Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor by Donald Spoto; read by C.M. Herbert (1995)

I just finished listening to a biography of Elizabeth Taylor, that arch serial monogamist, the most beautiful woman in the world at one time, the most scandalous woman in the world on several other times, and always a fascinating read.  Now, one of my favorite podcasts, if not my favorite, is You Must Remember This, which, in its own words, is "a storytelling podcast about the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood's first century" a "heavily researched work of creative nonfiction."  It's amazing.  Karina Longworth, the host, narrates/storytells each episode, occasionally with other actors playing the parts of various celebrities, but most often, it's just her.  And she is also amazing.

Donald Spoto's A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor is most definitely NOT creative nonfiction.  At first I wanted to describe Spoto's biography as antiseptic, but rather, it's manicured, like a Beverly Hills garden. His writing is as clipped and shaped as topiary.   Spoto psychoanalyzes Elizabeth (never, ever Liz) Taylor to her small toe and back again (according to him, ad nauseum, she had daddy issues).  He many times compares her and her many loves to various characters in mythology.  Elizabeth Taylor is an over the top, lust  for life character; she lived big, worked big, ate big, drank big, married big, divorced big, acted big, swore big, was big.  Spoto's book never quite catches that passion; he tries to box her in too much.  A far better biography is William J. Mann's How To Be A Movie Star   (one of the first books I wrote about here) if you plan on READING about Elizabeth Taylor, start there.  

But lets say you are in between seasons for You Must Remember This, and you are hungry for old movie star glamor, then Spoto's book as narrated by C.M. Herbert is pretty good.  I don't know who she is or how she does it, but she sounds JUST LIKE ELIZABETH TAYLOR (not so much like Richard Burton, though).  Spoto's precise writing was actually a perfect match for Herbert's Elizabeth impersonation.  You may call bullshit on the daddy issues (among other things) but you won't call bullshit on Herbert's narration.  She's superb.

Will there EVER be a start like Elizabeth Taylor ever again?  I doubt it.


A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth TaylorA Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor by Donald Spoto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are better biographies of Elizabeth Taylor, that arch serial monogamist famed for being at one time the most beautiful in the world, and also the most scandalous woman in the world, and mostly at the same time. How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood comes to mind. If you want read a book, check this one out. Spato's book is as manicured as a Beverly Hills garden and his writing is as clipped as the finest topiary. But that weighs against the book at times; Elizabeth Taylor is an over the top, lust for life character; she lived big, worked big, ate big, drank big, married big, divorced big, acted big, swore big, was big. Spato's book is anything but. HOWEVER, if you are inbetween seasons on You Must Remember This, the podcast that explores "the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood's first century" (if you are reading a movie star biography and haven't yet listened to Karina Longworth's glamorous and fabulous podcast, you need to go download and listen NOW), then LISTEN to C.M. Herbert read this book. She's incredible, mostly because SHE SOUNDS JUST LIKE ELIZABETH TAYLOR (Richard Burton, not so much). I was hooked into this audio within a few minutes, and love almost every single minute of it. Herbert's rich narration more than makes up for Spato's psychoanalyzing (and sometimes bullshit).


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