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 though 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, Longella spent long summers at the various homes of philanthropists 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, the Wizard of Oz’s Good Witch, just as charming in life as on screen.
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 (yes, that Dinah); and an “unconsummated” man-crush on Raul Julia.
He also recalls Rita Hayworth’s illness, when nobody knew much about Alzheimer’s, and 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 and pranks with Robert Mitchum.
“Fame is…fleeting,” Langella says. So, unfortunately, is this book.
“Dropped Names” (HarperCollins) 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 fiercest gossipmongers, but Langella also writes poignantly about Hollywood’s tortured souls and those who seemed too fragile for fame while calling only the barest amount of attention to himself. He tells the stories as he remembers them, without getting in the way.