Annal: 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1996.

Book:Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Frank McCourt

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling— does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. …[more]

Book:Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography

Gail Levin

In the art of Edward Hopper (1882-1967), tense, unhappy men and women, in whom we recognize something of our neighbors and ourselves, play out mysterious dramas in silent, stripped-down spaces—stages raked by an unrelenting and revealing light. These paintings, and Hopper’s equally evocative landscapes and houses, make us wonder: what kind of man had this haunting vision, and what kind of life engendered this art?

No one is better qualified to answer these questions than the art historian Gail Levin, author of the major studies of Hopper’s work (including the catalogue raisonne) and curator of many exhibitions that explored his development and cultural context. Delving deeply into his art and into a rich archive of unpublished letters and diaries, she now constructs An Intimate Biography, which reveals the true nature and personality of the man himself—and of the woman who shared his life and helped to…[more]

Book:Hellman and Hammett

Hellman and Hammett: The Legendary Passion of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett

Joan Mellen

In the first dual biography of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, New York Times bestselling author Joan Mellen sheds new light on two of the twentieth century’s most intriguing characters. The first biographer to draw from the Hellman-Hammett archives at the University of Texas, and with unprecedented access to their circle of friends, Mellen taps mines of fresh material to produce a groundbreaking look at these extraordinary American nonconformists, separately and together.

Cutting against the social and political grain of their day, Hellman and Hammett as proud American radicals were persecuted during McCarthyism. They also turned out some of the most compelling prose of our country: Hammett’s classic Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man, and Hellman’s plays The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, and her memoirs An Unfinished Woman and Pentimento. Meanwhile, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett defied every accepted formula…[more]

Book:A Life of Picasso: Volume 2. 1907-1917

A Life of Picasso: Volume 2. The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916

John Richardson

In this volume we see the artist’s life and work during the crucial decade of 1907–17, a period during which Picasso and Georges Braque devised what has come to be known as cubism and in doing so engendered modernism. Thanks to the author’s friendship with Picasso and some of the women in his life, as well as Braque and their dealer, D. H. Kahnweiler, and other associates, he has had access to untapped sources and unpublished material. In The Cubist Rebel, Richardson also introduces us to key figures in Picasso’s life who have been totally overlooked by previous biographers. Among these are the artist’s Chilean patron, collector, and mother figure, Eugenia Errázuriz, as well as two fiancées: the loveable Geneviève Laporte and the promiscuous bisexual painter Irène Lagut.

Book:Orson Welles

Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu

Simon Callow

Possibly only an actor and director as deeply familiar with the theater as Simon Callow, and as determined as he to capture the protean Welles whole, could have written this biography, of which The Road to Xanadu is the first volume. For here, brilliantly located in its historical and social setting, is the entire, magnificent, unbelievable story—the prodigious childhood; the dynamic young man in New York, in some ways still a boy, in others a profound theatrical innovator; the fraught partnership with John Houseman; the groundbreaking triumphs of the Mercury Theatre (such as the all-black Macbeth and Welles’s modern-dress Julius Caesar) and its disasters (equally fascinating); and finally Hollywood and Citizen Kane, even today regarded by many as the finest film ever made, the work of a twenty-three-year-old with no previous experience in the medium.

Callow’s lively account of the making of Kane is surely the best we are likely to have, as authoritative about the practical…[more]

Book:Tom

Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams

Lyle Leverich

Considered by many to be the greatest artist of the American theatre, Tennessee Williams has been described by those who knew him as shy and aggressive, lucid and manic, accessible and elusive, kind and cruel, but always enigmatic. Until now, little has been known of Williams’s youth and the true forces that influenced and helped create the persona of Tennessee Williams.

Lyle Leverich, chosen by the playwright himself as his biographer, has been given exclusive access to letters, diaries and journals, unpublished manuscripts, and family documents and has written the definitive biography of Williams’s early life. Leverich takes us through Williams’s largely unknown life from the young, introspective schoolboy through his stalled academic career, the early success of his writing, the confusion over his sexuality, the growing certainty of his talent, to the brink of fame with The Glass Menagerie. Tom tells the story of the “unknown” years of the playwright’s life, before Tom, the person, was eclipsed by Tennessee, the celebrated persona.

Book:An Uncommon Woman

An Uncommon Woman: The Empress Frederick

Hannah Pakula

Drawing on a vast amount of original family documents, including more than 7,000 letters between the Empress and the Queen, Pakula offers an absorbing portrait of a brilliant, determined woman.

Vicky, as she was known to her family and friends, was trained by her father, Prince Albert, in the principles of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government. Sent to Germany with the mission of carrying these liberal concepts back to the land of Albert’s birth, the seventeen-year-old encountered the rigidities of a hidebound Prussian court and the “blood and iron” policies of Otto von Bismarck. Vicky’s major ally in spreading enlightened liberalism was her husband, the handsome Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, heir to the Prussian and German thrones. A fine general who did not believe in war, Fritz, as he was known, adored Vicky. But their eldest son, the man who would become Kaiser Wilhelm II, turned against his parents, allying himself with the militarism his ultraconservative grandfather and the anti-British foreign policy of Bismarck. Mounting the throne after the untimely death of his father, the young Kaiser abandoned his mother and went on to wage a ruinous war against her beloved England.

Book:William Morris

William Morris: A Life for Our Time

Fiona MacCarthy

Since his death in 1896, William Morris has come to be regarded as one of the giants of the nineteenth century. But his genius was so many-sided and so profound that its full extent has rarely been grasped. Many people may find it hard to believe that the greatest English designer of his time, possibly of all time, could also be internationally renowned as a founder of the socialist movement, and could have been ranked as a poet together with Tennyson and Browning.

With penetrating insight, Fiona MacCarthy has managed to encompass all the different facets of Morris’s complex character, shedding light on his immense creative powers as artist and designer of furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, stained glass, tapestry and books, and as a poet, novelist and translator; his psychology and his emotional life; his frenetic activities as polemicist and reformer; and his remarkable circle of friends, literary, artistic and political.

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