Highly recommended — Frank Langella’s Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women as I knew Them, A Memoir.
Langella writes elegantly, and emerges as a pleasingly mysterious figure, since each chapter is about a famous, generally deceased person he’s encountered during his career, so that the author himself is on the sidelines throughout.
Many of these encounters date from FL’s Disco Dracula period, when he was a smash as Bram Stoker’s Count on Broadway, then played the role in a somewhat kitschy 1979 rubber bat movie helmed by John Badham. A partial cast list of the book: Elsa Lanchester (explaining how Laughton would have seduced Langella: “Charles could be very persuasive”); Montgomery Clift; Noel Coward; James Mason; Richard Burton; Laurence Olivier; Robert Mitchum; Roddy McDowall; Oliver Reed; George C Scott; Roger Vadim; John Frankenheimer; Tony Curtis…
Not all of the encounters are professional: Marilyn Monroe is merely glimpsed emerging from a car. Relations with Bette Davis (“not quite phone sex”), Raul Julia and Elizabeth Taylor border on the romantic. A full-fledged affair with Rita Hayworth is detailed with melancholic tenderness. Langella can be heartbreakingly gentle.
When dealing with those who did not favourably impress him, he’s impressively curt. On Lee Strasberg ~
“The last time I was in his presence he sucked the air out of the elevator we were riding in and when we hit the ground floor he put out his hand in a “stand back, I’m departing” gesture that caused me to laugh out loud. He stopped, looked at me with pure hatred and exited in a low-hanging cloud of fury. It remains one of my fondest sense memories.”
He also twists a knife in pilfering agent turned studio boss David Begelman, talented shit Elia Kazan, and egomaniac Anthony Quinn. It’s rather splendid. In cases where there is serious talent to admire, however, he does find something nice to say (Kazan gets some praise), and while reporting the unkindness of Rex Harrison, he can’t quite bring himself to dish the full character assassination.
We also get his subjects’ impressions of other celebrities they’ve encountered, hence Coral Browne’s take on Donald Pleasence ~
“Oh, God. He’s a handkerchief actor. He’ll take out his bloody handkerchief and blow his nose whenever he gets a chance or worse eat a bag of Sweeties during your best scene. Whatever you do, don’t get in a two-shot with him.”
I think the first time I realized I loved Frank Langella was in THE NINTH GATE, where, as wealthy Satanist Boris Balkan, he punches in the three-digit entry code to his library of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore: 6…6…(pause)…6.
Polanski himself didn’t expect that to get such a huge laugh when the film was screened. My favourite moment in the movie.