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Thursday
Jun072012

Frank Langella, Name Dropper

On my way out west to see family, I found great escapist distraction in Frank Langella's memoir "Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them" When the book was first released earlier this year, I thought it sounded so distasteful so I didn't pick it up. As it turns out Billy Held an Oscar wouldn't let me go without reading it and sent me a copy as an early birthday gift. Thanks, Billy!

Frank Langella in his first flushes of fame. The book is about dead celebrities he met.

I hadn't realized that Langella was only talking about dead celebrities -- sorry, no shacked-up-with-Whoopi Goldberg or Frost/Nixon chapters! -- and I can't decide if that makes the sometimes unflattering anecdotes more wonderful or more distasteful. Probably both. Initial reservations aside the book is well written and a real page turner. Langella even predicts and silences most "they can't defend themselves!" criticisms with a clearly stated prologue, including this bit:

Separate and diverse individuals as they may be, my subjects have in comon the inevitable outcome awaiting us all: to live only in memories. In this case, mine.

I admit that they are most likely prejudiced, somewhat revisionst, and a tad exaggerated here and there. But were I offered an exact replay of events as they unfolded, I would reject it. I prefer my memories.

I am forcing myself to read the book very slowly so as not to exhaust all the juicy anecdotes quickly.  I still have a lot to read but my favorite story thus far is remarkably not about a movie star at all but about the movie starriest of American presidents John F Kennedy, who Langella met when he was all of 15 at a rich friend's parent's brunch. Langella, who is now 74 has a wealth of material to draw from given that his showbiz career started as a teenager and he's achieved success on the stage, in film and on television. 

Nothing shocks Bride of Frankenstein Elsa Lanchester!

I thought I'd share an example after the jump -- a little Elsa Lanchester bit...

CHARLES LAUGHTON & ELSA LANCHESTER
The Oscar winning ham and the Bride of Frankenstein were married for over 30 years and Langella was invited to Elsa's house a decade after Laughton's death when she learned he was a huge fan of her late husband's work. It was the early seventies and Langella was attempting to make the transfer from stage to screen. She gave him a tour and shared a lot about her husband including these two anecdotes.

'Charles was devastated by bad notices,' Miss Lanchester said. 'He would take to his bed in agony, reading them again and again. Finally, he devised a method for exorcising them from his soul. He taught a Shakespeare class here at the house in his studio and he would gather the notices and perform them for his students. If a critics said, 'Mr. Laughton is pompous,' he would deliver the word with ten time the venom it engendered. He'd act the review with tremendous power and vitriol, exhausting himself and then burn it in his bucket. It was very entertaining.'

See? NEVER believe actors when they say they don't read their own reviews.

But back to the book...

Laughton & Lanchester, co-stars on stage, screen and in life.We ended the tour of the house in Mr. Laughton's bedroom, not very bright, also suitably tattered, with books by the hundreds. Then on to her room.

'Come here to the window,' she said. 'Look out. What's that you see?'

'Your swimming pool'

'Yes. Can you see all four corners?'

'No. Only three.'

'Yes! Only three. There is an area of the pool that cannot be seen from any window of the house. And had you visited when Charles was alive, that is the area in which he would have taken you, suggested you swimi in the nude, and then seduced you. That's where he took the beautiful boys. He was homosexual, you know.'

'I'm not that easily seduced,' I said.

'Don't be too certain, dear boy. Charles could be very persuasive.'

Quelle scandale! No wonder Laughton was so convincingly Oscar-nominated for not-so subtextually lusting after Clark Gable & Franchot Tone in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). But really, who could blame him?

For more of my thoughts on Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) click the pick...

If this book excerpt amuses you, I may share more. Subjects range from movie legends like Liz & Marilyn to TV stars like Ricardo Montalban. The very brief bit on Montgomery Clift hurt my heart and the chapter on Paul Newman pissed me off. It's that kind of book: amusing, irritating, and fascinating in roughly equal measure.

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Reader Comments (17)

Yes, more please! Love this stuff.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAR

That's why we love you. The fact that the brief bit on Montgomery Clift hurt your heart. You are a dear old softy with a huge heart and that comes through in so much of your writing. xxo to you Nathaniel.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

An asshole leaves his wife for Whoopi, and decides to write an awful cash-in on the deceased, fuck him. Glad his real crowning achievement was the Cannon Films adaptation of He-Man (Masters of the Universe), which I saw as a wee child, with my mother, brother and cousins, playing Skeletor, he was pretty much the highlight.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

I guess you have no thoughts on "Mutiny on the Bounty," as when I click the pic nothing happens.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

Wow. I just happened to finally catch "Diary of a Mad Housewife," from 1970 this past weekend. Frank was appropriately snotty and vain in what I think was his first film.

And Carrie Snodgress!!! Talk about what makes an actressexual giddy. Great under seen performance. A must see for those who haven't yet.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

I found these excerpts very exciting, so I'm all for more posts on this book.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Stark

The book is very well written .

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Would love to hear more. I was equally put off by what seemed the crassness of the book especially from somebody that I thought highly of but if you are finding it enjoyable I might give it a try.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

The guy's 74 years old. If he has interesting stories to share, when should he do it? after he's dead?

The most important thing to remember when you're reading something is that it's first and foremost personal opinion and everyone has the right to put it down in written form if he/she wants to.

The same goes for blogs and articles. Nathaniel is not too fond of Cate Blanchett, he sometimes posts some rather unpleasant things about her and my personal opinion is here to remind him I disagree. He chooses not to mention any of her upcoming projects which are far more interesting than many of the recent projects of his beloved Kidman, Moore and Bening, but that's fine.

Back to Frank, one thing I truly doubt is that he did it for money.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@Yavor

You don't see this book as reflecting poorly on his character?

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

More more more more!!

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergoran

4rtful: MOST of these people he's talking about have been dead for well over ten years. There has to be a time where this kind of thing is not only viewed as not amoral but also sort of necessary and I think ten years after death as a minimum is a good starting point for it to be not amoral to publish and fifteen to twenty is a good point for it to start becoming viewed as necessary to publish. The saying "Don't speak ill of the dead" is, at least I think, more about getting people to respect the FRESHLY dead than about ALL dead people. That having been said, some of his choices do reflect at least a little poorly on him, particulary Paul Newman and Ricardo Montalban, but I would have absolutely no issue if he had something like that as a rule.

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

We're all guilty of attentively listening to new and old gossip, this book is a low cash grab and reflects poorly on the author, who I still find physically and sexually attractive. What prevents me from lusting after him is the smug unfeeling asshole factor he embodies.

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

"If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me."

I have mixed feelings about this kind of book, BUT I don't doub there is a kernel of truth in all of it. Langella's truth, for what it's worth. I think I can take it all with a grain of salt, as it were.

Ooh I have a delicious story about Frank Langella....I took a stage management class years ago at a university in NYC taught by a very prominent theatrical stage manager. He invited several of his equally successful stage manager colleagues to participate in a Q&A with our class. At one point in the conversation, the subject turned to diificult actors. Well lo' and behold, guess whose name was the first mentioned? Hehehe...Frank Langella! They were appauled by his dressing room demands - apparently he has a penchant for sliced pears - and his arrogant, pompous attitude...now everytime I see or read about Langella I always think of sliced pears.

BTW, he was recently on Charlie Rose promoting his book, and he pretty much copped to his diva behavior...it doesn't excuse his behavior, but at least he can be honest with himself and with others about it.

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe

UGH, now I want to know what he said about Paul Newman!

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

read the book and enjoyed it very much. I only wish that he had written abit more about his own past. Fom the affairs that he had and lets be clear he did have afffairs on his wife.Why sjhe filed for divorce after he started seeing Whoopi is beyond me. Anyway. The bits on Raul JUlia and Newman teared me upa bit. Langella is kinda cold, reserved, arrogant. But he KNOWS it.
He was very respectful towards women, seems to like the older ones, without plastic surgery or fake boobs. I have to wonder if he had an older female mom or grandma whom he loved in real life that he respected alot. He obviously had a problem with men - and at one point mentions that he spent his life in and out of therapy. Maybe this is why his critique is harsher on the men than it is on the woman.

July 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershell
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