Over the past three summers, I’ve read several Hollywood memoirs, virtually all of which adhere to the two goals above: to shatter the star image and then reclaim it. Most of the accounts I’ve read are, like Bacall’s, written by the stars (or writers and directors) themselves:
- June Allyson (1982), June Allyson
- The Making of The African Queen; or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind (1987), Katharine Hepburn
- Me: Stories of My Life (1991), Katharine Hepburn
- Ava: My Story (1990), Ava Gardner
- Beginning (1990), Kenneth Branagh
- Now (1994), Lauren Bacall
- Looking for Gatsby (1998), Faye Dunaway
- The Measure of a Man (2001), Sidney Poitier
- Forever Liesl: A Memoir of The Sound of Music (2001), Charmian Carr
- Motherhood and Hollywood: How to Get a Job Like Mine (2002), Patricia Heaton (of Everybody Loves Raymond)
- Lucky Man (2002), Michael J. Fox
- By Myself and Then Some (2005), Lauren Bacall
- You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom (2006), Phil Rosenthal (co-creator of Everybody Loves Raymond).
Some of the memoirs I’ve encountered are penned by family members of Hollywood legends:
- Bogart: In Search of My Father (1995), Stephen Bogart
- Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir (1998), Lorna Luft (daughter of Judy Garland)
- My Father’s Daughter: A Memoir (2000), Tina Sinatra
- The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris (2003), Betsy Blair (first wife of Gene Kelly)
- In My Father’s Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles (2010), Christopher Welles Feder.
Finally, two memoirs on my list are written neither by the star nor her spouse or children, but by close friends:
- Kate Remembered (2003), A. Scott Berg
- At Home with Kate: Growing up in Katharine Hepburn’s Household (2007), Eileen Considine-Meara.
Looking through these lists, I notice that very few of the memoirs, particularly those penned by or about classical Hollywood stars, feature the dreadfully trite titles that currently deface the Autobiography shelves of Barnes and Noble or Borders. See, for instance, Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale (2009) or Roger Moore’s My Word Is My Bond (2008). Yes, yes, we get it. Gilbert’s book calls to mind the television show for which she is most recognized, Little House on the Prairie. Likewise, Moore’s autobiography references his most renowned role as the second (and some would argue, the best) James Bond. Here are a few more, some courtesy of Entertainment Weekly‘s “14 Awful Titles for Celeb Memoirs.”
We might add to this list the autobiography I read while on vacation last week — Leslie Caron’s Thank Heaven: A Memoir. (I’ll admit I was largely digging for information on Gene Kelly about whom I’ve written here and here and here). Like Prairie Tale and My Word Is My Bond, Thank Heaven inextricably links Caron to the Oscar-winning musical Gigi (Vincente Minnelli, 1958), which not only features the star-author, but also the song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” sung by fellow Frenchman Maurice Chevalier.
Oh, Leslie, couldn’t you have followed in the footsteps of fellow dancer Ginger Rogers, whose autobiography (which I’m reading this week, by the way) is entitled simply Ginger: My Story (1991)? It’s not Ginger, Shall We Dance? or Swing Time with Ginger or even Ginger, Carefree and Sitting Pretty. Rather, like her classical Hollywood contemporaries — Gardner, Hepburn, Allyson, and Poitier — Rogers forgoes the silly labeling/titling that automatically reduces her individual self to its fabricated screen image.
So why do these recent memoirs boast such “awful” titles as Entertainment Weekly claims? Perhaps it’s a new marketing tool? Poor publishing or editorial decisions? Just a tacky trend?  I could probably come up with positive answers to each of these questions and a few reasons to support them; but I’d like to think there’s another, more substantial explanation that so many recent star autobiographies feature such silly “reductionist titles.” And here it is: they lack substance. Moreover, their authors, well most of them anyway, lack substance — at least when compared to Bacall, Hepburn, Dunaway, Gardner, Poitier, and, yes, Leslie Caron. For example, here’s the opening statement of David Hasselhoff’s atrociously titled memoir, Don’t Hassle the Hoff: “I had blind faith I was going to make it. I never doubted I’d be a star.” Nice. And here are some words of wisdom about turning 50 from The Brady Bunch‘s Maureen McCormack: “Wrinkles still appear, things sag, and you may need a few more trips to the colorist.” Profound. In brief, in order for many of these recent books to sell, they necessitate attention-grabbing titles that quickly link the author to that which has made him/her famous.
On the other hand, autobiographies by those who thrived in and survived the studio system, I would imagine (or hope?), do not require this type of marketing. The stars’ experiences in Hollywood and abroad, reflective anecdotes about their careers and personal lives, and places in cinema history rest solidly underneath such simple and unfussy titles as The Measure of a Man (Poitier), Ava: My Story (Gardner), and Me: Stories of My Life (Hepburn). It’s just a shame that Leslie Caron’s Thank Heaven — a fascinating look at the creative process of the classical film musical, the brilliance of filmmaker Jean Renoir, and the sheer craziness of a young Warren Beatty — should end up with such a trite little title. Caron as well as her readers deserves better than that.
 A couple of years ago, London newspapers reported major drops in the sale of celebrity memoirs. For example, the Telegraph claims, “The popularity of celebrity books has weakened considerably in the current economic climate.” Likewise, The Times writes, “‘Sales are down by around 25 or 30 per cent this year, more than the decline in the book market overall,’ said Tom Weldon, the deputy chief executive of Penguin UK. ‘This is mostly the fault of publishers, because some of the titles seem a bit tired and D-list this year. Maybe we are running out of celebrities, or perhaps some of them are running out of new things to say about themselves.’”