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Jorge Amado
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DIPPING INTO 1950s & 1960s HOLLYWOOD - OH, WHAT A LIFE!

The Way We Lived Then : Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper - Dominick Dunne

"The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper " is a photographic scrapbook of the author's life, as well as a startlingly candid chronicle scanning from the early post-World War II era to the 1990s. 

Dunne, whom I first became aware of during the O.J. Simpson trial (which he covered as an investigative journalist), takes the reader through his life, from a brief telling of his early life in an Irish-American Catholic family in an overwhelmingly WASP society in Connecticut through his combat service in Europe with the U.S. Army during World War II (earning the Bronze Star for bravery in the Battle of Metz) and postwar education at Williams College.

 

After graduating from Williams, Dunne went to New York, where he worked as a stage manager for television during its pioneer era. While in that capacity, Dunne renewed his acquaintance with Gore Vidal, whom he had first met in Guatemala in the late 1940s (where he had also been introduced to Anaïs Nin with whom he had a brief, flirtatious relationship). Dunne became an established stage manager for some of the popular TV shows of the early 1950s (e.g. The Howdy Doody Show), and married in 1954. 

Before the end of the 1950s, Dunne had moved to Hollywood at the urging of Humphrey Bogart, who wanted him to work on the TV version of 'The Petrified Forest'. Knowing Bogart helped raise Dunne's stock and give him access to many of the reigning stars, powerbrokers, and celebrities in Hollywood. It was heady stuff for Dunne who began to take photos at many of the dinners and parties he either attended or hosted at his beachside home in Santa Monica (and later in Beverly Hills, where he had moved his family). One of Dunne's neighbors in Santa Monica was the actor Peter Lawford who had recently married Patricia Kennedy, one of the sisters of the future President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. 

I so enjoyed reading this book and feasting my eyes on many of the photos which spanned from the 1950s into the 1970s. During those years, Dunne went from being a vice-president for a prominent TV production company to a producer for a number of films. Then his life unraveled in stages, he became divorced, engaged in a number of unhealthy habits - often making a fool of himself in the process, and became a pariah in Hollywood. Eventually, Dunne bottomed out and embarked upon a second career as a successful novelist and contributing writer for the magazine Vanity Fair

I highly recommend this photographic memoir for any reader with a fascination for an era in Hollywood which witnessed the slow decline and end of the studio system and the emergence of a new world and morality during the 1960s. Dominick Dunne knew so, so many remarkable people (across Hollywood, high society and culture, and into the political realm - having been in at a few private parties where President Kennedy had been in attendance), including many of the Hollywood A-listers such as Henry Fonda, Rosalind Russell, the directors Billy Wilder and Vincent Minnelli, Lee Remick, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor (with whom Dunne later worked on a movie in Italy), and Richard Burton. I loved reading this book and almost wished I could have experienced some of the lifestyle Dunne knew during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.

RITA MORENO, ¡QUE VIDA!

Rita Moreno: A Memoir - Rita Moreno

A few minutes ago (it is now 6:16 PM EST August 16, 2018 as I write this), I finished reading this candid and compelling memoir of a most remarkable woman. Rita Moreno I had known about first-hand since the 1970s, from having seen her on the TV shows 'The Electric Company' and 'The Rockford Files.' She struck me then as a cool, attractive woman who was sure of herself and had class. Aside from that, I never gave much thought to Rita Moreno the person beyond the TV studio, movie set, and stage. 

But in reading 'RITA MORENO: A Memoir', I was able to look into the life of someone who wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She had to fight for everything she got. That strength came from her mother who brought her at the age of 5 to New York from Puerto Rico (which she describes in such rich and colorful detail from her childhood memories) to make a new life for them both. Rita's father had abandoned them sometime earlier. They lived for a time in a shared apartment in the Bronx. Her mother took on odd jobs such as cleaning the homes of white families, saving up money til she was able to move both herself and daughter Rita into their own apartment in Manhattan. Rita was a very spirited, energetic little girl and one of her relatives in New York suggested to her mother that she get dancing lessons for Rita. (Her teacher was Paco Cansino, who was "not only a Spanish dance teacher; he was the ultimate Spanish dance teacher. He was the teacher and uncle of Rita Hayworth.") This marked the beginning of what would be an almost 70 year career full of fantastic highs (such as Rita Moreno winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Anita in "West Side Story") and frustrating lows. 

Rita Moreno is one of the few surviving actresses today who started out in the era of the studio system in Hollywood. She first worked for MGM (where she had a small role with Gene Kelly in the musical "Singing in the Rain") before going on to work at 20th Century Fox. 

There is so much more to Rita Moreno than meets the eye. That's why I would encourage the reader of this review to take some time and read deeply into the life of a person who traveled quite a journey through life, worked with some of the most famous and distinguished figures in the world of cinema and stage, had a loving family, and managed to stay true to herself all the while.

LOVE RUN AGROUND

Breakup: The End of a Love Story - Catherine Texier

Catherine Texier's story of the breakup of her 18 year relationship with a man who was also her literary partner, lover, best friend, and father of their 2 daughters can best be described as 'an anatomy of an affair'. 

From the book's first pages, Texier provides the reader with an open access into the gradual unraveling of what had been for her, a loving and satisfying relationship. Her partner was in emotional withdrawal. Oftentimes, he was surly, abrupt, or would give her the silent treatment. The more I read, the more his selfishness became evident to me. Texier found it so hard to let go of what they had together. And, in his own way, even after admitting --- while both were seeing a psychologist to help sort out their evolving feelings about each other and their dying relationship --- to having an affair and continuing to spend time with 'the other woman', he and Texier continued an intermittent, fiery sexual relationship. As I was reading all this, I wanted to say out loud: "Why don't the two of you make a clean break of it?" Easy for me to say, I know, as a single man with no children. But that's how I felt as I watched their relationship slowly deflate and disintegrate. 

I felt sorry for Texier because she was completely blindslided by her partner stepping out on her with this woman. In Texier's words: "The rage of being rejected. It’s one thing to be with a guy and see that he’s losing interest and maybe you are too, and quite another to have built a family and two literary careers and a house and eighteen years of shared companionship, the passion still going full swing in spite of the mounting tensions, and to feel the plug being pulled out overnight without warning.”

There is a denouement between Texier and her ex-partner. As a way of fully coming to grips with the end of the relationship, she has a big blowout party in the apartment she had shared with him and their children. "The party was meant as the kickoff of my new life. It was packed. It went on all night. It was exhilarating. A kind of exorcism. I was reclaiming my sexuality on the turf of our love. The very place where we had loved and hurt each other. I performed it with the ferocious energy of life feasting over a still-warm corpse. I barely had to lift a finger. Everybody had come to celebrate with me. A week before, I had bought a secondhand Isaac Mizrahi poppy-red stretch dress with spaghetti straps. I had carefully chosen the dress. Nothing short of red would have done. The dress worked its magic."

"BREAKUP: The End of a Love Story" has valuable lessons to provide the reader about the dynamics of an intimate relationship that comes to an unhappy end.

Cairo In The War 1939 1945 - Artemis Cooper
Presents a side of the Second World War seldom written about, as seen from the vantage point of a colorful Middle Eastern city caught up in the conflict by virtue of being in a country that was a de facto British protectorate, parts of which came under Axis control between 1940 and 1942.

TAKING A LOOK AT THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN FOUNDING FATHER

Sally Hemings: A Novel - Barbara Chase-Riboud

As a general rule, I rarely do re-reads. That's because I have plenty of other books on my TBR List, clamoring for my attention.

But a few weeks ago, the Barbara Chase-Riboud historical novel, "SALLY HEMINGS" came to mind and rooted itself there. I had previously read it almost 40 years ago when I was in high school. While idly checking through Amazon.com, I saw that an updated edition of "SALLY HEMINGS" had been published. I thought that maybe by reading it, I would learn something more about this African American woman and her connection to Thomas Jefferson that had been dismissed by most Jeffersonian scholars and American historians as untrue when the novel was first published in 1979. 
And thus, I set myself to re-reading "SALLY HEMINGS." 

Reading the novel was a rediscovery for me. Most of its details had been lost to me over time. So, I felt very much like I was reading it for the first time. Reacquainting myself with Sally Hemings' life - from her meeting with a census taker in her cabin on the Monticello estate in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1831 to her journey to Paris as a 14 year old in 1787 with one of Thomas Jefferson's daughters (Maria - who also happened to be Sally Hemings' niece because Jefferson's dead wife was also Hemings' half-sister!; Jefferson in 1787 was the U.S. Minister to France), who was in Hemings' charge --- was a wholly absorbing and fascinating experience. 

In the hands of an inept writer less knowledgeable on the subject of slavery and its place as a deeply entrenched fixture in the life, culture, and economy of early America, this novel could have ended up as an overworked melodrama. Chase-Riboud takes the reader on a wide-ranging journey through Sally Hemings' life and the lives of the slaves on Jefferson's estates, as well as many of her family members -- both black and white. She also provides an in depth look at Thomas Jefferson in terms of his relationships with his family and slaves that also reinforce what is known of the historical Thomas Jefferson from people who knew him (e.g. John & Abigail Adams, their son John Quincy Adams, the painter John Trumbull, and Aaron Burr). I especially liked learning something about the lives of the children Thomas Jefferson had with Sally Hemings. This is a novel I recommend to anyone who not only enjoys a good, engaging story - but also is open to learning a more complete history of the impact that slavery and racism had in the lives of several of the 'Founding Fathers' from the very inception of the United States as a democratic republic in 1789.

One more thing worthy of mention: There is also an Afterword in which Chase-Riboud goes into some detail about the struggles she experienced in writing "SALLY HEMINGS" and trying to get it published in 1979. She also enlightens the reader about the efforts of many of America's Jeffersonian scholars and historians of the early Republic years to discredit Chase-Riboud, her novel, and the possibility that an intimate and longstanding relationship existed between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. (Since January 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation has accepted the findings of a DNA study, "combined with multiple strands of currently available documentary and statistical evidence that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children appearing in Jefferson's records.")

SPADs ALOFT, 1916-1918

Spad Fighters in action - Aircraft No. 93 - John Connors

This was a fascinating, highly readable, short book about the history of the different variants of the SPAD single-seater fighter that saw action during the First World War with the French Aviation Militaire, Britain's Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Italy's Aeronautico del Regio Esercito, the Imperial Russian Air Service (where it served in limited numbers), and the United States Army Air Service (USAS).

The book also has lots of photos and illustrations showing different aspects and dimensions of the SPAD. SPADs were renowned as fast, sturdy fighters that, while not 'fast climbers', were formidable in combat, capable of taking considerable punishment, and bringing their pilots safely home.
 

THE TRAGEDIES & FORTUNES OF WAR

The End of Manners: A Novel - Francesca Marciano

"THE END OF MANNERS" is a story focused on the experiences of 2 Western women in war torn Afghanistan --- Imo Glass, a self-assured, successful British journalist and Maria Galante, a self-effacing, award-winning Italian photographer who had been content to stick to the straight and narrow by specializing in taking photographs of fine cuisine for magazines --- who have been given an assignment to highlight the plight of Afghan women who've attempted suicide rather than be married off to much older men. 

In reading this story, the Afghanistan I was seeing in my mind's eye was very much like that depicted in the movie "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", which I had watched in the cinema a couple of years ago. And that is a country riven by internecine conflict where past and present often collide. As well as a country in which its people bravely go about the business of everyday living with the prospect of death hovering nearby. 

Francesca Marciano does a very skillful job as a writer in sharing with the reader the inner conflicts and complexities of some of the novel's main characters. Examples: Hanif, an Afghan who acted as a protector, driver, and guide for both Imo and Maria during their journeys to neighboring villages outside Kabul; and Shirin, a young Afghan woman who acted as interpreter for Imo and Maria in their interviews with women in these distant villages. 

On the whole, this was a compelling novel whose writing kept me engaged. I look forward to reading more of Marciano's works.

TWO RIVALS IN THE SKY

P-39/P-400 Airacobra vs A6M2/3 Zero-sen: New Guinea 1942  - Michael John Claringbould

"P-39/P-400 AIRACOBRA vs A6M2/3 ZERO-SEN: New Guinea 1942" is a concise book which describes to the reader a time during the early days of the Pacific War in which 2 rival fighter planes battled for aerial superiority over New Guinea. 

From the commencement of hostilities in December 1941 and well into the following year, Imperial Japan was in the ascendant in Asia and the Pacific. Its forces had invaded New Guinea in January 1942 as part of a plan to expand and consolidate Japan's power and control over land and resources vital to its security and economic needs. By the time the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) arrived in April 1942 with the Airacobra to contest Japan's almost total air superiority, the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) with its superlative Zero-Sen fighter had largely taken the measure of the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) P-40 Kittyhawk fighter. Many of the pilots flying the Zero-Sen were fully blooded veterans of the battles in China, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. Their counterparts in the USAAF flying the Airacobra were largely untried in combat, yet eager to pit their flying skills against the Japanese. 

The book conveys to the reader the nature of combat over New Guinea as faced by the P-39/P-400 and the Zero-Sen fighter pilots. New Guinea was bedeviled with challenging tropical conditions and treacherous weather throughout 1942. In many key respects, the Zero-Sen was a qualitatively better fighter plane than the P-39/P-400 Airacobra, which best functioned at low and medium altitudes. 

In reading this book, I learned a great deal about the determination and sheer grit of those pilots flying the P-39/P-400 Airacobra and the A6M2/3 Zero-Sen during the battles Japan waged throughout 1942 to gain control of New Guinea. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of "P-39/P-400 AIRACOBRA vs A6M2/3 ZERO-SEN: New Guinea 1942" is its many photos and illustrations. They give the reader a palpable sense of what the Pacific War was like at a time when Allied victory was far from certain. 

From reading this book, I now have the greatest admiration for those USAAF pilots who bravely took the P-39/P-400 Airacobra into the skies during 1942 to challenge Japanese military power in New Guinea. They managed to hold their own until the USAAF was able to phase out the Airacobra and bring in vastly better performing fighters (e.g., the P-38 Lightning and the P-47 Thunderbolt) to help turn the tide of the Pacific War. The Imperial Japanese Navy, by contrast, lost many of its top fighter pilots and the attrition suffered by its fighter units in New Guinea during 1942 contributed to the diminution of Japanese air power there.

CATESBY RETURNS

South Atlantic Requiem  - Edward Wilson

Edward Wilson has crafted another winner with "SOUTH ATLANTIC REQUIEM."

William Catesby, the redoubtable and resourceful veteran MI-6 agent, polyglot, and ever faithful servant of Her Majesty's Government, takes center stage once more. The time is 1979. A new Conservative government has taken power in Britain and is set on shaking things up. And that entails substantial cuts in the defense budget.

There is also a military dictatorship in Argentina eyeing a group of offshore islands -- the Falklands -- that have been under British sovereignty for close to 150 years. The Argentines have long regarded these islands as theirs - las Malvinas. But they have been reluctant to challenge British power for decades. That is, until the change of government in Whitehall. The Prime Minister - Margaret Thatcher - doesn't regard the Falklands as vital to Britain's strategic interests. There are some low level talks between the British and Argentines that hint at putting into place a gradual turnover of the Falklands to Argentina.

Catesby has been made head of operations in South America. Events between 1979 and early 1982 lead to a simmering crisis between Whitehall and Buenos Aires. After Thatcher has ordered the withdrawal of a Royal Navy ship (HMS Endurance) -- which had been patrolling the waters surrounding the Falklands -- the ruling Junta in Argentina busies itself with making plans to seize the Falklands. Catesby has -- through the use in Buenos Aires of a young, savvy, assertive Cambridge graduate (Fiona Stewart - who also displays a facility for languages) he had hired as a part-time agent to keep tabs on the Junta -- kept his ears alert to subtle changes in the political climate. Miss Stewart for a time provides MI-6 with valuable intelligence -- through contacts she has developed among some members of the Argentine government and military (many of them young officers, one of whom - a naval aviator and champion polo player - she falls in love with; the feelings are mutual). But the situation changes and Catesby's intelligence source fades to black --- for reasons that one can discover as the story progresses.

The novel goes on to provide some very revealing insights into how it was that Argentina and Britain went to war over the Falklands in the Spring of 1982. As someone who lived through that time and has some memory of that conflict, I very much enjoyed the way Wilson showed how events unfolded from a variety of personalities and perspectives in the UK, Europe, South America, and Washington.

All in all, "SOUTH ATLANTIC REQUIEM" was a thoroughly satisfying, exciting, and sobering Cold War novel.

THE DECLINE & FALL OF AN EAGLE

Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Action, Part 2 - Aircraft No. 57 - John R. Beaman Jr., Don Greer

"Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Action, Part 2" takes up from where Part 1 ended. The focus in this book is on the variants of the Bf 109 from the F version ('Friedrich') - which was lauded by many of the pilots who flew it in combat between late 1940 and 1942 as the best of all the Bf 109s built - to the G version ('Gustav') - which was the most produced variant in the Bf 109 stable - and on to the K variant, which was first deployed in October 1944 with a number of Luftwaffe fighter units.

 

This book, besides boasting of a rich variety of photos and illustrations, reflects the final evolution of a top fighter plane, which by 1942, had reached the limits of its design parameters. And yet, given the changing fortunes of the war for Germany, continued to soldier on (with varying degrees of success) til the end of the war in May 1945.

AN EAGLE RISES

Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Action, Part 1 - John Beaman, Jerry L. Campbell, Don Greer

This handy, concise book describes the development and deployment of Germany's legendary Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, from its baptism of fire in the Spanish Civil War to its widespread use in the Luftwaffe's fighter arm from the invasion of Poland in 1939, through the Blitzkrieg campaign in the Spring of 1940, the Battle of Britain, the Balkans and North African campaigns, and on through to the early stages of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The B to the E variants of the Bf 109 are analyzed. And for the general reader, there are plenty of photos and illustrations throughout the text. 

Naked in Apartment 7 - Peter Gorman

A photographic study of people in private spaces. 

STRANGER IN THE HOUSE: Examining War's Impact Upon Women & Families

Stranger in the House:  Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War - Julie Summers

"STRANGER IN THE HOUSE: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War" is made up of multi-layered stories spanning generations of the adjustments women in Britain had to make upon the return of their husbands or sweethearts from war.   Many of these men had served in the military in places as diverse as France, Italy, India, Singapore, and Java during various stages of the war.   Indeed, a large majority of these men ended up as POWs of the Germans (most of them ended up in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and Poland for almost 5 years) or the Japanese.   The ones who were prisoners of the Japanese suffered the worst in terms of physical and psychological abuse.

 

Many of these stories I found deeply moving.   Julie Summers is to be commended for her research into an aspect of the war and its impact on families that has been little explored by historians.     It is my hope that a similar book will be written, detailing the impact of the Second World War on returning American veterans and their families.

VIEWS OF THE A6M "ZERO" IN ACTION

A6M Zero in Action - Aircraft No. 59 - Shigeru Nohara
This is an easily readable, concise book about the history of the famous A6M Zero fighter plane, which saw considerable combat service in China, the Pacific, and on the Japanese home islands between 1940 and the end of the Second World War in August 1945. The book also has lots of photos and illustrations of this aircraft, which any modeler and aviation enthusiast will savor.

TO LIVE IS TO ENDURE - AND PREVAIL

You Don't Look Your Age: And Other Fairy Tales - Sheila Nevins

Several weeks ago, I happened to see Sheila Nevins speaking about this book on CSPAN's BOOK TV program. I was so taken in with her presentation that I decided to buy "YOU DON'T LOOK YOUR AGE: And Other Fairy Tales" at the earliest opportunity.

In essence, the book is an amalgamation of short stories and poems through which Sheila Nevins shares with the reader "the real-life challenges of being a woman in a man's world; what it means to be a working mother; what it's like to be an older woman in a youth-obsessed culture; the sometimes changing, often sweet truth about marriages; what being a feminist really means; " the need to identify and be wary of 'frenemies' (enemies pretending to be your friend); "and that you're in good company if your adult children don't return your phone calls." 

I fairly breezed my way through this book and - as a middle-aged man - appreciated the insights Sheila Nevins gave me from her own life. 

TIGERS WITH WINGS

The Flying Tigers: The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan Before Pearl Harbor - Sam Kleiner

"THE FLYING TIGERS: The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan Before Pearl Harbor" is a well-written, comprehensive account of one of the most unique fighter units of the Second World War. 

Officially known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), the Flying Tigers was conceived and brought into being in July 1941 through the efforts of its commander, Claire L. Chennault (a former U.S. Army Air Corps fighter pilot who resigned his commission in 1937 to offer his services to China in its war with Japan), President Roosevelt and various members of his Administration. Five months later, with America's entry into the war, the AVG, following an extensive training program, was put on a wartime footing. Indeed, between December 20, 1941 (when the AVG first saw action against Japanese military forces) and July 5, 1942 (when the AVG went out of existence and U.S. Army Air Force fighter and bomber units arrived in China to continue the fight against Japan), the Flying Tigers established, against great odds, an outstanding combat record in fighting Japan in both China and Burma. 

This book also presents photos (some never before seen in any previous AVG history) and fascinating, heart-warming personal stories of the pilots and personnel of the AVG - including a nurse, Emma Foster, and a special, enduring relationship she developed with one of the AVG pilots - which make the Flying Tigers story more tangible and real to the reader. 

"THE FLYING TIGERS" is a story that will appeal to anyone who loves human interest stories and seeks inspiration from them.