Friday, December 7, 2012

Shelley: Also Known as Shirley

1980, 1981 Ballantine edition
Shelley Winters
Shelley: Also Known as Shirley
Original and purchase price unknown
Paperback that's split in two

On the last page, Winters writes, "Perhaps I'm sometimes vague about what took place in which year."  For instance, she claims her daughter was two when Winters's second marriage broke up, but Wikipedia shows that to have been in 1954, when her daughter was one.  And specific dates in the book are few and far between.  She also writes on that page, "TO BE CONTINUED, I HOPE...."  Although she talks briefly about some of her movies and other adventures in the '60s and '70s, this volume does end with that divorce.  Even in Shelley II, which we'll get to in 1989, her main narrative hasn't advanced more than a decade.  I used to hope she'd write Shelley III and maybe get up to The Poseidon Adventure, but she died in 2006 without continuing her autobiography.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure if I've ever seen any of her movies, although I've seen her on television.  Her larger-than-life persona (yes, in more ways than one) appealed to me, and so I was pleased to see that that's the way she's written this book.  She admits she's a loudmouth, one of the rare people who could stand up to Harry Cohn, but she's also good-hearted.  She had at least as many affairs with famous actors as Joan Collins did, though with a few more scruples about dating married men.  She also writes about having an abortion, back in the late '30s, as well as being a union organizer around that time.  She clearly wasn't afraid of controversy.

The period covered here overlaps with that of Lauren Bacall's main days in Hollywood (Winters is about four years older) and there are surprising similarities between these two actresses.  Both were Jewish New Yorkers and felt more drawn to the stage, although the call of Hollywood in the early '40s was irresistible.  They were sex symbols (in different ways) while seeing themselves as skinny and plain.  Bacall's image was more intelligent onscreen, with Winters sometimes fighting and sometimes playing along with her dumb-blonde image.  And both were liberal Democrats with crushes on Adlai Stevenson.  (Winters apparently bedded him though, while Bacall just had a long-term flirtation.)

I felt Winters was more realistic about her relationships than Bacall, in the books I mean, although perhaps also at the time.  Even as Winters made mistakes, she was less of a romantic than Bacall.  I also found this to be one of the funnier autobiographies I've read, although no one can yet match Rosalind Russell.

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