Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Title: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
Author: Ruth Franklin
Format: Kindle
Year Published: 2016
Source: I purchased this book. 

Today would have been Shirley Jackson’s 100th birthday, so in honor of that, I will review Ruth Franklin’s biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Jackson’s work has been getting critical re-appraisals in the past few years. Stephen King is a huge fan of her work.

Shirley Jackson was famous for writing about rather dark themes. She came to prominence after her short story “The Lottery” appeared in The New Yorker in 1948 and caused a literary sensation. You can read the story here. Jackson went on to publish such dark novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Despite her reputation as a writer with darker themes, Jackson did have a sense of humor and wrote light-hearted accounts of family books, including the very successful Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.

Franklin’s book also details her very complicated marriage to Stanley Hyman, an author, critic, and professor at Bennington College in Vermont. They first met as students at Syracuse University, and they went on to have four children together, but the marriage had troubles. They had a strong emotional attachment, but Hyman could be cruel by flaunting his infidelities. However, he also tremendously respected Jackson’s writing genius.

Later in life she struggled with agoraphobia and a dependency on prescription pills, in addition to being morbidly obese and a heavy smoker, all of which may have led to her premature death of heart failure at age 48.

The only issue I have a problem with is the lack of detail about the pill addiction, although the agoraphobia is given some detail. You do feel that you get to know her and why she wrote the books that she did.

It does help to be very familiar with her books when you read this biography, because each major work is discussed in detail.  For the most part it is an excellent biography.

For more about Shirley Jackson:

Shirley Jackson centenary: a quiet, hidden rage

The Great American Housewife Writer: A Shirley Jackson Primer
A User’s Guide to Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson and the Female Gothic
Shirley Jackson in Love & Death

Please Help Fight Illiteracy With #GivingTuesday

Tomorrow (December 1st) is #GivingTuesday, a day set aside during the holiday season to encourage giving to worthy charities around the world! 

Grammarly is participating in #GivingTuesday by encouraging others to donate to charities that promote literacy. 

As you can see in the above infographic, illiteracy is a truly global problem.

Some charities that fight illiteracy are:

Reading is Fundamental
First Book

If you can’t donate to these fine charities, you can spread the word about global literacy and volunteer with a local literacy program.

Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady by Scott O’Brien

Title: Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady
Author: Scott O’Brien
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2010
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Several years ago I read Scott O’Brien’s excellent biography of Kay Francis, so I couldn’t wait to read his book on Ann Harding. I wasn’t disappointed. Ann Harding: Cinema’s Gallant Lady is an excellent and extensively researched book about the film and stage star Ann Harding.

Harding grew up a military “brat” and ended up working on the stage, where she was an immediate success, due to her natural talent and beauty. This caused a rift with her father, Brigadier General Gatley, who did not approve of her career choice. Eventually she ended up in Hollywood.

Harding was one of the biggest stars of films in the early 1930s during the post-talkie, Pre-Code era, but she is little known today except by devoted fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Many of her movie roles were of the noble, self-sacrificing type, and she quickly became typecast in that kind of role. She was famous for her patrician beauty, throaty voice, and long blonde hair.

Here is Harding in one of her films, with the wonderful Myrna Loy and Leslie Howard:


She wasn’t frivolous, but an intelligent, mature actress. She spent much of her time honing her skills on the stage, especially “little theater.” It is clear that O’Brien respects Harding as a fine actress. She had a common-sense approach to her career, too, not worrying about her status or whether she was still a “star” or a romantic lead. She was acting because she enjoyed acting. Being a “star” meant little to her.

Much of the book is consumed with describing Harding’s career on film and stage. Each film is thoroughly reviewed. There is some discussion of her personal life, however. Despite her genteel image, Harding did have a difficult private life. She had affairs with married men, suffered through two failed marriages, a custody battle with her first husband, and eventually a distant relationship with her daughter.

She seems to have cut herself off from many of her friends and even her natural daughter as she aged. Inexplicably, she seems to have “adopted” a grown woman in her later years. However, she seems to have escaped the real tragedies that have beset other Hollywood actors from the same era.

If you are a fan of Ann Harding or the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, I highly recommend that you read this book. You can order this book by clicking the badge below!

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels by Michael G. Ankerich

Title: Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen
Author: Michael G. Ankerich
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2011
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen tells the mostly tragic stories of now-forgotten actresses of the silent film era. 

The actresses included in the book are: Agnes Ayres, Olive Borden, Grace Darmond, Elinor Fair, Juanita Hansen, Wanda Hawley, Natalie Joyce, Barbara La Marr, Martha Mansfield, Mary Nolan, Marie Prevost, Lucille Ricksen, Eve Southern, and Alberta Vaughn. 

Each actress gets a chapter devoted solely to her. I’ve read about some of these actresses before (Ayres, Prevost, La Marr), but some of them I had never heard of before (Hawley, Ricksen). 

I found it fascinating to find out what happened to these women. Most silent actors faced a unique dilemma, because during the last years of the 1920s Hollywood began transitioning away from silent films to “talkies.” Some actors struggled to adapt to talking pictures, whether because of a poor voice or bad acting technique. 

Then the stock market crashed right during that transition, and some of these women, through no fault of their own, were wiped out financially. Some of them struggled with drug or alcohol addictions, and some suffered from untreated mental illnesses, at a time when these conditions were little understood and there were no proper treatment programs. When their careers crashed, their stocks failed, their youth and beauty started fading and they lost their stardom, they were left broke and unemployed. 

Others were simply incredibly unlucky, and a couple of the actresses profiled in this book managed to have somewhat normal lives after their fame faded away. Some of these are unbearably tragic and hard to read. It is actually sadder to read about the ones who weren’t self-destructive and died through no fault of their own – Martha Mansfield was killed in a horrifying fire, and little Lucille Ricksen died at age 14, possibly from tuberculosis. 

I’m glad that Michael Ankerich wrote this book and really glad that he chose some silent movie actresses that have been neglected by other authors. There have been plenty of books and articles written about Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson, for example. It is about time these actresses get their due. If you are a silent film fan, I heartily recommend this book. 

To order this book, click the badge below!

Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid by Ben Ohmart

Title: Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid
Author: Ben Ohmart
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Year Published: 2007
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid  by Ben Ohmart is a thoroughly researched biography of Ameche’s surprising career, which spanned over 60 years and including starring roles in film, radio, theater, and television.

Ameche was a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He became famous after his starring role as the inventor of the telephone in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.” His role in this film made him so famous that people joked “you’re wanted on the Ameche!”

Ameche also was a very big radio star, as well as starring on Broadway and early television. By the late 1970s, however, he was reduced to small parts on big television series. He loved performing, however, and he continued to work in touring theatre companies, out of the spotlight.

Then he made one of the most surprising comebacks in Hollywood history with his delightful performance in Trading Places. He got the part because Ray Milland did not pass the physical that all film companies require, and director John Landis called Ameche to read for the role of Mortimer Duke.

Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd were wonderful in the lead roles, but Ameche and Ralph Bellamy (in my opinion) steal all of their scenes as the nasty Duke brothers. Ameche he went on to star in several more films, winning an Academy Award for his work in Cocoon. He thoroughly enjoyed his career renaissance, and was delighted to win the Oscar.

This biography is interesting because I learned so many things I didn’t know about Don. During the 1980s I saw him interviewed a few times, and it was interesting to read about Ameche’s private life.

There were no scandals, but that does not mean his relationships with his family were not complicated. Don and his wife Honore (“Honey”) had six children, and he was a strict father. Don was constantly busy with his movie and radio work, and rarely home. His sons were sent away to boarding school early, and this also helped to create a somewhat distant relationship with his children. 

Even though he stayed married to his wife from 1932 to her death in 1986 – they spent approximately the last two decades unofficially separated. There are no explanations in the book for why transpired between them, except perhaps basic incompatibility – his wife did not like life in the spotlight, while Don seemed to love it. Don’s devout Catholicism precluded him from getting a divorce. They just lived in different parts of the country and didn’t see each other.

I definitely get the impression from this fine biography that Ameche was a complex man, and that his children really didn’t get to know their strict father, and his real personality remains somewhat elusive.

This book does go into great detail about Ameche’s professional life, including every film and almost every television show he ever did. It is profusely illustrated with wonderful photographs. It is well worth reading if you are a fan.

If you’d like to read this book, click the badge below!

Foxy Lady:The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari by Jeff Gordon

Title: Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari
Author: Jeff Gordon
Year Published: 2010
Format: PDF transferred to my Kindle Fire
Source: I was sent this book by the publisher for review. 

Lynn Bari was a beautiful, underrated actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She made many films, and became a reliable star at Twentieth Century Fox. However, she never really became a top-rank star, despite being intelligent, beautiful with a statuesque figure, and adept at both comedy and drama,

She was known as the “Queen of B Films,” a title she despised. When she did an A film, she typically played “the other woman.” But she had a sense of humor about it: “I’d go from one set to another, shooting people and stealing husbands.” This sense of humor made her popular on her home lot of Twentieth Century Fox.

Jeff Gordon has written a thoroughly researched (more than 500 pages!) biography of Bari: Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari. Gordon analyzes why Bari never became the star big star she should have been: problems with her home life. Lynn was saddled with a difficult, alcoholic mother, haunting memories of her father’s apparent suicide, and her continual poor choices of husbands.

One of the main reasons that this book is so well-done is that the author actually interviewed Bari numerous times for the book, shortly before she died in 1989. He was also able to interview several of her friends and relatives to piece together Lynn’s life and find out the true story of what happened to her.  This access to Bari and other people who knew who is invaluable. The author is also sympathetic and understanding towards his subject, and the book is well-written, with many beautiful photos!

Bari spent the last several years of her life dealing with various personal and medical maladies. Despite her problems, she was good-natured with a wonderful sense of humor, which helped make a difficult time in her life easier.

I highly recommend this book to other fans of Lynn Bari, and fans of The Golden Age of Hollywood.

You can order the book by clicking the link below:

Musing Mondays (April 20th)

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme, hosted by Jenn at A Daily Rhythm, that asks you to choose one of the following prompts to answer:

  • I’m currently reading…
  • Up next I think I’ll read…
  • I bought the following book(s) in the past week…
  • I’m super excited to tell you about (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I’m really upset by (book/author/bookish-news)…
  • I can’t wait to get a copy of…
  • I wish I could read ___, but…
  • I blogged about ____ this past week…

THIS WEEK’S RANDOM QUESTION: Do you use your local library? What do you like (or dislike) most about it?

Answer:  I definitely use my local library! It is a small and delightful library, and it is connected to a consortium of 19 public and academic libraries where I can take out books, DVDs, and anything else I want. I can order them to be delivered to my “home” library, or I can pick them up at the other libraries (which I love doing because seeing other libraries is fun), and if I want I can return them to my local library when I’m finished! This gives me a wonderful chance to find interesting books and movies. 

Also, these libraries have many interesting events on their calendars — book clubs, author visits, Toastmasters, knitting groups, yoga, movies, games, etc. in which members can participate.