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This is a fruit of my new method for trying to pick out reasonable Hollywood biographies in cases where I have not been recommended any, which is to say I took it off the shelf, looked at the bibliography for length and plausibility of sources, looked at the copyright date to ensure it was after the year 2000, and then based on that decided it would probably be okay.

Eliot's is not a terrible book, but I am considering raising that date to 2005 out of self-defense, as I have been noticing that dates after 2000 seem to indicate that the biographer is willing to talk about a subject's bisexuality/homosexuality but is still sometimes annoyingly judgmental and defensive about it (see my earlier complaints re: Donald Soto about Laurence Olivier; my complaints about that aspect of this book are identical but stronger). What I'd like is a bio that presents substantiated facts without elision and is, at least, value-neutral. Books after 2000 seem to get me the non-elided versions, but value-neutral is harder to come by.

At any rate, Cary Grant led a fascinating if clearly extremely unhappy life, and this book digs into aspects of it I had never thought to consider, such as what Grant did about the questions about immigration status and patriotism that dogged British expatriates in Hollywood during World War II, and the ways in which the friends and contacts Grant made during that period to help avoid problems shielded him during the HUAC era. (He became an American citizen shortly before the end of the war, and seems to have managed the ridiculous feat of being an avowed leftist whom J. Edgar Hoover liked enough to keep out of trouble.) It's a good book for facts and dates and quotations and that sort of detail, and therefore makes a good story if you are the sort of person for whom facts and dates and detail make a sentence, for whom these things come alive without the necessity of assisting description.

Because let me tell you, the description there is in this book is actively detractive. Eliot can write a clear, grammatical, lucid and informative English sentence, and does so frequently. What he cannot do is write a clear, grammatical, lucid and informative English sentence when he is trying to give his own opinion in any way at all. As long as he is laying out and delivering facts the man can write. Otherwise, he falls into a sort of anti-writing, where he seems to be actively working against the overall quality of his book by producing similes that have the effect of horrific little land-mines of pretentiousness. You could probably enjoy this really thoroughly if you skip any sentence containing an adjective.

It did remind me of how much I like Bringing Up Baby, and that there are a couple of things by Hitchcock I really ought to go and watch already. And it did, in the portions without adjectives, provide an interesting portrait of a very complicated, obsessive, and not entirely sympathetic man with great gifts and a talent for marketing. I had not known that Cary Grant was the first Hollywood star to manage to break free of the studio system, exist as a contract player, and still have a career; that's the move which broke Valentino shortly before his death, and which Charlie Chaplin had to found his own studio to get away with. That increases my respect for Grant tremendously.

Mind you, there are levels in which I wonder why I ever read Hollywood biographies. One could, after all, be watching the movies instead, and they don't usually work that well as film criticism or as movie recommendations. I suppose it's worth keeping on until I figure out why I do it. Or until I find one good enough that it is, in itself, worthwhile.


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