“In and Out of Hollywood,”
by Charles Higham
c.2009, Terrace Books
It was just an accident. Nobody meant for it to happen. It was just “one of those things,” only orchestrated when the cosmos met and decided that it was your turn. Which is not to say that it was a bad thing. For once, it was a good accident. In the new book, “In and Out of Hollywood,” by Charles Higham, you’ll read about an accident that launched a career, and the story of the man whose life was affected.
Born to affluence in 1930s England, Charles Higham grew up largely raised by nannies. His parents split when he was but a baby; his distant father and stepmother were busy partying and his mother was someone young Charles barely knew. A few years later, after his father died and his stepmother sexually abused him, Charles moved back with his mother, but she didn’t really want him. He interfered with her new marriage and her succession of lovers.
Tall, wan, and sickly, Charles shunned sports and college in favor of working as a clerk in a bookstore. He started writing poetry, and though his stepfather sneered at his talent, Charles was praised by other writers and was published. Still, he thought he might have a better life in Australia, so he and his new wife emigrated.
Not long afterward, they split. By this time, Charles had recognized and come to terms with his own attraction to men; perhaps not coincidentally, his wife fell in love with a woman. While at work for various newspapers in Australia and given “a remarkably free hand,” Charles met and interviewed several celebrities and was fortunate to see them at their best and worst. Although he had always been fascinated by movies, he was equally fascinated by those who made them, and he brought his interest to his readers. In 1963, on behalf of the newspaper for which he was working, he was sent to Hollywood to interview stars, directors, and producers.
There, he discovered something that put him on the map forever. In 1942, Orson Welles had started a docu-drama in Brazil that was never finished. The footage lay in cans at RKO, owned by Desilu Studios. And possibly as an accident (or possibly not), Charles Higham saw the film, which would be a thrilling adventure of treasure found and life lived, if this book wasn’t so darn tedious.
As a biographer, Higham makes the life stories of others seem so much livelier than he makes his own. I have to admit that, yes, he shares plenty of anecdotes of brushes with Hollywood’s (long-dead) best and (once) brightest, but the stories are presented abruptly and almost as an interruption of another thought, which serves to keep a reader either surprised or annoyed. I took it as the latter. This book, in fact, felt fusty to me.
If you’re a die-hard, rabid old-movie fan, you might like this book. If you prefer your H-wood buzz fresher, though, “In and Out of Hollywood” is a book to leave off your must-read list.
“That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row,”
by Jarvis Jay Masters
By no stretch of the imagination would anyone say that the man in the orange jumpsuit could be called “nice.” The metal around his waist and wrists attest to his badness, and the look on his face further cements it: this is a man that few people would mess with. But once upon a time, he wasn’t bad at all. Awhile back, that man in the orange jumpsuit was a little boy in blue overalls. He’s a menace now, but he was someone’s baby then.
So, where did things go wrong for him? Read the new book ,“That Bird Has My Wings,” by Jarvis Jay Masters and you’ll see. Until he was 7 or 8 years old, Jarvis Masters lived in a drug house with his sisters. The children knew they were loved because their mother, a heroin addict, came home now and then. But there was rarely anything to eat, cockroaches were playthings and strangers constantly wandered in to shoot up in the bathroom. Then, someone called social services.
The children were split up and Jarvis was placed with an older couple who longed for a child of their own. Mamie and Dennis treated Jarvis like a son, buying him toys, giving him guidance and nurturing his dreams. When Mamie fell sick, Jarvis was placed in another foster home, where he was physically and emotionally abused. He ran away and was eventually sent to CYA (California Youth Authority), an environment in which he wanted to stay. But case workers needed to find him a permanent home, so they sent him to a military discipline camp for boys. Nobody realized that Jarvis had already become enured to institutionalization.
For most of his teens, Jarvis bounced from relatives’ homes to state facilities and back, becoming enmeshed in drugs and crime along the way. He tried to get an education and a career, but family “business” was too strong a pull. Once involved with guns and robbery, he knew it was only a matter of time before he’d be caught.
When I started this book, I was expecting a 281-page howl of innocence, but Masters only briefly touches on that argument in this powerful autobiography. Yes, he decries his harshest sentence, but he doesn’t dwell on it. It’s almost as if the charge of conspiracy to commit murder (the reason he’s on death row) is a minor point in this book. It barely takes up a page-and-a-half.
The bigger story – the one that comes blasting through “That Bird Has My Wings” – is one of an eager, smart little boy who was hungry for guidance and structure, but got shuttled aside, instead. It’s a tale of regret, remorse, quiet acceptance, gratitude, and strength that lays the blame squarely and surprisingly on its writer, as well as on the adults who hurt him.
If you’re in search of something that doesn’t glorify crime or make it seem like anything less than wrong, you can’t go wrong by getting this book. “That Bird Has My Wings” absolutely soars.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.