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Books You Hold in Your Hand

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During an interview with humorist Buck Henry for The Writer's Digest, as we discussed our reading preferences, the actor-writer put forth this curious theory: "There are shrinks who say that the need to carry reading is a surrogate masturbatory act; a defensive mechanism to protect against continual masturbation... " As tantalizing as it might be, I suspect sometimes an avid reader is just a cigar -- which brings me to electronic devices. After much trepidation, I'm finally shopping for an electronic reader. ("They" are making it awfully attractive and appealing to own an e-reader). But, I ask, do I want to join the legion of hip New Yorkers on public transportation and nice streets, glued to electronic gadgets? Maybe. Before I take on a new obsession, I'd like to share the last few conventional books on which I turned the pages -- the old-fashioned way.

Ponies and Rainbows -- The Life of James Kirkwood by Sean Egan. James (Jimmy) Kirkwood was a friend. Once, at Ted Hook's Backstage Restaurant, he said to me, "I bat a thousand. Everything I've ever written has been published, produced, or put on." As a struggling, young writer, that was depressing to me. Recently, a British company released a biography on the late writer, a Valentine, really. And, I've seen little press on that effort. An opening quibble, there's very little in the book on Kirkwood's glitzy, Hollywood parents, both silent screen stars James Kirkwood Sr. and Lila Lee. (There's a street called Kirkwood in Los Angeles. I've always wondered if it was named for Kirkwood Sr.). I did run across a slight online review of British writer Sean Egan's effort on Kirkwood by Richard Seff for "DC Theatre Scene" dated March 8, 2012.

Noteworthy: James Kirkwood won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, as well as the Tony Award, as co-writer of Broadway's legendary A Chorus Line. That fortuitous co-writing assignment made him a millionaire. His other works include five published novels, four produced plays, and three non-fiction volumes. One semi-autobiographical novel, There Must Be a Pony, was made into a television movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Wagner. The Sean Egan biography, a product of 60 interviews, weighs in on recreational drugs, ample sex with both men and women, and other brief detours -- which led him, ultimately, Egan reports, to a place on the "List of AIDS fatalities." James Kirkwood Jr. died in 1989 at the age of 64 in New York of an AIDS-related illness. Wikipedia reads spinal cancer.

Footnote: I do think $32.95 is way too much to ask for the book.

One of the most filmable novels ever written is James Baldwin's impelling Another Country. As he would have it, Baldwin stipulated in his iron-clad will: None of his twenty or so creative efforts were to be made into films and his heirs have respected his wishes -- thus far. But the world won't let go. The intense Another Country, completed in Istanbul on Dec. 10, 1961, still gets press and continues to attract new fans. The New York Times recently featured the novel two consecutive Sundays citing Mad Men as its impetus. Another Country is a touching tale that rummages through sex, incest, suicide, jazz, homosexuality, adultery, bigotry, work, and more (what's left?). The story is chocked full of life and forces the reader to feel something on every page. Heck, even actress Rosie Perez selected it as one of her most loved books in the New York Post's "In my library" column not long ago. We haven't heard the last word on Another Country.

From The New York Times' Big City Book Club:

Our next selection is James Baldwin's 1962 novel, "Another Country," which chronicles the descent of jazz drummer Rufus Scott. Baldwin recreates the world of Greenwich Village bohemians for an examination of race, emotional denial, professional rivalry, tortured marriages and other subjects.

Another page-turner that falls into the category of 'it should be a movie' right now is Daniel Silva's Rembrandt Affair (Putnam Publishing). Succinctly, the many-layered narrative includes selling sophisticated military secrets to Iran and a plot twist that could have been snatched from today's headline. Rembrandt Affair is a spy thriller immersed in works of art, World War II, Nazis stealing masterpieces, and the selling of "centrifuges" to Iran by a truly evil, but stylishly attractive, powerful Swiss millionaire -- a model citizen who is known for his good works. The centrifuges MacGuffin would make Hitchcock cheer. I was intrigued by every page, every complex character. I hear Johnny Depp owns the rights and can't confirm that. Published in 2010 and a New York Times bestseller -- again, I asked: Why isn't this on the screen today? I hope they don't wait too long.

Not to everyone's taste, but delicious with every salacious detail: Full Service, My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg. The photographs alone are worth the price of admission. I first heard about this tell-all in The New York Times. It got ample coverage there, and not in the book section. The Times said: an "... unorthodox life... pretty shocking... a ribald memoir... lurid... no detail too excruciating..." The preface of the 287-page memoir tells us the Scotty Bowers was discharged from the U.S. Marines at the end of World War II and moved to Hollywood. He got a job in a gas station and in that preface he boasts he "knew Hollywood like no one else knew it." He reminisces about "dear and wonderful friends... Kate, Spence, Judy, Tyrone, George, Cary, Rita, Charles, Randolph, Edith, Vivien... " On page one, we're in Los Angeles, it's 1946 and Bowers is a handsome 23-year-old ex-Marine. On page two, he's "approached" by "none other than actor Walter Pidgeon" ("Mrs. Miniver").

And, we're off: He soon drops Gore Vidal's name. Then, subsequently, he backtracks to shore leaves in 1944 when he had what he calls "flings" with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, and reports he saw "Marion Davies... again." Soon, he reveals composer Cole Porter could take on several ex-Marines at one time and that Porter had a passion for oral sex -- could do twenty guys in an evening. In a chapter called "Star Treatment," the book heats up with director George Cukor's take on Katharine Hepburn and her short haircut, "boyish... wearing a suit and trousers... masculine..." and, for bad measure, throws in Cukor's initial dislike of Katharine Hepburn. Next, Cukor's description of Judy Garland: "That dreadful woman!" And, for bad measure, surprising (shocking?) news about Tyrone Power. He claims Cary Grant and Randolph Scott -- he calls Randolph Scott "Randy" -- shared a house together, Grant at 40; Scott at 46.

Katharine Hepburn gets it again. He goes on to say Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were not having an affair -- that Tracy actually found her "rude." Yes, Bowers procured girls for Hepburn -- nice young dark-haired, not too heavily made up. Hepburn had a blemished face, he reveals, twice. Howard Hughes makes an appearance about now, and Bowers arranged ladies for Hughes who hardly ever had sex with them as "the tiniest blemish or pimple put him off."; also Errol Flynn, who was "dashingly handsome" but, Flynn drank so much the "very young" girls procured for him rarely got any action. He found Rita Hayworth, "a very beautiful woman" and cheap. Her brother Eduardo, delivered papers in the Hollywood Hills in a "beat up old World War II Jeep" and Rita neither contributed a dime to his welfare nor much-needed Jeep repairs. Bowers describes Rita Hayworth as a "hardheaded woman... with a mean and stingy streak... " Jumping ahead to Chapter 13: Scotty Bowers bartended a party for Cary Grant and "Randy" Scott at their place behind the Chateau Marmot.

Another leap forward, Scotty Bowers trots out Wallis Simpson and Edward, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He said Edward was a classic case of a bisexual man; he refers to Edward as Eddie and Wallis as Wally, and, he adds Wallis was "a dyke." It's in the book! Pressing forward, a Section called "Myths," we're back to hapless Spencer Tracy and an evening where Tracy downs several bottles of Scotch. Other than Errol Flynn, he never saw anyone consume as much as Tracy in one evening. The night in question, Tracy happened to be reading a script for a feature he was about to make with Hepburn called Pat and Mike. During the course of the evening, Tracy complained about Hepburn and other slurred topics. Ultimately, the two men wound up in bed where Tracy nibbled on Scotty's "foreskin." And, despite Tracy's state, they had about "an hour... of good sex." In the middle of the night, Tracy woke up and couldn't find his way to the bathroom and urinated on the drapes as well as into an open closet. The next morning, none of the previous evening's shenanigans was mentioned. They remain drinking buddies.

Succinctly, Who's who and who isn't -- Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Bowers procured girls for Bob Hope; he spent time with Noel Coward; Maxene, of the Andrews Sisters, came into a party with her girlfriend; Bowers aided Kinsey with his landmark report by supplying pornography. Edith Piaf. Charles Laughton. Rock Hudson "drank too much," and hated James Dean who misbehaved abominably at a party. Alfred A. Knopf. Monty Clift. Anthony Perkins. Tab Hunter. Roddy McDowell. Malcolm Forbes. And, alas, Somerset Maugham: "bisexual and heavily into voyeurism." J. Edgar Hoover. Brian Epstein (The Beatles' manager). And, finally: the end, and, maybe, only the beginning.

Wrap: a). After all that, one wonders what really happened to the unpublished manuscript with Tennessee Williams' take on Scotty Bowers. Was it secretly incorporated here? b). And how is it Scotty Bowers never got paid for his procuring talents but was rewarded for sex, as well as bartending and handyman-ing. Is it not downplayed to avoid the IRS's ire? To make him look like a good guy? Or, did he hook people up out of the kindness of his heart? c). Bowers admits to having foreskin and expresses pride in his three-piece set, but there is never any discussion of STD's or ED (Scotty could have sex multiple times a day), let alone (gulp) crabs... Or, abortion. Or, contraception.

Foot Thought: While he was bartending a Hollywood party, Lucille Ball sashays in and slaps Scotty Bowers in the face. (Bowers matchmaker-ed for Desi Arnaz). One wonders why he wasn't hit more often. On the other hand, I, for one, would like to shake his hand. Before moving on, it is seductive to note that the original manuscript of Full Service was vetted by libel lawyers and "information" deleted. It's hard to imagine anything more jaw dropping than this book, but apparently there's more. So, if the last word isn't in, will there be a sequel? Hold the Phone! A documentary is in the works.

Book five is more about the writer and falls into the category of news. Literary giant-cultural and literary critic-teacher, and openly gay writer Edmund White, had a stroke.

Upfront Note: White was recently included in a weighty new compendium on the world's better homosexual writers Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram. So, Edmund White is among the best. White recovered quickly from the setback and word is, his brain was not affected. For a few hairy days in December 2011, he was incapacitated and "flat on his back." Repeat: He is now OK. White's twelfth novel, Jack Holmes and His Friends has been well received and widely reviewed. Entertainment Weekly magazine reviewer Adam Markovitz said White's "prose is always most alive when it sneaks underneath the sheets." Right on. Jack Holmes and His Friends has a newly explored theme: It's a moving, witty, insightful and complicated account of unrequited love and friendship between two men, one gay, one straight, spanning two decades, a Harry Met Sammy, if you will. Can these two guys be friends? Possibly. For sure, it's a titillating tale. Apropos of nothing: Here's a quote White gave a young writer who asked his advice: "To sleep with older writers is a good idea." Amen. Meanwhile, Edmund White is in good company here.

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram (Hachette Books) critically chronicles the lives of homosexual poets, novelists and playwrights from Gore Vidal to Tony Kushner to Truman Capote to Tennessee Williams to Edward Albee, and lastly but not last, James Baldwin. It's well worth a look.

Having said all that -- the true quandary here is: To buy an electronic reader or to not buy an electronic reader, and if so -- Kindle, Nook or iPad? For now, I prefer books made of paper, parchment, pulp, new, recycled, used, hard cover, paperback. But, I'm comparative shopping for an e-reader and it makes me feel so young.