I am hereby declaring Michael Munn to be my favorite biographer of movie stars.
Actually, I've been a fan of his for a few years -- I bought a copy of his John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth without ever having read it, which is odd, because I'd never managed to finish reading a biography of John Wayne before. They always angered me, because if they were written while he was still alive and acting, they were generally hyped-up image-creators; if they were written more recently, they focused on his flaws and failings and tried to destroy his image. But I bought Munn's book because from the back cover and the few pages I skimmed, I learned he had actually met John Wayne and had respect for him, as a man and as an actor. It turned out to be one of the best book purchases I've ever made. Munn treated Wayne as a human, neither deifying nor demonizing him, which is exactly how I wanted my hero treated.
So when I saw Munn's biography of Richard Burton on the "New Books" shelf at the library, I picked it up. And since the index at the back of the book listed no fewer than nine references to Hamlet, I had to get it.
Richard Burton is not one of my very most favorite actors -- he's probably in my top thirty. I enjoy his work, I've seen quite a few of his movies and own three or four, and I love his turn as Hamlet on stage. But he's not someone I'd seek out a biography of. Still, since Michael Munn had written this one, I figured it was worth a read. And I was right.
Michael Munn knew Burton personally and worked with him several times, so the book is full of first-hand accounts and anecdotes, as well as stories told to the author by Burton's friends and colleagues. And once again, Munn's subject emerges as a fully-rounded human being, a man with a talent for acting and a taste for alchohol and women. Munn neither condones nor condemns Burton's faults, he simply tries to get his readers to understand him. And what more could anyone ask from a biographer?
I'm going to see if the library has any more of Munn's books, as I see he's written about other actors I like, such as Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, and Clint Eastwood. If you like learning about Hollywood and the real people behind its glitzy images, I suggest you do the same.
(Originally posted on Inscriptions on Nov. 13, 2008.)