In and Out of Hollywood

by Terri Schlichenmeyer    
Published: November 30, 2009 in Out in Print

inandoutofhwood_sm“In and Out of Hollywood” by Charles Higham
c.2009, Terrace Books $29.95 / $34.50 Canada 306 pages, includes index

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 worse. Though 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. And possibly as an accident (or possibly not), Charles Higham saw the film.

And this book would be a thrilling adventure of treasure found and life lived, if it wasn’t so darn tedious.

As a biographer, author Charles 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 out of your must-read list.