When I shelved books at Beatrice Public Library, we had a separate room for biographies and all of our comfortable chairs were located there. I always wondered about the patrons that found the lives of others so fascinating, and now, I realize that person is me. Is it just one-step away from reading People magazine at your dentist office or is it something more? Since I have started reading biographies, they have become one of my favorite genres. Here are two biographies I read this summer:
Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin
I grew up with Johnny Carson reliably making us laugh at the end of the day until his last broadcast in May of 1992 when Bette Midler serenaded him with One More For My Baby. The author is described as Johnny’s “personal legal adviser, fixer, confidant, and close friend.” Carson referred to Bushkin as his best friend. The book covers their 18-year relationship, which began when the author was 27 years old in 1970. Had the relationship not ended abruptly or acrimoniously, I wonder if Bushkin would have written this book? The author reveals Johnny’s copious generosity, his inability to be a good husband or money manager, and the psychological damage inflicted on him by his mother from which he never recovered. His mercurial temperament and his grudges were legend. This book pulled back the curtain on an icon that I would have rather left alone but through the eyes of Bushkin, I felt I got closer to the truth or at least one version of it. Despite it all, nobody hosted a show quite like Johnny and watching old clips of him still brings a smile to my face.
Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg
I listened to Kate Remembered shortly after it was published in 2003. After I gave copies to my neighbor Mary and to my friend Vern, I thought it was time to have another listen. Incidentally, the book is narrated by the actor Tony Goldwyn who does a fair Hepburn impression. The book focuses on Berg’s friendship with Hepburn that started in 1983 and lasted until her death. Berg was Kate’s chronicler as she lavished stories upon him from her life and some episodes that I suspect she rarely shared. From the author’s book cover, “… Miss Hepburn often used our time together to reflect, an exercise in which I don’t think she indulged with anybody else.” I found Scott’s speculative answer to Kate’s question on why he thought Tracy drank so much fascinating and likely spot on. Learning about Kate through Scott’s writing, and what I hope were direct quotes of Hepburn’s, was worth a first and a second visit. After I finished, I re watched The Philadelphia Story and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner again. Time well spent.
So what is the appeal of biographies? Because there is always more to someone’s life is than meets the eye. Triumphs and tragedies are a human condition no matter your fame or infamy. We are all broken.
Bushkin, Henry. Johnny Carson. Boston, MA; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Berg, A. Scott. Kate Remembered. New York, NY. Putnam Adult, 2003.