Saturday, April 13, 2024

Book Review: The Voice of Villainy: The Betty Lou Gerson Story

I love to read, particularly about movies, so one of the great pleasures of classic film blogging is reviewing books.

Sometimes between my day job -- which often requires reading hundreds of pages a day -- and my other writing commitments I'm a little slow getting book reviews up. Such was the case with THE VOICE OF VILLAINY: THE BETTY LOU GERSON STORY, which came out last year, but it was no less enjoyed!

THE VOICE OF VILLAINY was written by and self-published by Lona Bailey. Bailey's other books include biographies of actresses Virginia Gregg (for Bear Manor Media) and, more recently, Susan Cabot (self-published).

THE VOICE OF VILLAINY tells the story of the Disney Legend who memorably voiced legendary villainess Cruella de Vil in ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS (1961). Gerson also worked for Disney as the Narrator of CINDERELLA (1950) and in a small role in MARY POPPINS (1964).

Gerson was born to Russian Jewish immigrants in Tennessee in 1914. Bailey does a nice job reconstructing the Gerson family history, as well as placing it in a wider historical context. She was able to collect an impressive amount of information on family events which took place over a century ago.

Betty's father became a successful, well-off industrialist, and she had a comfortable upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, but the family was rocked by his sudden death just as she entered her teens.

As a young woman living in Chicago, Betty took acting classes and in fairly short order became a radio actress in the 1930s. She moved to Hollywood in the '40s, working steadily not only in radio but movies and television. At one point she was appearing in nearly a dozen radio shows per week, as well as in occasional small roles in films like UNDERCOVER GIRL (1950).

Gerson was a steady working actress who was constantly busy yet never became a household name...but her most famous role, Cruella, certainly did!

Betty Lou Gerson died in Los Angeles in 1999, a few days after suffering a stroke. She was 84.

Bailey tells Gerson's life story in a fast-paced and interesting volume. The book seems to be very well-researched; Bailey describes some of her sources, such as recorded interviews and family remembrances, in general terms in the opening author's note.

That said, I would have found footnotes of interest clarifying the author's sources, other than the single brief bibliography/footnotes page provided; otherwise the reader takes her research on faith, though I would hasten to say I have no reason to quibble with it.

I read a paperback edition of the book, which is also available for Kindle. The printed book's size is six by nine inches.

The biographical section of the book is 121 pages, followed by lengthy lists of Gerson's impressive performance credits; the total page count is 222. There are no photographs.

I enjoyed THE VOICE OF VILLAINY and learned quite a bit about the actress behind the iconic character. As a result of reading this book I'm likely to seek out the author's other books in the future.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book.


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