Let’s Be Frank

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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Posted August 2, 2012 in Arts & Culture

Frank Langella’s memoirs include just enough gossip and tell-all tales

Admit it. You’re kind of klutzy sometimes.

And clumsy. That’s you, as pillows are tossed, furniture bumped, frames go askew, nerves are shattered and so is glassware. You’re Molly McMessy, as knees are skinned, bruises erupt and moods drop, busted next to belongings on the sidewalk.

Ooops. Butterfingers.

But dropping things isn’t always bad; just ask author and actor Frank Langella. In his new book Dropped Names, he lets go of a few tales and things as he writes about the stars he knew, hated and loved.

It all started with one word from Marilyn Monroe.

Frank Langella was a 15-year-old New Jersey boy on a bus trip to New York when a limousine happened to pull up in front of him while he stood in Times Square. The driver pushed Langella aside and when the limo door opened, a vision in white emerged.

Marilyn Monroe smiled and said, “Hi,” and Langella was instantly smitten.

He never forgot that whispered word, even through his long career in Hollywood and on Broadway allowed him to meet all kinds of famous characters.

Because he was friends with their daughter, for instance, Langella spent long summers at the various homes of Paul and Bunny Mellon, and their luncheons were filled with the rich and famous. Langella remembers how everyone was greatly entertained by Noel Coward, and how Jackie Kennedy was rarely far away.

While playing in the Poconos, Langella had the pleasure to work with Billie Burke, far from her Good Witch role but not a bit less than charming.

He writes of seductions: Elsa Lanchester’s breezy explanation of her late husband, Charles Laughton’s swimming pool habits; clumsy attempts at amour from Anthony Perkins; a sweet love affair with Dinah Shore; and an “unconsummated” man-crush on Raul Julia.

He writes of Rita Hayworth’s illness, when nobody knew much about Alzheimer’s. He tells of a “stupid thing” he did to Jackie Kennedy. He writes of a down-and-out Montgomery Clift, Richard Burton as a “crashing bore,” feuds with Lee Strasberg, bawdy jokes with Elizabeth Taylor, pranks with Robert Mitchum and . . .

“Fame is . . . fleeting,” says author Frank Langella. So, unfortunately, is this book.

Dropped Names is one of those Hollywood tell-(almost)-alls that you never want to end. It’s like discovering a box of old movie magazines in Grandma’s attic, or like a movie-marathon on paper. It’s the best kind of fluff, if you’re a film buff.

Readers will be happy to know that there’s enough snark in this book to satisfy the most fierce gossip lovers, but Langella also writes poignantly about Hollywood’s tortured souls and those who seemed too fragile for fame. What’s nice is that he does this while calling only the barest amount of attention to himself. He tells the stories as he remembers them, without getting in the way.

If you love old movies, or if you miss the glamour and glitz of old Hollywood, then grab the popcorn and settle in. For a fan like you, Dropped Names is a book you won’t want to let go of.

Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them by Frank Langella, Harper, 356 pages. List price $25.99.


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