My Book World
In Langella’s “Cast of Characters”—notable people he has known throughout his long acting career—he lists them in the order of their “disappearance” from the earth. The first personality is Marilyn Monroe, whom he “meets” in a fortuitous incident as a kid in which he exchanges waves with the woman as she enters a limousine. Further in to the book Langella describes his relationship with John F. Kennedy. This episode also begins his relationship with Paul and Bunny Mellon and their daughter whom he has met first by way of his youthful thespian activities in summer stock. Many of his acquaintances, like these, wash back and forth over one another until he ends his book by way of his long friendship with Bunny Mellon who lives to be 103.
Langella is at turns generous and blunt about the talents of these people. With Rita Hayworth he can’t possibly heap the praise high enough. By his account, Bette Davis is an arrogant bitch. Raul Julia is a prince, almost a brother to Frank. Paul Newman is a so-so actor who can’t quite reach down deep enough in to himself to grab the stuff of which great acting is made.
The book is also one of confession. Langella, throughout his life, though retaining threads of friendship with hundreds of people, manages to let other relationships fall off. In a stunning chapter, one learns of Elizabeth Taylor’s deep insecurities, about living out her life alone. He tells of his own arrogance when he treats British actor Deborah Kerr dismissively over a long period of time—until it is too late.
If readers are to learn anything from Langella’s book it may be that no matter what road we take in life, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have helped us along the way; it behooves us to help the sick and needy; and it pays to be kind and polite to nearly everyone, saving the stinging but measured remark for the few who may deserve it. The book is now over a decade old, but the content is timeless.
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