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In and Out of Hollywood

A Biographer’s Memoir

Charles Higham

Publication Year: 2009

As a best-selling biographer of numerous Hollywood greats—Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes, and Cary Grant among them—Charles Higham has been privy to the public and private joys, tragedies, scandals, and desires of many of the darlings of Hollywood’s red carpet. In and Out of Hollywood is Higham’s own life story, replete with a vibrant cast that includes stars from Marlene Dietrich to Clint Eastwood to Leonardo DiCaprio.
    Born into a life of privilege in 1930s England, Higham endured a difficult childhood. To escape a tortured family situation, Higham married early despite his awakening homosexuality and fled to Australia with his wife to begin a new life as a poet, journalist, and editor. By the 1960s he had settled in Hollywood. It was here that he struck gold by finding and writing about the reels of Orson Welles’s legendary unfinished Latin American epic film It’s All True, long thought lost in a Paramount vault. This momentous find rocketed Higham to the A-list. He soon became a New York Times feature writer and sought-after biographer lauded for his pioneering style.
    In and Out of Hollywood contains Higham’s personal reflections on the stars he has known over the past forty years. From his insider perch he reveals Hollywood’s inner life: how Bette Davis influenced the death of her second husband; how Walt Disney’s dark vision devolved into bright animated features he astonishingly despised; how leading actors clandestinely participated in gay activities. Higham’s memoir also charts his work as a political commentator, historian, poet, and playwright; describes the dangers and excitements of gay life before AIDS; and recounts his eventual discovery of a lasting relationship. In and Out of Hollywood is a lively tour through several decades of changing times and personalities behind the scenes of the American film world.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-11

It was a rainy, chilly January afternoon in 1969, at the elegant campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz. My office as Regents Professor looked out on an uninspiring picture of dripping shrubbery and somber redwood trees. I was feeling despondent as I had given up hope of obtaining access to the most legendary...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 12-19

The trip to New York and Miami was exciting. I had no sooner settled back into the Mount on our return to England in March 1937 than I was told that I must spend some weeks with my birth mother and stepfather at Oakwood. I continued to find no joy there. All was unpleasant: my mother’s drunkenness...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 20-29

It was, as I recall, a morning in summer. I had taken my early walk at the Mount and was ready for breakfast but for some reason I went up to my room. I was walking past my parents’ suite when I heard my stepmother call out to me, not in her usual snappish and commanding tone, but with an odd tone of seductiveness...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 30-33

I discovered new avenues of escape during school holidays. I was captivated by newsreel theaters, small cinemas where the program cost only a shilling. It included three newsreels; three cartoons, including the sadistic Tom and Jerry series, with cat pitted savagely against mouse; and various shorts...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 34-46

There was talk of sending me to a “crammers,” a private tutor’s establishment where perhaps I might pass a university entrance exam. The very idea made me yawn; I had no interest in going to a university. Glimpses of Oxford and Cambridge convinced me I would be out of place in an atmosphere of ragging...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 47-52

Quite suddenly, our marriage had begun to turn sour. We had wanted a child and without having the common sense to have examinations by doctors—we both had a horror of hospitals and I had recently endured a hemorrhoidectomy—blamed each other for the failing. Norine suffered from...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 53-63

By 1956 Norine and I were no longer happy with each other. The quarrels over money and my constant mess of books and papers had worn her down.We moved into separate bedrooms at Boomerang Street. She began work as a trainee nurse at a hospital. She had in her a frustrated maternal instinct, and in...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 64-87

I was surprised to find that Australia was regarded in Hollywood as second only to Great Britain as a foreign market for films. When I sent letters to the heads of the studios’ overseas publicity departments and called the local representatives, the response was overwhelming. I left for Los...

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Chapter 9 [contains image plates]

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pp. 88-110

Today, Helen Mirren is deservedly famous, the recipient of an Oscar, brilliant as Elizabeth in The Queen. But when I first met her, in Queensland at the time, she was unknown. Michael Powell, creator of my favorite film, The Thief of Bagdad, arrived in Australia to film Age of Consent, with Mirren and James Mason, and I met him off the plane and took...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 111-129

I spent several weeks in New York, which I still loved and where I felt more at home than in Los Angeles. There I developed my first serious American contact: with Pauline Kael, then the doyenne of film criticism, who as we know had...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 130-140

The book tour was pleasant, and it included appearances in Toronto, where the local celebrity Brian Linehan proved the most gracious and well informed of television talk-show hosts. Back in Los Angeles, I was glowing from the good reviews when Time-Life’s Nicholas Benton sent me to interview Fritz Lang, the celebrated director of...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 141-155

My relationship with Richard, which continues to this day, was triggered by a circumstance in New York. In town for briefings at Time-Life Books and the Times, I went one night to the Everard Baths, known in gay circles as The Everhard. It was a Grand Central Station of sex. One entered the place, paid a fee, and, if lucky, survived a tough looking-over by...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 156-164

You’re a big best-selling author now,” said Ross Claiborne, the enchanting editor in chief of Delacorte Press over lunch at the Madrigal restaurant in New York. “We can’t possibly afford you.” Sweet words indeed, and one day he did. What was I to write next? The obvious temptation was to find subjects...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 165-171

October 1976 found me in New York, talking about Dietrich with the director Joshua Logan; the publicist Viola Rubber (who kept the autographs of the famous on her broken leg’s cast); Betty Comden, the gifted partner in musicals of Adolph Green; Al Hirschfeld and his wife, Dolly Haas; Marlene’s schoolmate Elli Marcus...

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Chapter 15 [contains image plates]

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pp. 172-210

I received a phone call from a man in New York of whom I had never heard, who said he was making a small, independently financed documentary on Flynn and wondered if I had solved the mystery of two characters in the actor’s best-selling memoir, My Wicked, Wicked Ways: a man named Schwarz and another named Koets...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 211-230

As usual, I was busy on several books at once. American Swastika was the most important of these: a companion volume or sequel to Trading with the Enemy, it was an account of the collaboration not just between American corporations and Nazi Germany during World War II, but by members of the American government in the supposedly unblemished Roosevelt...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 231-240

The mid-1980s were very good years. Of many spectacular parties at the time, perhaps the most spectacular was held to celebrate the covering over of the Universal Amphitheater, which had previously been open to the sun and stars, a major handicap in winter, when rain was frequent. Doris and Jules Stein invited me to sit next to them in the privileged front seats of the...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 241-247

I began to think about a life of Cary Grant. I had first met with the star after visiting Alfred Hitchcock at his cottage at Universal Studios; I had dropped in, at Grant’s invitation, to see him at his own little house nearby. I was told, then or later, that...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 248-259

Louis B. Mayer seemed an ideal subject for me: the greatest of the motion picture industry’s leaders, he was apparently unblemished by personal scandal, except for the false charge that he had dandled the child Judy Garland on his knee and filled her up with drugs, and that he had dumped his first wife when she was charged with being a kleptomaniac. I felt I could write a sober...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 260-274

A decision to take leave from writing books was precipitated by a personal crisis. Richard, who all his life had enjoyed seemingly excellent health, working long hours at double shifts in hospitals, including his own Kaiser Permanente, because he had no interest in sharing my active social life or sitting alone at home at night waiting for me to return, had gradually, and with...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 275-287

For eighty years, historians and criminologists were puzzled by four great unsolved mysteries: the deaths of the prominent gay Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor in 1922 and of the even more prominent Thomas H. Ince two years later; the Sir Harry Oakes case of 1943; and the Black Dahlia affair. By...


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pp. 291-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780299233433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299233440

Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Celebrities -- California -- Hollywood (Los Angeles) -- Biography -- Anecdotes.
  • Motion picture actors and actresses -- California -- Hollywood (Los Angeles) -- Biography -- Anecdotes.
  • Higham, Charles, 1931-.
  • Biographers -- California -- Hollywood (Los Angeles) -- Biography.
  • Gay authors -- California -- Hollywood (Los Angeles) -- Biography.
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