rambling reporter

Old Hollywood springs to life from the shelves

Far off the radar screens of booksellers now huckstering showbiz bios and/or autobiographies are two revealing inspections of well-known Hollywood celebrities that are worth seeking out. One of them is "The Baron of Mulholland: A Daughter Remembers Errol Flynn," a fascinating book by Flynn's daughter Rory (who also is the mother of "Zoey 101's" 18-year-old Sean Flynn, aka Sean Rio) about her father, the movie's great swashbuckler who became equally legendary for his rascally offscreen behavior, his pursuit of women and affection for partying and booze. Rory's book reveals a side of Papa the public has not been exposed to before, with much of her information delivered via reproductions of letters from Flynn in his handwriting to his wife, Nora Eddington (Rory's mother), and to Rory herself. Also, there's correspondence from and about her brother Sean Flynn (1941-71), a cameraman for CBS who was never found after disappearing in Vietnam in the '70s. Rory also gives many no-holds-barred opinions about life with her father (he apparently was much more of a family man than was ever hinted) and the family dynamics after his death. These are all richly illustrated with numerous photos that have never been published before, many of them taken aboard Flynn's famous yacht, the Zaca, which Orson Welles borrowed as a major setting for his film noir classic "The Lady From Shanghai." Among the revelations: Stanley Kubrick was interested in Flynn playing Humbert Humbert in 1962's "Lolita," but Flynn, despite his wilting career and eagerness for the role, said he would only do it if Kubrick would cast Flynn's girlfriend in the title role, which the director would not do. … Also on the bookshelf and recommended: "Anna Lee: Memoir of a Career on 'General Hospital' and in Film" (via McFarland & Co.), about the teeter-totter life and career of one of John Ford's reliables, the beautiful British-born Lee, who despite appearing in such Ford landmarks as "How Green Was My Valley," "Fort Apache" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" — as well as five other Ford films and major roles in such non-Ford classics as "Bedlam," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "The Sound of Music" — was to find everything in her past overshadowed by her 26 years as the classy Lila Quartermain on ABC's "GH" daytimer. This book began as an as-told-to autobiography with Barbara Roisman Cooper, and thanks to Cooper's tenacity, it went on to completion and publication after the actress' death in 2004 at age 91. Lee had much to tell since her life on the soundstages of England and Hollywood included working opposite the likes of John Wayne (three times), Paul Robeson, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Julie Andrews and others. She also struggled with health issues, eventual confinement to a wheelchair and a contract situation at ABC that ended her check-ins to "GH." And she had husbands who included director Robert Stevenson (a disaster) and writer Robert Nathan (a success). Most appropriately for a book about a genuine Ford heroine, the foreword is by another feisty, formidable beauty from the Ford film family, Maureen O'Hara. … Also new and ambitiously presented: "The Films of Lucille Ball" by Cindy De La Hoz, but more about that anon.