Tuesday, April 20, 2021


WWW. WEDNESDAY asks three questions to prompt you to speak bookishly. To participate, and to see how other book lovers responded, click here.  

1. What are you currently reading? Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls by Stephen Rebello. Previously Mr. Rebello shared tales of how a great film -- Hitchcock's Psycho -- was made. Now he gives the same treatment to one of the all-time worst. He celebrates it for its "gloriously entertaining badness," and I agree! Valley of the Dolls is both wretched and one of my favorite movies. I adore every campy frame, and so I'm enjoying this book.
No one sets out to make a bad movie, and that's one thing Rebello makes abundantly clear. Author Jacqueline Susann dreamed that the movie version of her book would star the biggest actresses of the day ... and her dream nearly came true. Her trashy novel was so staggeringly successful that stars did think about joining the cast, certain that a movie based on the year's runaway best seller would be a sure-fire hit. Barbra Streisand was considering the part of musical phenom Neely O'Hara, but she couldn't do it because she was caring for her new baby. I bet she's grateful to her son every day for keeping her out of this drek. Ann-Margret, an actress who can sing and dance, also wanted the role but instead they went with Patty Duke, an actress with no discernible musical talent. 20th Century Fox had a pair of handsome unknown 20-somethings under contract: Tom Selleck and James Brolin. They both auditioned to play callow, commitment-phobic Lyon Burke, the charmer who seduces 26-year-old Barbara Parkins and is seduced by 22-year-old Duke. Instead they went with 40-year-old TV actor Paul Burke and were so happy to get him they paid him more than any other castmember. Who? Indeed. Bad choices like that were made every step of the way. Make enough bad choices and you get a fabulously catastrophic movie.
Fun fact: that's Tom Selleck nuzzling Sharon Tate in a publicity still for Valley of the Dolls. He doesn't mention his involvement with Dolls in interviews. Can you blame him?
If you like movies and juicy tales of old Hollywood, you'll like this book.
2. What did you recently finish reading?  The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood by Jane Leavy. This was an overwhelming book. At more than 450 pages, it includes just about every human emotion on a grand scale, because everything about The Mick was larger than life. 
Much of his career was glorious. He had seven (7!) championship rings and still holds the record for most World Series home runs. He was the World Series MVP two years in a row. No one in professional baseball has ever hit a ball farther (565 feet).
He was big, blond and muscled with a perfect smile. He was also the victim of childhood sexual abuse and wet the bed until well into his teens. He felt deeply and cried easily but didn't know how to show affection. He was pushed into marriage to a woman he loved like a sister, and felt entitled to cheat brazenly. At the height of his stardom, he patiently visited sick children in hospitals (without press coverage) but had no time for his own sons. He was an alcoholic who got sober just in time to battle cancer.
Jane Leavy was a fan, so the book is affectionate. But she's also a reporter, so it's clear-eyed. He was a flawed, self-effacing, ridiculously talented kid who never grew up. I was so sad for the damage he endured -- both in baseball and in life -- and the damage he unintentionally inflicted. As Leavy portrays him, he was a good man at heart, and I bet if he could have done it all differently, he would have.
3. What will read next?  Time for some fiction.