Earlier this month, when Elizabeth Taylor announced on Twitter that she was checking in for heart surgery (it all "went off perfectly," as she let us know a few days later), the London Times turned to William J Mann for an assessment of "the furore and frenzy" she's managed to stir for over half a century: "From the time she appeared onscreen in 1941 as a little girl dressed as a jockey in National Velvet, Taylor has revelled in her ability to stand apart, to fascinate, to provoke. Swathed in mink, discarding husbands nearly as frequently as she changed her diamond earrings, she commanded the world's headlines for three glittering decades, rewriting the rules as she went along and providing the yardstick by which celebrity has been measured ever since."
Mann was probably glad to be asked. He's got a new book out, How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, reviewed in the same paper just a few days earlier by Bee Wilson, who asks the obvious question, "Is there really room for yet another biography of Elizabeth Taylor? Mann, whose previous works include a life of Katharine Hepburn and a history of gay and lesbian Hollywood, wisely eschews the blow-by-blow approach and many of the time-honoured anecdotes about Taylor and Burton, instead 'zooming in on key periods,' drawing on new interviews with the star's colleagues and friends, and meticulous research in the MGM archives. While hardly earth-shattering, what emerges is a richly enjoyable biography."
"[W]hile Mann's eminently yummy entry is pretty much everything you'd want in a Hollywood biography, it's not a whole lot more, either," writes Laura Miller in Salon. "What does make How to Be a Movie Star distinctive is its focus on the changing nature of personal fame as embodied by a woman whose life has consisted of one superlative after another."
To be perfectly honest, the point of this entry is to send you to an excerpt the Daily Beast is running, one dealing with the making of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? If you're in need of an "eminently yummy" break today, there you go.
For more news and tips throughout the day, follow @theauteursdaily (RSS). Among the recent highlights are DN Rodowick's collection of texts, podcasts and more, "Aesthetics and Philosophy of Film," a resource that rewards deep exploration; Film-Philosophy founder Daniel Frampton on David Lynch; and selections from Filmmaker's Fall 2009 issue are up.
Update, 10/23: "Mann may be telling himself that he's engaged in critically important cultural commentary, but this tonally jumbled book doesn't ultimately play that way," writes Frank Bruni in the New York Times. "It plays like a rapt fan's scrupulous reconstruction of a life so tumultuous and packed with glamour that it doesn't need a moral. The melodrama suffices."