Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: Second Generation Sterling

If you're looking for a light, fun summer read, this isn't it.

Tisha Sterling, daughter of actors Ann Sothern and Robert Sterling, started life with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. Growing up a beautiful young woman in the 1960s, she had a promising career as an actress. Her memoir, Why I Failed Charm School: My Mother, Actress Ann Sothern, and Our Lives Together (Bookstand Publishing), tells a troubling story of a life that proved anything but carefree and joyful.

The picture Tisha paints of her mother is not particularly flattering. But neither does it seem vindictive. Tisha writes, "Mother always seemed deeply perplexed that I was not a carbon copy of her, and [wondered] why I wasn't living up to her expectations." Indeed, both women come across as real, flawed human beings. By her daughter's account, Miss Sothern had an eating disorder that she was unable to curb, as well as an unwillingness to live within her means as she aged. For her part, Tisha, something of a Sixties wild child, had addiction issues that, as she acknowledges, strained the patience and understanding of those who loved her. Of the well-known people of whom Miss Sterling writes, it's probably her stepmother Anne Jeffreys who comes off best, though her part in the story is minor. It's certainly not Tisha's dad, Sterling, who is depicted as largely distant and uncommunicative. All in all, readers who have found themselves caught on either side of a parent-child contretemps may find this more interesting than those who want to know about Tisha's career, or those of her famous parents, about which relatively little is said.

Sterling's book would have benefited from tighter editing; her style is a bit rough in places. But the story itself, like the author's candor, is compelling. It's one that she has earned her right to tell.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Gale Comes Closer

I'm coming into the home stretch on my Gale Storm book, which should be out early next year. (Incidentally, that's only a working title for the book, and is likely to change).

Right now, it's proofreading, proofreading, and more proofreading, as you can see from the supply of red pens I've laid in. Hope four will be enough!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Miss Davis' Birthday

The one and only Joan Davis was born 105 years ago today. In her short life (she was only in her late forties at the time of her death in 1961), she produced a substantial body of work as a comedienne. She was successful in multiple media -- movies, radio, and television.

It was a labor of love to research Joan Davis: America's Queen of Film, Radio, and Television Comedy, published in 2014. I was pleased to be able to build on what was already known about her life and career, putting into print new information about her birthdate and family background, as well as the most detailed logs ever compiled of her radio and TV comedy shows.

If you don't already know her work, take a look. She's worth your attention.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Happily Backward

It may be a sign of the times that, lately, I've been immersing myself in the 1940s and 1950s. I've long been a fan of singers from that era -- Doris Day, Peggy Lee -- but nowadays I find myself choosing to watch 1940s movies, read 1940s books, and otherwise transport myself to the mid-20th century.

As a rule, I'm not inclined to sigh nostalgically over a bygone era -- especially one that I didn't personally experience. If these forays into vintage pop culture are soothing in many ways, they can certainly be disturbing in others. I recently read a vintage mystery (fresh off the 25-cent rack at my local used bookstore) that was well-written and, for the most part, enjoyable. But the author's casual racism pervaded the story. Even allowing for the way social attitudes change over time, I found it distasteful enough to conclude that, in some cases, the past may be better left in the past.

But research for my two most recent book projects has led me to find real enjoyment in some of the most unassuming, escapist B movies. There's something to be said for films in which the world is put right in 70 minutes or less, thanks to the best efforts of good people. I'll just leave it at that.

Friday, June 16, 2017

That's My Little Margie!

Sixty-five years ago tonight, Americans had their first look at a television comedy series called My Little Margie. Airing Monday nights at 9 p.m. (EST), it was the summer replacement for TV's Number One show, I Love Lucy.

TV critics were not impressed, and predicted a hasty -- and well-deserved -- demise. But as one observer later said, "Nobody liked it but the people." The show caught on immediately, making leading lady Gale Storm a full-fledged television star. The series lasted four seasons, and played in reruns for decades afterwards.

Be on the lookout next spring for my book on the life and career of Gale Storm.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Curti on Freda

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Roberto Curti on the publication of his newest book, Riccardo Freda: The Life and Films of a Born Filmmaker (McFarland). His knowledge of and appreciation for the Italian motion picture industry would be difficult to match. I had the privilege of giving him a small assist in preparing this book, for which he kindly acknowledged me in print. It was my pleasure to do so.

Roberto is that rare author who does excellent work while being prolific enough to make me feel like a real slacker. He also imparts a tremendous amount of valuable information and commentary without sacrificing readability. 

I'm eager to see what he produces next.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

An Encouraging Word

After a long week of researching and writing  (I'm actually working on two books simultaneously), this was a sight for weary eyes. Thank you, Classic Images and Laura Wagner! My fellow McFarland author Derek Sculthorpe, whose books I've spotlighted in reviews on this blog, gets a well-deserved shout-out in the same column.

Keep this sort of thing up, and I just might write more books!