Monday, December 22, 2014

A Few More Book Review Briefs

The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris by Betsy Blair (2002). Blair, who died in 2009, penned--and she did actually pen this memoir herself and didn't bother with a hired writer--this highly regarded story of her earlier life. The reason she didn't go beyond the early 1960s in her story is she had met her second husband, and she felt her happy life with him would be too boring to recount, so she quit in around '62 or '63. In truth, her story started to get a little bit boring after she and first husband Gene Kelly split, but there is still a lot of good information about Hollywood's Golden Age and the dark years of the blacklist. I also appreciate her sharing lots of photographs of her and her family from those years. They are sprinkled throughout the book instead of all put in the middle of the volume.

Let's face it, though: The best part of the book is the introduction, titled "By way of explanation," where Blair writes about the final years of ex-husband Kelly, with whom she remained close for the rest of his life. This was during the time he married his far-younger third wife, Patricia Ward, who is now either 55 years old or in her early sixties depending on who you ask, and how Ward treated him and his three children. Blair had no reason to lie about the situation; she said she wrote about it because she cared about the children. She had her own daughter with Kelly, who was and is a psychotherapist in Michigan. Blair also was quite fond of his children from his second marriage with Jeanne Coyne (who died in 1973 and was close friends with Blair). Both of those children also lived in different parts of the country, with son Tim in New York, while daughter Bridget lived with her family in Montana. They couldn't be around to keep a close watch on Ward, who got her claws into the dancing great when she was first working with him on his memoirs (those memoirs, by the way, never were published). A few years later, in 1990 I believe, Ward finally married Kelly. While his kids were originally in favor of the match, thinking their dad found somebody who was quite intelligent and articulate (and Ward is both regardless of whatever failings she may have), it didn't take long for them to see the reality of the situation. This was not a love match by any stretch of the imagination, completely unlike Fred Astaire and Robyn Smith (Smith also encountered some opposition from Astaire's family when she married him, but they dealt with it). Ward had a separate residence from the Kelly house, which raised more than a few eyebrows. Rumor had it she was having an affair with her attorney who later killed himself. At this point it is believed she and the lawyer conspired to screw the kids out of their share of Kelly's estate, and Ward certainly succeeded. The kids wound up with virtually nothing while Ward got millions. Ward also got rid of longtime staff. She took advantage of Kelly's declining health, and he seemed to have lost a lot of enjoyment out of life in his last years. It was thoroughly despicable how those kids were treated by Ward, since Kelly loved them more than anything, raising Tim and Bridget alone when wife Coyne died.

It got even worse than that. When Gene Kelly died in 1996 after suffering from a series of strokes, Ward had him immediately cremated, and the kids did not get the chance to say their goodbyes in a proper manner. That was the ultimate slap in the face from this despicable human being. Since that time, Ward, who bills herself as Patricia Ward Kelly, has gone around the country giving talks about her late husband and recounting his career supposedly for the sake of posterity (while making lots of money doing it). However, Gene Kelly's legacy was assured long before Ward was even born and remains a Hollywood icon, so he didn't and doesn't need any help with it. Years after his death, almost everybody today knows who he was. The more she exploits her fifteen minutes of fame, the more everybody will know what she TRULY is.

For Blair's introduction alone, this book is worth a look.

Among the Heroes by Jere Longman (2002). Excellent recounting of the doomed flight United 93 hijacked by terrorists as a part of 9/11 with very little in the way of speculation. The author tries to focus on what is known about the flight based on phone calls by the passengers and other information. Each passenger is profiled, and each of the terrorists is also profiled. The known actions of all of the parties leading up to the hijacking and crash are documented here. It is quite like the outstanding book 102 Minutes, the definitive account of the WTC attacks, and like that work is a must for anybody who is interested in the events of that horrible day.

No, there is not anything in the way of conspiracy theories promoted here. You will have to look elsewhere for that.

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