For almost two years now, I’m only reading biography books (except for half of Wuthering Heights, The Moment of the Wedding and 1984). I find these fascinating (if they are well-written) and they allow me to discover interesting stuff about the personalities I admire.
Remember when I wrote that article on my love for Arthur Kennedy? Well, I obviously was curious to see if a biography of him had been written. And there’s one! And I’ve read it! Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters was written by Meredith C. Macksoud and published in 2003. It is the only existing biography of the actor.
What made me want to buy the book were the many great reviews on Amazon. Also, because it is the only one that has been written so far, I wasn’t left with many choices if I wanted to discover more about my favourite character actor.
I built a strong opinion of the book while reading it. That’s why I wanted to share my thoughts with you here.
While being a great read, Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters contains its ups and down.
The book can be praised for not being a gossipy one, and that’s a great thing. How are dreadful those biographers who try to discover celebrities deepest secrets and make them accessible to the public? Those biographers to whom we’d like to say: “leave them alone a minute!” Macksoud certainly wrote her book by paying a deserved respect to Mr. Kennedy. However, I feel she forgot to share things with a certain balance. Indeed, it is normal, when we read a biography, to expect some information about the star’s personal life. This is normal, no? We are curious.
I was first disappointed by the fact that not much was written about his childhood. We enter quite rapidly in his acting life. Then, the book is almost a filmography. All his movies (except the less significant ones which are later discussed in the appendix) are presented one by one. The author makes a synopsis and then talks about the context of the production, Arthur Kennedy’s performance, his relations with the movie team and other significant anecdotes. The author, of course, also explores his important stage career and many interesting information about his collaborations with Arthur Miller are presented to us. What I liked less about all this is that there’s nothing between that. She moves from one film to another without really discussing what was going on in Kennedy’s personal life while he was making those movies, what were his hobbies, his activities, the events he attended, etc. Yes, there’s a bit of it, but not enough for me. But then, in the last chapter, a bunch of facts about his private life is thrown to us. I feel as this was not very well dispatched. What also bothered me is the fact that Macksound takes time to resume the films from the beginning until the end. Because of the many spoilers contained in those synopses, I had to skip many parts of the book. I think she should have used these words to write directly about Kennedy instead of writing those unnecessarily long synopses.
But don’t get me wrong, the book was a real enjoyment despite all this. Meredith C. Macksoud successes at writing informative and complete historical contextualizations. These help us situate the movies in time. I also feel that she completely understands what type of man and actor Arthur Kennedy was. She perfectly seizes his essence and this is very well expressed in her introduction. That’s why the book was a very agreeable one to read. I might not have learned as much as I would have liked, but this was a great beginning.We also feel that this biography was written by someone who admires the man and not someone who wanted to write about him just to make money. The author is, sometimes, at the verge of subjectivity (which is never too good for a biographer), but she manages not to fall too deep in this trap.
The book is also truffled with a series of photos, which is also appreciated as it allows us to make a visual association with the film that his discussed. However, I would have liked to see more pictures of Kennedy outside the films (on the set, with his family, at home, etc.), more rare photos. That is another clue showing us that Macksoud’s main objective was to stick to Arthur’s professional career. This, of course, depends on which kind of book you want to write. And I believe she successfully wrote about his life in films. She describes well Kennedy’s devoted work for each one of his performances.
Another great thing about Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters is that it has been family approved. Arthur Kennedy’s daughter wrote the foreword and the last chapter, Remembrances of Laurie Kennedy. This is the most personal part of the book, the one that allows us to understand who Kennedy was to his relatives in relation to who he was to his public. Laurie’s words are those who make us smile the most and they are a great addition to the book.
Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters is one not to miss if you love Arthur Kennedy. Despite its faults, it remains a convincing read and, most important, it will give you many reasons to be fond of Arthur Kennedy. The best thing I learn about Arthur is the fact that he was a professional, but also a very humble man. He wasn’t complicated. He was that kind of man who was beautifully simple and with whom we would have liked to spend a few quiet and agreeable hours. I feel he was very clever and he knew how to use to transpose this cleverness to his always top-notch on-screen performances.
So, for being an entertaining, agreeable, informative (to a certain level), but not perfect book either, I give a *** 1/2 to Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters!
I had a lot to say about it, I hope I didn’t forget anything! I also hope some of you will be curious to read the book and share your thoughts about it!
For those who haven’t read my tribute to Arthur Kennedy, I invite you to read it here.
Before leaving you, I have to mention: last Thursday, in class, we watch The Man from Laramie on the big screen! This was the second Kennedy’s movie we were watching in this course (the first one was Some Came Running), so I was obviously thrilled. The Man from Laramie is not my favourite Kennedy’s film, but I believe he gives one of his strongest performances. And to see it on the big screen made it much better than seeing it on a little computer screen. The image was so beautiful and the sound was impressive!
Now, what I’d like to discover are interviews with Arthur Kennedy! If you know where I could find some, please tell me. So far, my little researches haven’t been very successful!
See you soon!