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Both Sides Now

Kristin Chenoweth's memoir and a new biography of Vincente Minnelli both explore the many facets of being famous. logo
Kristin Chenoweth describes her first book, A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith In Stages
as "More of a tea party and less of a Wagnerian night at the Opera." Indeed, this slim demi-memoir is a quick and enjoyable read that illuminates Chenoweth's personality and character more than the nitty-gritty details of her personal life and career. That's not to say, however, that A Little Bit Wicked is completely devoid of juicy, awkward moments and little life details. She has an entire chapter dedicated to her hair -- followed shortly thereafter by a fairly disturbing passage about a stalker. It's in the oscillation between the insanity of being a modern celebrity and utter banality that Chenoweth (and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers) achieves her conversational and familiar tone. Reading this book is like having your first lengthy chat with your new best friend-to-be.

Chenoweth is remarkably candid about her on-again off-again relationship with West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin, and even turns over several pages to a letter that Sorkin wrote in 2008, describing their relationship from his perspective. While the details of their latest breakup are kept vague, it may be that the subject is too recently scabbed-over to write about with any significant reflection.

The rest of the book focuses on Chenoweth's journey from her childhood in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to the Beauty pageant circuit, music school and eventually, Broadway, where she won the Tony Award for You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and triumphed in Wicked and The Apple Tree. It's an amusing story and Chenoweth is so darn nice that you can't help but like her, especially when she's falling on her face.

A devout Christian, Chenoweth also spends some time recalling her ill-fated appearance on The 700 Club, after which she received much criticism from not only her gay fans, but also conservative Christians appalled by the fact that she even had gay fans. About this episode, she laments, "Though it's famously impossible to please all of the people all of the time, it's quite possible to simultaneously piss everyone off." Still, the episode spotlights the real cultural significance of Kristin Chenoweth: while many Americans do actually straddle the divide of the culture wars, she straddles it loudly and shamelessly with a live-and-let-live attitude that is particularly refreshing as we exit the American era of bad feelings.


Emanuel Levy boasts several times within his new book, Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer
, that he has compiled the first comprehensive biography of the esteemed director. Yet for all the information this tome does include, in weaving together Minnelli's complicated personal and professional lives, there still seems to be large gaps left in Levy's version of the story, which traces Minnelli's life through his work as a costume designer in Chicago, a Broadway director in New York, an Academy Award winning filmmaker in Hollywood, and devoted father to daughter Liza Minnelli.

However, details about Minnelli's childhood are spotty at best, and Levy paints the emerging Minnelli with broad strokes describing him as "awkward" and "effeminate." Indeed, Levy's early conclusion that "Minnelli's formative years were shaped by a uniquely female sensibility since he was always surrounded by women. This background would account for his effeminate behavior and for what was considered to be distinctly female aesthetics," seems appropriate for Minnelli's day, but lacks the meaningful analysis of sexuality (much less artistic sensibility) that one would expect for a book published in 2009.

Moreover, while Levy acknowledges that Minnelli has affairs with men during and between his many marriages (often with the knowledge of his first wife, Judy Garland) none, spare Lester Gaba, are ever named or treated as serious relationships. While this may be by design, as Minnelli was notoriously secretive and dismissive of the notion of viable same-sex relationships, one also senses that Levy seems uncomfortable delving too deeply into this subject.

On the plus side, the book is quite valuable as a chronicle of Hollywood studio system politics. Levy is at his best when he is unpacking the coded letters, lavish contracts, and backroom deals that went into making a film in the glory days of MGM. In fact, he argues that Minnelli was the very model of an MGM contract director, and thus slowly drowned in a changing industry that practiced business in a manner to which Minnelli was not accustomed and could not adapt. That is a far greater tragedy than anything that happened in Minnelli's personal life.


Oscar winner Ethan Coen has published the script to his trio of short plays, Almost An Evening
, along with a book of poetry called The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way
; James Purdy: Selected Plays
offers a glimpse at the work of the recently deceased controversial author; Christopher Bigsby has served up a lengthy biography of one of America's greatest playwrights, succinctly titled Arthur Miller
; actor Byron Nease, famous for playing the title role in Phantom of the Opera, tells his own story in Behind the Mask...No More
; Mike Player has compiled stories from over 30 gay comics in Out on the Edge: America's Rebel Comics
; and Michael Lassell has created a beautifully illustrated look into Disney's newest Broadway musical, entitled The Little Mermaid: From the Deep Blue Sea to the Great White Way

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