Opinionated Guides | Performing Arts

Opinionated views of Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Midler make for entertaining, informative, and fascinating reads.

Kennedy, Matthew. On Elizabeth Taylor: An Opinionated Guide. Oxford Univ. May 2024. 264p. ISBN 9780197664117. $29.99. BIOG

Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011) is often called the last great movie star from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Her career spanned more than 50 years, starting with her first film appearance at 10 in 1942’s There’s One Born Every Minute and concluding with the 2001 TV movie These Old Broads. She was a formidable actress with outstanding work in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer, Giant, A Place in the Sun, and more. Her career was often overshadowed by her very public private life, scandals, illnesses, and fondness for perfume and jewelry. But many also remember how much she did as an AIDS activist. Film historian Kennedy (Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s) focuses strictly on Taylor’s work, acting style, and intuitive understanding of the camera and her audience. He gives an astute chronological analysis of her 67 films, each with a synopsis, production history, reception by audiences and critics, and box office performance. VERDICT An entertaining, informative read that comprehensively examines the work of one of the most memorable film stars who had undeniable talent and appeal.—Phillip Oliver

Winkler, Kevin. On Bette Midler: An Opinionated Guide. Oxford Univ. May 2024. 228p. ISBN 9780197668320. $29.99. BIOG

After arriving in New York City by way of Hawai‘i in 1965, Bette Midler got her start performing in experimental theater productions and bathhouses. She became known for her campy “Divine Miss M” stage persona and found many of her fans in the gay community throughout the 1970s. Her career has since spanned nearly 60 years on stage, with studio albums, television, and film included in her body of work. Still, her road to stardom is sometimes lesser known to younger generations who recognize her primarily from film roles such as Hocus Pocus. Winkler (Everything Is Choreography: The Musical Theatre of Tommy Tune) illuminates Midler’s story from his perspective as a longtime fan. The preface clarifies that this book does not contain interviews with Midler or with people who worked with her, as a traditional biography would, but Winkler’s well-researched and organized guide provides all the facts with plenty of juicy tidbits sprinkled in. Notes for each chapter and a selected bibliography are included. VERDICT A fascinating and personal portrait of a singular performer. Winkler succeeds at capturing Midler’s distinctive and memorable personality, which is somehow equal parts bawdy showgirl and sensitive chanteuse.—Claire Sewell

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