Sunday, January 20, 2013

So Good I Very Nearly Devoured It

"Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them," by Frank Langella   Harper Collins   356 pages   $25.99

Langella, 74, has been a professional actor for 50 years and more.  He's worked in theater and in movies.  Thus he is well-equipped to talk about his experiences with an array of personalities.

He explains the book's title:  a group of actors were on dinner break at a theater and one of them said, "Oh, I'll never forget when the Queen Mother turned to me and said..."  Langella couldn't resist loudly dropping a piece of silverware on the floor, remarking, "Oops!  I dropped something..." and the other actors all roared.

Funnily enough, on page 214, he tells of his experiences with the Queen Mother.   Langella used to date the stepdaughter of Paul Mellon, who was married to Bunny Mellon who was best friends with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  Mellon enjoyed breeding and racing horses.  When one of his horses was running at Epson Downs, Langella was invited to fly over from Paris where he was shooting a film, to attend the race with the Mellons.  Naturally a man with assets like Mellon was invited to bring his part to the Royal Box.

He dated Jackie Kennedy who was nine years his senior, for quite a while, too.  Again, through friendship with the Mellons.  He often stayed at their homes in Cape Cod and Antigua.

He begins a chapter on Rita Hayworth, "It is 2 a.m. and I am alone in the dark with her again."  He's referring to watching "Gilda" but he reminsces about working with her in Mexico and their affair, 15 years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.  It would appear to have been a very late diagnosis. 

Langella is genunely funny, something that is rarely written about a professional actor.  They tend to take themselves Quite Seriously.  Astonishing as well, he makes fun of himself and not in that deprecating, "I'm so cute" way.

Fifty years of anecdotes and a huge cast - Raul Julia, Jessica Tandy, Robert Mitchum, Princess Diana, Elsa Lanchester, Richard Burton and many more.  It's a great read if you're into the inside stuff and I very much enjoyed it. 

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