Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: Yvonne: An Autobiography

Yvonne DeCarlo's memoir YVONNE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY is the fourth book I've read and reviewed from my Summer Reading List.

YVONNE, which DeCarlo cowrote with Doug Warren, was published by St. Martin's Press in 1987.

Over the last few years, Yvonne DeCarlo has become one of my favorite actresses. I love the combination of her beauty and sense of humor, and she was also wonderful at playing tougher roles, notably Anna in one of the greatest of all film noir titles, CRISS CROSS (1949). I've also heard various anecdotes indicating that she was a hardworking professional of low ego who was popular with her colleagues on movie sets, and it's always nice to hear that someone admired on film is also "good people" off the screen.

DeCarlo tells the story of how she came to be in the movies, including her rise from a few years of bit parts to finally achieving stardom when cast in SALOME WHERE SHE DANCED (1945).

While she touches on the movies made over the course of her career, her many love affairs receive even more attention in the pages of this book; her romances included Ray Milland, Howard Hughes, Howard Duff, and Jock ("Jocko") Mahoney. She writes with particular regret about the end of her romance with Robert Tayor, with whom she was "very compatible." Unfortunately most of her relationships never went anywhere long term; it seems that each time either she or the gentleman in question wasn't ready to commit -- or in the case of Milland, he was already married.

It's all interesting, but honestly, I would have liked to have a greater percentage of the book focus on her film career and the people with whom she worked; for instance, as one example, she made a couple of Westerns with Joel McCrea, but he's only mentioned twice, just in passing.

She tells some good stories about CRISS CROSS, including her casting and an anecdote about working with director Robert Siodmak; I would have liked more such stories.

When it came to one of my favorite DeCarlo films, THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949), she seems to have remembered it chiefly for the old-age makeup she wore in a couple of scenes, and the fact that it was where she met Mahoney, who was then a stuntman.

A fun story is that she went on a date with Rory Calhoun in the '40s which was a flop, as Rory didn't talk to her all evening, but they later ended up becoming good friends. When DeCarlo got married around the time of the making of their film RAW EDGE (1956), Calhoun was one of the only people invited to her wedding.

Some of the qualities I like about DeCarlo in many of her onscreen performances come through in the book, including her tenacity, self-deprecation, and love of the great outdoors. It's nice to know that the star of so many Westerns regularly found refuge in Lone Pine, where she eventually made sure her sons learned to fish and enjoy nature.

It's interesting to note that the ebullience which characterizes many of her more lighthearted comedic performances seems to be missing from her real life; she was happy and grateful to be a success and worked hard at each job which came her way, but one feels that it was a bit of a grind for her at times, especially after her stuntman husband, Bob Morgan, suffered a calamitous injury when making HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962).

Perhaps the certain lack of joy one feels reading the book is because her personal life was so often wanting, without a stable long-term relationship. When she finally married stuntman Morgan, the marriage was bumpy, and then became even more challenging after his accident; he lost a leg, and the responsibility for supporting the family fell completely on her shoulders. It was in the years immediately after the accident that she agreed to play Lily Munster.

One can't help wishing, reading Yvonne's story, that somewhere along the way she had been able to balance her career with a durable relationship with a man who would enjoy heading out of Hollywood with her to hike in the Sierras. Alas, it was never quite to be, but she certainly had an interesting life and career, including starring in FOLLIES on Broadway.

DeCarlo lived for another two decades after publishing her memoir. She passed away in 2007, age 84.

YVONNE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY is a hardcover which runs 267 pages, including filmography and index. There are several pages of glossy black and white photographs.

This book was reviewed as part of the 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge being sponsored by Raquel at her blog, Out of the Past. I appreciate the inspiration Raquel has given me to check several books off my "to be read" list this summer!


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Always liked her too, and I didn't even know she had an autobiography.

As much as I love the excesses of "The Ten Commandments" I think DeCarlo gives the best performance in the film, certainly the most grounded and human.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Excellent review Laura! Your admiration in Yvonne DeCarlo is piquing my interest in her film roles. I definitely want to watch more of her work.

I am reading the Cagney autobio and am having similar frustrations. I feel like with these autobios, the actor or actress either has an agenda or puts importance on something in particular. For example, the Cagney book, he was very focused on talking about his upbringing, battles with Warner Bros, his musicals, his friends and his hobbies but neglects his wife, kids, gangster flicks. I feel like I would have gotten a much more thorough and well-rounded read if I had read a biography written by someone else instead. As with DeCarlo, I felt like Gardner was more focused on her love life than on talking about her movie career and the individual films. I guess each individual thinks certain aspects of their lives are more important than others and we readers don't always agree!

Thanks for participating in my summer reading challenge!

8:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree, Kevin, I really liked her in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. DeMille's granddaughter Cecilia commented at a screening I attended how wonderful Yvonne was to her on the set, said she was very down to earth and kind.

Best wishes,

8:38 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel! I especially love Yvonne's lighter roles such as THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST or BUCCANEER'S GIRL, and she's amazing (and completely different) in CRISS CROSS. If you haven't seen that one yet I highly recommend it for your ClassicFlix queue!

I read the Cagney bio long ago and agree with you, actors often do tend to focus on certain aspects while ignoring others. It's funny you mention Gardner, as Yvonne said she and Gardner later compared notes, as some of the same men went through their lives.

You have definitely provided a needed impetus to fit in more books this summer, am really enjoying catching up with them. :)

Best wishes,

8:42 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Love her too, though I haven't seen nearly as many of her lesser known movies as I'd like to. So gorgeous! And funny, and sultry, which as you point out is a rare combo. Really enjoyed her in FRONTIER GAL thanks to you.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kristina! I saw FRONTIER GAL as a kid and liked it -- it's in my "hot stack" and I'm looking forward to becoming reacquainted with it! She jokes in her book about making so many GAL/GIRL movies. :)

Best wishes,

9:09 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Yes, she's perennially underrated for sure.

I too enjoy her lighter movies as well as the more serious ones (not enough of the latter though). She is good in either register.

I will say again, Laura, to you and others--her best role and greatest film, is BAND OF ANGELS, which stands higher for me even than CRISS CROSS. If you like her, or ever liked Raoul Walsh (and who hasn't?), put this high on your list to see. After seeing this great Civil War melodrama with De Carlo at the center as the heroine opposite Clark Gable, you may never want to watch the overrated GONE WITH THE WIND again.

10:52 AM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Great post, Laura. I had the opportunity to see DeCarlo's wonderful performance in FOLLIES on Broadway. With your recap of her tumultuous life, I can understand why her rendition of "I'm Still Here" was so compelling. I'm glad to hear she found solace in Lone Pine. (I was just there yesterday exploring the Alabama Hills!) - Jane

3:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad to know you enjoy her too, Blake! I purchased BAND OF ANGELS because of DeCarlo and Gable -- looking forward to seeing it, hopefully sooner rather than later. (So much to look forward to seeing...I really need someone to pay me to watch movies all day, LOL.) I like your description, "She is good in either register." :)

Best wishes,

10:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jane, how completely amazing you saw DeCarlo in FOLLIES on Broadway! Was Alexis Smith performing that night as well? Wow!

I really loved knowing that the Sierras meant so much to her -- her refuge from Hollywood. I envy you having been there yesterday, I've missed getting up there this summer! Hopefully I'll be there in a few more months. (I'd love to go to the film festival one of these years...)

Best wishes,

10:14 PM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Yep, saw the original cast with DeCarlo, Alexis Smith and Dorothy Collins - all three commanded the stage - quite a thrill! I've got the playbill stored in a box somewhere . . .

11:33 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Great review, Laura. Yvonne deserves more recognition for all her work.
Oh to have seen the original cast of Follies. I'm sure Yvonne would have been wonderful with her song "I'm still Here" .
Lucky you, SimpleGifts.
I did see Dolores Gray in Yvonne's role in Follies in London.

12:20 AM  

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