How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood by William J. Mann

The author states up front that rather than be the kind of detailed biography you can find anywhere else, this is specifically a look at Elizabeth Taylor’s rise to stardom. I think that’s a bit disingenuous.  Much like any other famous Elizabeth in history, it’s impossible to separate the lofty career from the personal life of the woman herself. One defines the other.

Everything that made Taylor who she was is put under the spotlight for this. Her parents and upbringing within the studio system are detailed, which helps to put her career as an independent actress into proper perspective. Her husbands, friends, colleagues, and even her detractors are all set into her orbit, their worlds revolving around her star. There are a great many quotes, anecdotes, and news clippings within that help round out the basic facts, but at the end of the day, Taylor’s star power outshines everything, including the author’s attempts to be unbiased. There are some private conversations that are seemingly quoted verbatim, which don’t seem to have any supporting documentation, but they are believable and add to the already heightened personality of this story. How much is true? Where a Hollywood legend is concerned, who’s to say? There’s a great line in the Jimmy Stewart film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence that pretty much sums up the nature of this book:

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

That’s not to say there aren’t facts here. If anything, Taylor’s life sometimes proves that fact is stranger than fiction, such is the nature of living at her level of prestige. Regardless, if you’re interested in the glamour of Hollywood, bigger than life personalities, or just really fascinating stories from a world beyond the everyday 9 to 5, this one’s a fun read.

4 stars

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