The celebrity tell-all is a ubiquitous presence on bookshelves and bestseller charts, especially in the second half of the year as retailers gear up for Christmas. More surprising, however, are the autobiographies where the subjects themselves drop salacious revelations on you that are thoroughly unexpected. The following are ten examples of Hollywood memoirs that tell us more than we ever cared to know (plus one European “diary” that definitely goes above and beyond the call of sanity).
Title: My Word is My Bond, 2009
For the most part, this particular effort by Roger Moore is like one of those scenes in The Cannonball Run where he’s charmingly recounting his entire life story to a succession of women in his car’s passenger seat. There’s little in the way of real scandal (despite having several wives, he speaks politely of all of them). But on two occasions, talking about Grace Jones and Jean-Claude Van Damme, he says that he was always taught not to say anything if he had nothing nice to say, so he’s choosing to keep quiet. That said, he does tell a story about Grace Jones springing a big black dildo on him during their View To A Kill love scene. But most shockingly, and very indiscreetly, Moore reveals that following his appearance on The Muppet Show he spent a night of passion with Miss Piggy. A gentleman, surely, does not discuss these things.
Title: Dropped Names, 2013
An acting heavyweight, Langella has worked in film, television and on stage, including many stints on Broadway. But as the title of the book suggests, this is not an exploration of his actorly craft. Instead it focuses on the fact that he has encountered just about everybody in his 50-year career, and, it transpires, slept with very, very many of them. Elizabeth Taylor invited him to “come on up and put me to sleep”. He obliged. He had phone sex with Bette Davis; flirted with Noel Coward and Laurence Olivier; and had a threesome with Raul Julia and Jill Clayburgh that he likens to “a pulsating Oreo cookie”. He slept with Rita Hayworth, 20 years his senior and suffering from alcoholism and Alzheimer’s (“but in the candle’s light and fire’s glow [she] once again becomes the goddess...”) And he says Yvonne “Lily Munster” De Carlo, playing his mother in a Zorro TV-movie, off-screen treated him “like a pretty girl on the back seat of a convertible on a hot summer night”. Down, Skeletor!
Title: Bring On the Empty Horses, 1975
Niven wrote two autobiographies. The first, The Moon’s A Balloon, is a fairly straight affair about his early life and rise to fame. But it’s this follow-up that has the juice. In between Fleming-like reveries about various Hollywood eating establishments, there are chapters on the likes of Errol Flynn, John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Those guys he liked. The gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons (the TMZ of their day)… not so much.
“They were an unlikely couple,” he says, “But they had one thing in common: they loathed each other. Only Hollywood could have spawned such a couple and only Hollywood, headline-hunting, self-inflating, riddled with fear and insecurity, could have allowed itself to be dominated by them for so long.”
There are also two chapters dedicated to “Missie”, a name he doesn’t drop but which has since been revealed to be Vivien Leigh. His long, dark night of the soul with a naked, bedraggled and hysterical Leigh is both poignant and shocking.
Title: My Life in Tights, 1995
Back at the time of the Tim Burton Batman films, Burt Ward – the Robin to Adam West’s Caped Crusader – was keen to publicly decry their darker direction and the drift away from wholesome family entertainment. So his priapic memoir of the ‘60s TV series comes as something of an eye-opener. Should you care to know the sordid details, the pages contain an orgy with eight hookers; being seduced by a teenage groupie while wearing his Robin costume; and the tales of countless other women who were on the receiving end of his “Batsperm” (no, really, that’s what he calls it!). If that wasn’t enough, there’s also plenty on “The Battle Of My Bulge”, the ongoing saga of trying to cram his – he reckons – enormous package into Robin’s bottle-green briefs in a way that didn’t offend the viewers at home. He dedicated the book to his children.
Title: ‘Tis Herself, 2004
Alfred Hitchcock was notoriously difficult with his leading ladies, but if Maureen O’Hara is to be believed, he had nothing on John Ford. O’Hara’s book contains plenty of gossip about Hitch (who directed her in Jamaica Inn), John Wayne, Charles Laughton, Errol Flynn, James Stewart and Walt Disney too, but it’s Ford who gets her fullest attention. They made six films together over a thirty year period (How Green Was My Valley, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Wings Of Eagles, McLintlock!, and Big Jake), and you can’t help but wonder how. She describes Ford, at various points, kicking her off set for making suggestions; sending her weird love letters confusing her with her character in The Quiet Man; punching her in the face at a dinner party; screaming obscenities at her; and vetoing her 1952 Oscar nomination. Most gossipy of all, however, is O’Hara’s claim that she once caught Ford in a tryst with a male actor (who remains unnamed). To this day Ford has never been outed by a single other source.
Title: In Spite Of Myself, 2008
“Too much information!” was the cry that most often met this 600-page opus from the Sound Of Music veteran (who hates The Sound Of Music and refers to it as “S&M”). It settles down in its final third, when Plummer gets happily married, but until that point it’s an eye-opening catalogue of gleeful drinking and sexual adventuring. One reviewer described him as “catnip to women”, and there’s an amazing story in which Plummer is having sex with an actress at a party while continuing a conversation with her husband. On another occasion, the run of a play has to be suspended when Plummer and co-star Tyrone Power both get hepatitis. At another point there’s a looong reverie about the finest stripper Plummer ever saw. But it’s not all about the author. He’s also happy to tell tales on Shirley MacLaine (he saw her making out with Lord Mountbatten at a private screening) and bitch about Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns (“Between them they had more lovers than Naploeon’s army”).
Title: My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir, 1995
MacLaine’s prolific written output has mostly been on the loopy rather than the scurrilous side, dealing as it does with her spiritual beliefs and explorations, occasionally in the company of her Atlantean spirit guide Ramtha. One of them chronicles her past life as a Mongolian nomad. There’s a dash of New Age rambling in My Lucky Stars too, but this one, finally, is also all about dishing the Hollywood dirt that we always knew MacLaine was storing up. Yves Montand, Danny Kaye and unnamed crewmembers are among the notches on her bedpost, but she spends most time on Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra. Her affair with Mitchum is a strange one: they seem to exist in a world of their own, but he often fails to show up. Her stories of being the Rat Pack’s “mascot” are more what you’d expect, featuring colossally expensive dinners and mafia bosses. Debra Winger and John and Bo Derek (unnamed but obvious) come in for some vicious criticism.
Richard E. Grant
Title: With Nails, 1997
Given his modern status as Doctor Who elder statesman, perfumier and country gentleman, there’s a generation that never knew Grant as Withnail. Perhaps that’s a deliberate strategy, but for those who wish to be reminded of his former glories, With Nails is, happily, still in print. Withnail aside, he’s properly awestruck at his run of luck working, back to back, with Coppola, Scorsese and Altman. But the claws come pleasingly out for the extraordinary balls-up of Hudson Hawk. Bruce Willis, Michael Lehmann, Joel Silver, the screenwriters and the development process, all wither beneath his incredulous eye and poison pen. The most surprising thing of all is his enduring friendship with Sandra Bernhard.
Title: The Garner Files, 2011
Maybe “salacious” is the wrong word here, but self-described curmudgeon Garner isn’t afraid to tell it like he sees it. The emphasis is less on wild sex – he married the love of his life 58 years ago – but plenty of fighting. He describes having to “pop Tony Franciosa one”, for example, on the set of A Man Could Get Killed, after his repeated warnings to his co-star to stop punching stuntmen for real went unheeded. There are drugs too: an inveterate weed-smoker, Garner also did cocaine with John Belushi. And he’s less than complimentary about some Hollywood legends, describing Steve McQueen as “an insecure poseur and not much of an actor” and Charles Bronson as “bitter and belligerent”. “Something funny happens as you get older,” he says of his candour. “You don’t hold back so much.”
Title: By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There, 2013
Anyone who knows anything about Sizemore would expect some drug debauchery here, but the actual extent of his misadventures on crystal meth is quite mind-boggling. It completely took over his life: in 2000 he made $2m for Red Planet alone, but was penniless and homeless by 2005. Away from the drugs, however (or, in fact, mostly at the same time) he seems to have been a thoroughgoing hit with the ladies. There’s his long-standing, mutually destructive on-again-off-again relationship with Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, and an almost equally protracted fling with Elizabeth Hurley, conducted whenever Hugh Grant is out of town. But most intriguingly of all, there’s the episode where he’s summoned to the inner sanctum (fnar!) of “the biggest star in the world in 1989”: one of the few names he doesn’t actually drop, certainly for legal reasons. Who could he mean? C’mon, it’s not that difficult...
Title: All I Need Is Love / Kinski Uncut, 1988
Because every experiment needs a control, we give you this. While the previous ten examples might surprise you with their occasional indelicacy, the autobiography of the notorious Kinski should surprise no one at all. And yet… nothing can prepare you. The very definition of “unreliable narrator”, this is more a collection of Kinski’s misanthropic, psychotic, fantastical ravings than an account of stuff that can possibly have happened to him. He has violent sex with every woman he meets within minutes and says he lost his virginity to his sister and also slept with his mother. He outs Marlene Dietrich as a lesbian. She sued, removing the book from shelves until her death, when it was re-published in altered form. Kinski Uncut, as it was called when it reappeared, is not uncut at all, since it censors the claim that he had – consensual - sex with his daughter Nastassja on the set of Roman Polanski’s Tess. Occasionally, he even mentions a film he worked on. He turned down Raiders Of The Lost Ark because “it was the same tired old shit”. So he made Venom instead. And of course, he has some choice words for Werner Herzog. Herzog says he helped Kinski look for obscene adjectives in the dictionary. The truth is a relative concept for both of them.