Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: Married to An Alligator -- and Fred MacMurray

You might know her as the lady unlucky enough to marry one of The Alligator People. Or, surely a step up, the one who wed widower Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) on My Three Sons. Or loving mama to Kate Jackson on Scarecrow and Mrs. King. But if you watched TV, or went to the movies, in the latter half of the 20th century, you almost certainly know the actress who's the focus of Beverly Garland: Her Life and Career (McFarland).

Although I've long admired Garland's work, I was skeptical when I read that this book was written by a longtime officer of her fan club. Garland, who exhibits grit and fortitude in her performances, seemed the last person who should be the subject of a gushing, fawning biography. But this isn't that at all. It's a detailed overview of her personal life and her work, benefitting strongly from Garland's active participation.

Aside from Joseph Campanella's introduction, we don't hear a lot from Garland's co-stars and colleagues. But we do hear Beverly herself -- smart, witty, and candid -- and that makes this book a must-read for her fans. I'm not entirely sure I believe her story of how she smarted off to Raymond Burr while filming an episode of Ironside, but it made me laugh. She talks engagingly about her collaboration with Roger Corman on some of his best-remembered '50s films (Not of this Earth, It Conquered the World), and working with co-stars like Kate Jackson and Bing Crosby. If the book has an occasional misstep, it may be when the author gives her subject too free a rein, as when Garland shares an anecdote concerning Dick Powell and his marriage to Ann Sothern. Good story -- except these two were never married. Garland seems to be confusing Sothern with Joan Blondell, but it would have been better if the author had stepped in and clarified.

On the whole, though, this is a valuable record from an actress who left her mark on the entertainment industry over the course of a 50-year career, and had the scars -- and the stories -- to prove it.

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