And while there's lots of "dish" about these celebrities -- all of them now dead (except for 101-year-old grande dame Rachel "Bunny" Mellon) -- the actor also reveals much about himself. You see him grow from starstruck young apprentice to snob to the more likeable and humane fellow he is today, albeit one with a gimlet-sharp eye for other's foibles.
In the preface, he writes, "Don't turn the page if you like your stories spoon-fed or sugar-spread. I didn't always like some of my subjects, and I'm quite certain some of them found me less than sympathetic. There will be a fair amount of forks to the eye and knives to the throat; even a self-inflicted wound or two."
Among those stars who come off in a less than flattering light are Stella Adler, Yul Brynner, Bette Davis, Colleen Dewhurst, Rex Harrison, Charlton Heston, Anthony Quinn, Lee Strasberg, and Jo Van Fleet. There are surprise assessments, such as Anne Bancroft being so conceited that she'd longingly admire herself in mirror, or that Paul Newman, "after telling dirty jokes and shop talk about cars and politics," became a "dull companion."
A dressing room visit from Richard Burton is filled with respect for the once formidable classical actor and also mired in sadness. Langella describes him as "a man approximately 52 years of age, looking ten years older, dressed in black mink, with heavily applied pancake, under a tortured, balding helmet of jet black hair" in a poetry-spouting stupor who becomes a "crashing bore."
Langella ends the tale of his last visit with Loretta Young with a comment about her "adopted" daughter, Judy -- who was really her love child with Clark Gable -- with "the sad story of Young refusing to admit to the world that she birthed her daughter and whose pain and suffering over it stands as a testament to a woman who, it would seem, valued artifice and religion far more than the love and comfort of her own child."
In affairs of the heart, Langella often had a penchant for older women, such as Elizabeth Taylor, who was willing to ditch Hollywood and move to New York to be with him, and Rita Hayworth -- probably in the onset of Alzheimer's Disease and some 20 years older than Langella -- who after a location affair is so desperate for love or companionship that she pleads with Langella not to desert her.
Among the book's other highlights are Langella's acquaintance with the great Maureen Stapleton, and his week's work as a prompter at a regional theater with the seemingly forever-stunning and seriously aristocratic Dolores del Rio. Additionally, he offers unique introspection on such lives as Roddy McDowall, Robert Mitchum, Laurence Olivier, and George C. Scott.
Langella also remembers the occasional comeuppance, including one from his idol John Gielgud; and another from the aged Billie Burke, whom when appearing in stock with her, performance after performance and unable to stop himself, he attempted to upstage her in the curtain call.
While Langella has a sharp knack for shoveling dirt over some corpses, there's no question that Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, is much more than a bitchfest -- and a very hard book to put down.
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