Earlier this week, journalist Carolyn Kellogg wrote about the guilty pleasure of reading Hollywood memoirs for the LA Times. “Idiosyncratic and biased, obfuscatory and boastful, even unctuous and vain, the Hollywood memoir is not going to portray the past in a clear light,” Kellogg writes. “But like Sriracha on the table, it’s going to bring the heat and make the meal better. So much better.” For your summer beach read, we recommend picking up one of these juicy, heartbreaking, fascinating memoirs from Hollywood stars that dish on the best and worst of Tinseltown.
This Catwoman of the ’60s from TV’s Batman muses on her relationships and career. The book also happens to be one of Laverne Cox’s favorites. From BuzzFeed:
Confessions Of A Sex Kitten was so major. Eartha Kitt is a huge possibility idol for me. The thing about women like Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carroll — these black artists in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s — they were making a way out of no way. Eartha’s book, the first paragraph of it I was bawling. It’s just so deep! Her love life I can so relate to as a trans woman. She dated a lot of white men, who dated her privately. They would never date her openly or marry her. That’s something I can certainly relate to as a trans woman. She is brilliant and amazing and sexy and smart and political! She was blacklisted for like 10 years. Eartha Kitt is everything, may she rest in peace.
The screen and stage siren dishes about her collaboration with Hitchcock and more. Best quote: “I have three phobias which, could I mute them, would make my life as slick as a sonnet, but as dull as ditch water — I hate to go to bed, I hate to get up, and I hate to be alone.” From University Press of Mississippi:
In Tallulah, first published in 1952 and a New York Times bestseller for twenty-six weeks, Bankhead’s literary voice is as lively and forthright as her public persona. She details her childhood and adolescence, discusses her dedication to the theater, and presents amusing anecdotes about her life in Hollywood, New York, and London. Along with a searing defense of her lifestyle and rambunctious habits, she provides a fiercely opinionated, wildly funny account of American stage at a time when the movies were beginning to cast theater into eclipse. This is not only a memoir of an independent woman but also an insider look at American entertainment during a golden age.
Pop idol and Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter details his struggles through a manufactured career during a time when the word “gay” wasn’t something people mentioned openly. The book was eventually adapted into a 2015 movie, which you can learn about on RogerEbert.com.
This memoir hit cult status in the ’80s and reveals that the girl from the famous Barrymore family and family film E.T. was drunk at nine, high at ten, and in rehab by 13. Get it for the Poison Ivy-era Drew cover alone.
German actor Klaus Kinski was threatened with a libel lawsuit from his daughter, actress Nastassja Kinski (they had a tumultuous relationship, to put it mildly), and actress Marlene Dietrich. Director Werner Herzog, Kinski’s longtime collaborator, has said that the book is partially fiction. From Publishers Weeky:
This impressionistic autobiography by an actor probably best known in the U.S. as the father of movie actress Nastassja Kinski provides an in-depth look into the psyche of a performing artist. Born into grinding poverty in Poland, Kinski was forced into the WW II German army at 16 and taken a prisoner of war. Later, he more or less drifted into acting. But at this point in the tale the emphasis changes to the author’s search for love, which more cynical readers may see as a search for sex. Kinski evidently never met a woman he didn’t want to take to bed and it seems that no woman ever had any objections. His quest for love was twice rewarded, but in both cases his loves ended sadly. This is a memorable, powerful memoir.
It Girl, flapper babe, and hair icon Louise Brooks talks about being a woman in the Golden Age of Hollywood. From the New York Times:
These eight essays are selective, nostalgic, poison-tipped and fearlessly smart. They’re sharp about Hollywood’s definitions of success and failure, about how actors are manipulated by their employers and pigeonholed by the press. Brooks saw stardom as a “pestiferous disease.” Late in her life she could cherish her solitude. . . . This book is as idiosyncratic and magnetic as its author. It certainly isn’t a memoir. She had so little intention of telling all that she actually called one chapter “Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs.” The main reason: She could not and would not describe the sexual experiences that would explain who she was and what she had done. “I cannot unbuckle the Bible Belt,” she said. The real Louise Brooks forgot more than many film stars ever know. And she was much more trouble than the budding bad girl of “The Chaperone.” Reread “Lulu in Hollywood” to remember why.
Tony-winning actor, ’70s Dracula, and Jersey guy Frank Langella liked to have a good time. His idea of fun includes having phone sex with Bette Davis. From the New York Times:
The word “slut” has been invoked in the public discourse as an ugly slur. But Langella’s book celebrates sluttiness as a worthy — even noble — way of life. When Bette Davis wants to have “racy phone conversations . . . rife with foreplay,” he agrees, because how could you not? When Elizabeth Taylor says, “Come on up, baby, and put me to sleep,” who is he to resist? (He does make her chase him first.) By his cheerful debauchery, Langella reveals something certain commentators have obscured: sluts are the best — hungry for experience and generous with themselves in its pursuit. He talks about how joyful it was in his 20s to “throw some scripts, jeans and a few packs of condoms into a bag,” and head out to do plays and bed theater apprentices. There is so much happy sexuality in this book that reading it is like being flirted with for a whole party by the hottest person in the room. It’s no wonder Langella was invited everywhere.
Shakespearean actor and Elizabeth Taylor’s on and off again beau published his diaries (after Taylor’s death), which he started keeping in the 1930s. From the New Yorker:
In these pages—which Burton began when he was fourteen and continued until the year before his death—he strips away the larger-than-life abstraction that he became for the public to reveal a human dimension more complex than any biographer could ever hope to capture. He is sensitive, intelligent, literary, outwardly and inwardly curious, tender, sometimes boorish and spiteful but conscious of fair play, wickedly discerning and funny, surprisingly modest, wildly generous, a delightful gossip, and virtually never boring—something that would have frightened and appalled him.