5 Of the best Hollywood memoirs

Chantelle Pattemore

There is an array of celebrity autobiographies available—but which are worth saying “Just one more chapter” to?

Before the revealing glare of social media bore down on Tinseltown’s brightest stars, cinema’s greatest were shrouded in mystery. While we’ll never know exactly what occurred behind closed doors, autobiographies written by some of Hollywood’s leading men and women have allowed us to become privy to a host of tantalising secrets—warts and all.

 

Jane Fonda: My Life So Far

Don’t let the unimaginative title put you off: Fonda has some astonishing years under her belt – and she recalls both bright and dark times in full technicolour. The book begins documenting her difficult childhood years—a strained relationship with her father, esteemed actor Peter, and tragic suicide of her mother, Frances; the truth of which was concealed from her. 

From here, the reader is guided through a whirlwind of fascinating stories detailing her three marriages (each destructive in some form or other), decades-long battle with eating disorders, acting career and political activism—particularly focusing on her opposition of the Vietnam War and subsequent media backlash. Yet, at no point does the book feel rushed and, amongst her recollections, Fonda has stoical moments of reflection that cement her tales in reality. It’s been 14 years since this memoir’s publication, and we can only imagine what new stories she’d have to add. 

 

David Niven: Bring On The Empty Horses

We often revel in discovering which names are included in our favourite celebrity’s social circle. But, with Niven, it’s more a case of finding those who weren’t. Empty Horses, one of his two memoirs, nonchalantly recalls moments on- and off-set with actors and actresses such as Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland and Clark Gable—to list but a few. But, in addition to his whimsical tales of boating misadventures with Douglas Fairbanks and intimidating encounters with Greta Garbo, the reader is offered far more: Niven knew his peers so well that he provides deeper insights into their characters, meaning we’re essentially treated to an array of fascinating mini biographies alongside his own.

Despite his enviable connections, one never feels Niven is boasting about his good fortune: in fact, his entertaining and engaging style means the entire read feels like a conversation down the pub with an old friend. Grab a drink and pull up a stool—you won’t regret it.

 

Lauren Bacall: By Myself And Then Some

Before Richard and Liz or Tom and Rita, Hollywood’s most legendary romance was that of Bogart and Bacall—fuelled in part by their 25-year age gap. Bacall briefly recalls her childhood and modelling career before detailing her foray into acting—and the intoxicating days of falling in love with still-married Bogart on-set. From here, the memoir provides tantalising insights into their relationship, children, respective careers and close friendships with other cinematic legends including Spencer Tracey, Katherine Hepburn and David Niven.

Bacall’s account of the days surrounding Bogart’s death are particularly poignant—her grief and confusion, and concerns about sharing the news with their young children; and this vulnerability continues as she recounts her subsequent dalliance with Frank Sinatra and second marriage to Jason Robards. Honestly written, but with the elegance she was renowned for, this book serves to remind that, underneath the façade, even the most revered personalities are actually no different to the rest of us. 

 

Richard Burton: The Richard Burton Diaries

You won’t find more sincere recollections and in-the-moment candour of Burton’s astonishing life than in his own diaries. Starting as a teenager in Wales, entries span the decades through to his death aged 58—meaning the reader learns of everything from his turbulent relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, guilt over leaving his first wife Cybil, anxieties over his career, and struggle with alcoholism. 

Burton was undeniably passionate and emboldened, and this is beautifully reflected in his writing. His potent love (and lust) for Taylor is striking, at points verging on explicit—yet this depiction makes the breakdown of their romance even more wrenching for the reader. At 700 pages, it’s a hefty tome—but, with his storytelling prowess as impressive as his on-screen presence, you’ll be truly captivated.

 

Anjelica Huston: A Story Lately Told

The precursor to Huston’s second insightful memoir, Watch Me—recalling her on-screen years—this tome proves equally engaging. Long before her noted romance with Jack Nicholson, Huston grappled with more tumultuous relationships—with her renowned father, John, and mother, Enrica. Her parents’ marriage was dysfunctional, and Houston eloquently recollects this and the impact it had on herself and her brother, Tony. 

Mingled amongst wistful memories of vying for her often-absent father’s attention, we hear tales of celebrated actors visiting their County Galway residence, and Huston’s determined early steps into modelling and acting.

Readers could be forgiven for thinking Huston is a versed writer, rather than this being her first foray into literature—her vivid descriptions and fluid dialogue transport us to the heart of the moment and enable you to feel every ounce of joy and heartbreak as she does.


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