Patricia Bosworth, Biographer of Hollywood Legends

On Film / The Daily — Apr 6, 2020
Patricia Bosworth in 1964

Model, actress, journalist, magazine editor, and renowned biographer of Hollywood legends Patricia Bosworth passed away last Thursday at the age of eighty-six due to complications of pneumonia brought on by the coronavirus. She was a “star-struck teenager,” as Elsa Dixler puts it in her excellent obituary for the New York Times, when she met the subject of her first biography, Montgomery Clift, “lounging in the family living room. She kept one of his cigarette butts for the rest of her life.” Clift was a client of her father’s, one of six lawyers who defended the Hollywood Ten and then found his career in California so untenable as the postwar Red Scare ignited that he was forced to move the family from San Francisco to New York. Bosworth told his tragic story in her 1997 memoir, Anything Your Little Heart Desires.

While studying at Sarah Lawrence College, Bosworth began modeling. Posing for fashion photographer Allan Arbus, she befriended his wife, Diane, who would become the subject of her second biography. After graduating in 1955, Bosworth auditioned for Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, was accepted, and studied alongside Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen—and Jane Fonda, the subject of another future biography. Arthur Penn cast her in her first play, and within a few years, Bosworth was appearing opposite Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story (1959). These years were brought to vivid life in her second acclaimed memoir, The Men in My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan.

Remembering Bosworth in Vanity Fair, where she was a contributing editor, Mark Rozzo observes that she “wrote breezily, with a gossamer touch, as if an intimate friend were telling you the latest over a coffee or a martini . . . Patti’s biographies were relatively bantam-size in a genre that prizes the doorstop. But they punched way above their weight in terms of authority and staying power, gems of lucidity and insight and class.” For Sheila O’Malley, Bosworth’s first book, Montgomery Clift: A Biography, published in 1978, is “the best actor biography ever written.” And her relatively brief biography of Marlon Brando, part of the Penguin Lives series, is “a necessary corrective to all the balderdash that’s out there about him, written by people who know nothing about acting. Read it,” advises O’Malley. “Bosworth knows about acting.”

The Latest

Critics and programmers are getting innovative with this impromptu home viewing project we’ve all got going on. Andy Rector took his Kino Slang Presents series online this weekend with an event, the world premiere of a new short film by Jean-Marie Straub. France Against the Robots, freely accessible through this coming Sunday, takes its title and its text from a 1945 essay by Georges Bernanos, the French writer best known for his 1936 novel The Diary of a Country Priest.

After reviewing films for the Los Angeles Times for nearly thirty years, Kenneth Turan is moving on to semiretirement. Justin Chang has written a lovely salute to his mentor and colleague and Mark Olsen has gathered tributes from filmmakers such as Clint Eastwood, Ava DuVernay, Mike Leigh, and Jane Campion. Turan opens his last piece for the paper—for the time being—with a question: “What films do you watch when you’re facing what might well be the end of the world as we’ve known it?” He offers a list of fourteen films “that I can always count on to raise my spirits and keep my mind off potential catastrophe.”

New York Times critic Manohla Dargis has been exploring the “extraordinary trove of online offerings” from the Library of Congress and especially recommends one playlist in particular, a selection of titles from the National Film Registry. For the first time, J. Hoberman’s monthly picks for the New York Review of Books can all be viewed online, and his choices range from Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (2018) to Isidore Isou’s “image-obliterating assault on cinema,” Venom and Eternity (1951).

The Austin Film Society’s Lars Nilsen has a tip for anyone looking for something completely different, the VHS Vault at the Internet Archive. “There is frankly a lot of unwatchable trash here,” writes Nilsen, “but you can give yourself the joy of the hunt as you bound through hours of chud and then finally land on, let’s say, a 1996 instructional guide for Sheriff’s departments as they deal with the growing menace of Satanism.”

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