Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Surviving Child Actors, Jerry Lewis, and Elvis

Elvis' Favorite Director: The Amazing 52-Year Career of Norman Taurog, by Michael A. Hoey (BearManor Media, $24.95) is a lucidly written, comprehensive look at the career of a prolific, Oscar-winning director. Since Taurog directed the man from Memphis nine times, it's logical for this book to be marketed to Elvis fans. Hoey worked closely with Taurog during this period, and his book is rich in detail on the creation of films like Spinout and Live a Little, Love a Little. However, there was much more to Taurog's career, and almost any fan of golden age Hollywood will find this worth picking up.

Taurog (1899-1981) won an Oscar directing 1931's Skippy, starring child actor Jackie Cooper (the director's nephew), and went on to make films like Boys Town (1938), with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, which won him another Oscar nomination. Adept at comedy, he spent much of the 1950s directing Martin and Lewis, and helped Martha Raye launch her career. Hoey, a veteran Hollywood writer/producer, draws on his strong knowledge of movie history, personal experiences, and original interviews to provide fresh insights into the director's life and career.

The accomplished director attracted some unwelcome notoriety late in life when former child star Cooper wrote a memoir, Please Don't Shoot My Dog. The book's title alludes to the emotional manipulation and threats Cooper claimed his uncle used in order to make the young actor satisfactorily perform scenes. Unable to personally confirm or deny Cooper's disturbing account, Hoey wisely refrains from making a final judgment as to its veracity. However, he not only notes that Taurog was acclaimed for his ability to direct child actors, but offers persuasive evidence from colleagues that he was quite capable of eliciting good work without resorting to the ugly behavior his nephew described. 

Hoey is clearly writing about a man he respected and admired, and his book is well worth the attention of movie fans and scholars both.

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