONOR McCOURT, MALACHY’S son, gathered the four brothers, got them talking and filmed two television documentaries, THE McCOURTS OF LIMERICK and THE McCOURTS OF NEW YORK.

It was ANGELA’S ASHES that loomed over all things McCOURT, however and constituted a transformative experience for its author.

Speaking to students at Bay Shore High School on Long Island in 1997, he said, “I learned the significance of my own insignificant life.”

FRANCIS McCOURT was born AUGUST 30, 1930, on Classon Avenue on the edge of the Bedford Stuyvesant section of BROOKLYN, where his IRISH immigrant parents had hoped to make a better life. It was not to be, largely because his father, MALACHY, usually spent his scant laborer’s earnings at the local bar. Beaten, the family returned to LIMERICK when Frank was 4 – and the pattern repeated itself.

Three of Mr. McCourt’s six siblings died in early childhood. The family’s circumstances were so dire, he later told a student audience, that he often dreamed of becoming a prison inmate so that he would be guaranteed three meals a day and a warm bed. At home, the staple meal was tea and bread, which his mother jokingly referred to as a balanced diet: a solid and a liquid.

When Frank was 11, his father went to work in a munitions factory in ENGLAND and disappeared from the picture. Frank stole bread and milk, which became the family’s principal means of support. After dropping out of school at 13, he delivered telegrams and earned extra income writing letters for a local female landlord.

In 1949, Mr. McCourt, at 19, gathered his savings and boarded a ship for NEW YORK and a new life, which began unpromisingly.

A series of laboring jobs followed, interrupted by the Korean War. Drafted into the Army, Mr. McCourt served as a dog trainer and later a clerk in West Germany.

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Mr. McCourt won admission to NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, where he earned a degree in English education in 1957. A year later he began teaching at McKee Vocational High School on Staten Island, an eye opening experience that he recalled, in often hilarious detail, in his third volume of memoirs TEACHER MAN.

In his first week, an unruly student threw a homemade sandwich on the floor, an act that astonished Mr. McCourt not so much for its brazenness as for the waste of good food. After appraising the sandwich with a connoisseur’s eye, he picked it up and ate it.

Mr. McCourt developed an idiosyncratic teaching style that found a somewhat more receptive audience at the elite Stuyvesant High School, where he taught creative writing after earning a master’s degree in English from BROOKLYN COLLEGE in 1967.

He had students sing IRISH songs to break down their resistance to poetry. After discovering a sheaf of written excuses from past years, he recognized an unexplored literary genre and asked students to write, say, an excuse letter from Adam or Eve to God, explaining why he or she should not be punished for eating the apple.

He even had students test themselves. “When they wrote their own tests, they asked questions they wanted answers to and then they answered them,” Mr. McCourt told the journal Instructor.

“It was grand.”

On the side, Mr. McCourt made fitful stabs at writing. He contributed articles on IRELAND to THE VILLAGE VOICE. He kept notebooks. But at the LION’S HEAD in GREENWICH VILLAGE, where he became friends with Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, he felt like an interloper, he said.

They were writers. He was just a teacher.

“I had no idea he had the ambition, much less the ability to carry it off in such spectacular fashion,” Mr. Hamill, who first met Mr. McCourt at the LION’S HEAD in the 1960s, said in a telephone interview.

In 1977, Mr. McCourt and his brother MALACHY, who was acting and tending bar in NEW YORK, cobbled together a series of autobiographical sketches into a two man play, A COUPLE OF BLAGUARDS, which opened off Off Broadway at the BILLYMUNK THEATER on East 45th Street. They performed a revised version at the VILLAGE GATE in 1984 and again at the BILLYMINK in 1986 and took their show to several other cities.

This excursion into the past, along with his nagging sense that a writing teacher should write, motivated Mr. McCourt to undertake his childhood memoirs after he retired from teaching in 1987. An early attempt, when he was studying at NEW YORK UNVERSITY, had fizzled out, but three decades later, he said, he had worked through his awkward, self conscious JAMES JOYCE phase and had gotten beyond the crippling anger that darkened his memories.

“After 20 pages of standard omniscient author, I wrote something that I thought was just a note to myself, about sitting on a seesaw in a playground, and I found my voice, the voice of a child,” he told The Providence Journal in 1997.

“That was it. It carried me through to the end of the book.”

Still, his plans were vague. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I had to write it anyway,” he said in another interview. “I had to get it out of my system.”

A persistent friend demanded to see what Mr. McCourt was writing, then turned the pages over to a literary agent, MOLLY FRIEDRICH, who submitted the incomplete manuscript to SCRIBNER.

It was bought immediately.

Critics, enchanted by Mr. McCourt’s language and gripped by his story, delivered the kind of reviews that writers can only dream of. But the book was ultimately a word of mouth success.

“F. SCOTT FITZGERALD said there are no second acts in American lives. I think I’ve proven him wrong,” Mr. McCourt explained. “And all because I refused to settle for a one act existence, the 30 years I taught English in various NEW YORK CITY high schools.”

Mr. McCourt told THE ASSOCIATED PRESS in 2005 that he wasn’t prepared for fame.

“After teaching, I was getting all this attention,” he said.

“They actually looked at me – people I had known for years – and they were friendly and they looked me in a different way. And I was thinking, ‘All those years I was a teacher, why didn’t you look at me like that then?’

But the part of it he liked best, he said, was hearing “from all those kids who were in my classes.”

“At least they knew that when I talked about writing I wasn’t just talking through my hat,” he commented.

Mr. McCourt did his utmost to resist becoming the designated spokesperson for all things IRISH, “from agriculture to the decline in the consumption of claret in the West of IRELAND,” as he once joked.

In IRELAND itself, the reaction was mixed. “When the book was published in IRELAND, I was denounced from hill, pulpit and bar stool,” he told the on line magazine SLATE late in 2007.

“Certain citizens claimed I had disgraced the fair name of the city of LIMERICK, that I had attacked the church, that I had despoiled my mother’s name and that if I returned to LIMERICK, I would surely be found hanging from a lamppost.”

Time healed at least some wounds. Mr. McCourt was awarded an honourary doctorate by LIMERICK UNIVERSITY, and curious tourists can now take ANGELA’S ASHES tours of the city.

In 1999, the British director ALAN PARKER translated the memoir to the screen, with EMILY WATSON as ANGELA (who died in 1981), ROBERT CARLYLE as MALACHY SR. (who died in 1985) and three actors in the roles of Mr. McCourt as a small, medium size and grown boy.

For the IRISH REPERTORY THEATER Irish Repertory Theater, Mr. McCourt devised a history lesson disguised as an evening of storytelling and singing, titled THE IRISH…& HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY.

It opened in 1997 to less than rapturous reviews. His second volume of memoirs, ‘TIS, which began with his arrival in New York, also encountered rough weather from critics still giddy from the memory of ANGELA’S ASHES. Although his storytelling gifts were in full evidence, Mr. McCourt was taken to task by many critics for being bitter and selfpitying, a marked contrast to the stoic tone of ANGELA’S ASHES, putting off many readers.

With TEACHER MAN, Mr. McCourt rallied. Although criticized as lumpy and episodic, the book was praised for its humane inquiry into the role of the teacher and the possibilities of education.

Mr. McCourt’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In 1994 he married ELLEN FREY. She survives him, as do his brothers MALACHY and ALPHIE, both of MANHATTAN, and his brother MIKE, of San Francisco; his daughter, MAGGIE McCOURT of Burlington, Vermont and three grandchildren.

“I think there’s something about the Irish experience — that we had to have a sense of humour or die,” Mr. McCourt once told an interviewer.

“That’s what kept us going — a sense of absurdity, rather than humour.”

“And it did help because sometimes you’d get desperate,” he continued.

“And I developed this habit of saying to myself, ‘Oh, well.’ I might be in the midst of some misery, and I’d say to myself, ‘Well, some day you’ll think it’s funny.’ And the other part of my head will say: ‘No, you won’t — you’ll never think this is funny. This is the most miserable experience you’ve ever had.’ But later on you look back and you say, ‘That was funny. That was absurd.’”

More than 10 million copies of Mr. McCourt’s books have been sold in North America alone, reported SCRIBNER, which is an imprint of SIMON & SCHUSTER.

“We have been privileged to publish his books, which have touched, and will continue to touch, millions of readers in myriad positive and meaningful ways,” SIMON & SCHUSTER CEO CAROLYN REIDY said in a statement.


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