WHY: “A fascinating dual biography of one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed screenwriters and one of its most famous actresses.
“Robert Riskin wrote such classics as It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Meet John Doe, among many other films. Wray was, of course, the original King Kong leading lady. Riskin and Wray were married, and this account is written by their daughter. It’s necessarily a deeply personal story, informed by the author’s affection for her parents, but it’s also a revealing story about Hollywood in its early years, as the movie business took over the world and turned its players into not just celebrities but also icons.
“Riskin and Wray loved each other deeply — this isn’t one of those Tinseltown love-but-mostly-hate stories. Riskin’s death in 1955 was a genuine tragedy, not just for his family but also for Hollywood itself. This, of course, is hardly the first Hollywood bio written by a child of the subjects, but it’s one of the most refreshing: a story about love and respect, not secrets, dirt, and lies.” —David Pitt, BOOKLIST
“An affectionate and absorbing biography.
“This is both a poignant love story and a telling look at studio politics, screwball comedies, the postwar blacklist, and an era of hopeful cinematic escapism.”
—Stephen Rees, LIBRARY JOURNAL
“Heartfelt…a nostalgic and reverent remembrance.”
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
My first memory is of a snowstorm in Los Angeles. The land of eternal sunshine had never in its known history been blanketed in white the way it was on January 10, 1949—The Old Farmer’s Almanac gives the date—and never has again.
I was three years old. My brother Bobby, five, had already dressed himself and run downstairs to join our thirteen-year-old sister, Susan, outside. I fidgeted impatiently while our English nanny, Miss Haesloop, in her starched white uniform, secured the buttons of my blue corduroy trouser suit and put rubber overshoes over my Buster Browns.
My father organized a snowball fight that morning on the front lawn of our Bel-Air home. Bobby and I pelted each other until a snowball hit me in the face and I burst into tears. My father scooped me up and deftly distracted me into helping him make a snowman. He also recruited Bobby, who was a genius at building things, and let me tuck in stones for the snowman’s eyes and a carrot for his nose. This, he emphasized, was the most important job of all. “There you go, rascal. You stick that carrot right in the middle of his face.”
In the photographs of that day, my mother is absent. For years, I imagined she was in the kitchen having the cook prepare the hot chocolate to warm us when we came in, or rearranging the living room rugs and furniture for an evening of square dancing that was all the rage in the late 1940s, or readying a dinner party for the friends who regularly came to our house: Jack Benny, Rosalind Russell, Ronald Colman, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Irving Berlin, Harpo Marx, Darryl Zanuck, Edward G. Robinson. I now understand that she was outdoors with us all along, taking the photos with her Leica camera, recording our lives, memorializing our family’s landmark moments as was now her passion. Snow and snowman and, indelibly, my father in his tweed newsboy’s cap, woolen scarf and heavy overcoat, tortoiseshell glasses, tanned olive skin, his head tilted to the side with a smile starting to form as if waiting for me to finish telling him a funny story.