Judi Dench and why actor autobiographies are better than political memoirs
Remember what I said recently about the plague of political memoirs? The opposite is true when it comes to autobiographies by great (and not-so-great) actors. They always have juicy stuff to retail, know how to tell a story, and often write well, too. Judi Dench, whose new memoir comes out in October, gives rise to high expectations.
Titled And Furthermore (can’t you just hear her saying that, in a plummy, slightly acidic tone?), the book will presumably detail a rich professional (and we can only hope, private) life from youthful beginnings at the Old Vic in 1957 to her latest triumph as “M” to Daniel Craig’s athletic new-model Bond.
Of course, if you’re British that’s “Dame Judi Dench” to you, but we don’t truck in titles here in the lower-case democratic U.S. of A. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love Judi just as much as we possibly can. Most of us first took serious note of her in Shakespeare in Love (1998), wherein she played Queen Elizabeth and won an Oscar for, I don’t know, about 5 minutes of screen time.
Before the mid-’90s, Dench was mainly a distinguished stage actress, lauded for her mastery of the Shakespeare canon, although she did appear in a movie here and there. Her turn as Queen Victoria in 1997’s Mrs. Brown made her a film star. Since she has appeared in all kinds of movies, from Chocolat (2000) with Juliet Binoche, to Notes on a Scandal (2006) with Cate Blanchett, to The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) with (I kid you not) Vin Diesel.
Alas, Dench was (presumably) happily married to fellow actor Michael Williams from 1971 until his death in 2001, which is bad for the potential dish quotient of the new book. Though good for her; yes, yes, good for Judi. Still, she’s known everyone in theater and film since the 1950s, a period of great artistic and technological change.
Surely a dame as grand as Judi Dench will write a beautiful, lively prose. She’ll have to if she wants her book to rank among the best show biz memoirs. Here are a few of my favorites:
Christopher Plummer, In Spite of Myself (2008). The greatest actor alive, for my money, Plummer writes in rollicking soliloquies, and he holds nothing back — about his carousing, womanizing, his hatred of The Sound of Music, his reverence for the stage, his successful struggle against alcohol, and his love of Montreal and New York of the 1950s. Outstanding.
And That’s Not All: The Memoirs of Joan Plowright (2001). The acclaimed British actress focuses primarily on her 25-year marriage to Lawrence Olivier, the world’s greatest actor of a previous generation. Frank, affecting.
Undressing Emmanuelle: A Memoir, by Sylvia Krystel (2007). Guess what? After becoming a world sex icon for her starring roles in the groundbreaking Emmanuelle erotic films, Krystel stumbled into alcoholism, drugs, cancer. Can’t a girl find love in this world? I know this sounds like standard “Behind the Music” stuff, but Krystel writes with elegance, humor, acceptance.
If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, by Bruce Campbell. This is a grade B book by a grade B actor, but Campbell is also one of the most beloved cult figures in modern American film, and he writes with a straightforward jocular cynicism about his early days making the Evil Dead trilogy with Sam Raimi. Funny and endearing.
I know a lot of other great actor memoirs exist — Lauren Bacall’s By Myself is considered among the best, but I haven’t read it.
What show biz autobiographies do you like best? Please share.