All weekend I’ve been reading Peter Bogdanovich’s star-fuckery, slightly appalling memoir Who the Hell’s In It. It’s a series of profiles of Hollywood actors, many of whom he knew quite well, and many about whom I’m extremely curious. Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, Stella Adler, Marlon Brando, River Phoenix, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Sal Mineo, for starters. Bogdanovich mostly defers–sometimes fawns–over these big names but I don’t hold it against him, even if the results read only a step above the kind of PR-ese that was my bread and butter at Us Weekly. Which is to say that the book’s not pulpy, only a little juicy. You know, Cary Grant wasn’t gay; Jerry Lewis wasn’t to blame for his fall-out with Dean Martin. Occasionally details drift in that fascinate: a drunken brawl between Lemmon and his then-new wife, Felicia; Montgomery Clift slurring his way through a revival of his own work.
I suppose I’m sympathetic. There is something breathtaking about these actors who continue to take up so much space in our cultural imagination, especially in an era in which we view films on the tinest of screens. It’s a kid thing, I think. As Bodganovich himself says, “The was, in fact, an innocence on some level with all the star-players I met; almost all the actors, young or old, felt an unspoiled, selfless love for the work and the medium itself.” You could say that of Bogdanovich himself, too. He has pretty much worn every hat possible in the still-amazing world of film, and I’ve always felt happy to see his name, even when he’s made the tackiest of missteps. It’s funny that, with his owly features, he seems so ordinary. Nobody recognizes him yet he knew—and knows!–everyone. That’s my kind of Hollywood legend–the kind whose charm creeps up on you. (Charmless features coupled with bright enthusiasm always do.)