Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sitting Pretty

Clifton Webb, Actor and Dancer Par Excellence

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a voracious reader.  My favorite reading material are biographies, especially celebrity biographies.  Coming in a close second are historical novels.  I have little or no interest in fiction nor mystery novels.

The celebrity biographies I have read this year so far are of Ava Gardener, Lucille Ball, Linda Darnell, Tab Hunter, Robert Mitchum, and Maureen O'Hara.  I just finished reading "Forever Dobie" which is the autobiography of Dwayne Hickman of Dobie Gillis fame.

All were interesting but totally different writing styles.  Some were written by the celebrities themselves and some by authors who never met the celebrities but wrote from interviews with those who knew the celebrities.  I enjoy reading all the biographies, no matter how badly they are written and some of them are pretty bad, believe me.  To me they are all fun reads.

But now I have found a true gem.  It is the biography of Clifton Webb.  The title of which is "Sitting Pretty".

Most of the readers of this blog probably don't know who Clifton Webb was.  Briefly, he was a somewhat acerbic and prissy actor born in 1889 who played John Phillip Sousa and Mr. Belvedere in films of the Forties and Fifties.  I always enjoyed seeing Clifton Webb in a movie.  He was the most unlikely leading man type, because of his prissy and effeminate nature.  As a ten year old soon to enter my teenage years I found myself oddly in synch with this wonderfully entertaining man.  No, he wasn't one of those movie actors that I had a crush on (that would be Farley Granger and Guy Madison) but I did feel "at home" when I saw Clifton on the silver screen.

Thus it was with great joy I discovered that a biography has just been published about him.  It is in hardback and costs almost $25!  I never pay that much for a book, I usually wait until it comes in paperback.  But I just had to have this book so I sprang for the higher price.

I was wondering how the book would read because part of the book is written in Mr. Webb's own hand and the rest was finished by an author who never met Mr. Webb, but instead worked from his numerous notes.  Clifton started to write his autobiography but by his own admission became "bogged down" and thus never finished it.  His handwritten notes were found in the basement of the daughter of the executor of his estate many years later by the author of this biography.

Clifton Webb never married.  It was assumed he was gay but of course back in those days such horrific information would spell the end to a movie career.  Most assumed Clifton lived in the closet but there was never any proof that he had any homosexual relationships.  He lived with his mother most of his life.

Thus it was a stroke of good fortune that the author of Clifton's biography found his unfinished autobiography and assembled Clifton's notes to publish the first an only biography of this wonderful and fascinating man, Clifton Webb.

Now here is the good part.  I started to read Clifton's biography and I am absolutely blown away at what a brilliant writer of prose that Clifton is.  Oh how I do love good prose.  It is so rare that I find a book that has good prose let alone a book about such an interesting man as Clifton Webb.  And what is really good about this book is Clifton's personality burst out of the pages that he writes.  WHAT A GOOD BOOK!

I find myself going back over and reading the same sentences and paragraphs just to savor the well honed prose and bask in the fascinating personality of this man.

I don't usually do reviews of books (or movies) but I am doing one now.  If you like to read a book about a fascinating man with a deadly, on target acerbic wit; this my friends is the one for you to read.

I wish I could recommend it to my friends but I'm afraid it is all over their heads which is sad.  Oh how I wish I had a friend like Clifton Webb today.  Now my friends, don't be offended.  I love the friends I have and appreciate them but I'm telling you, if I had a friend like Clifton Webb with his wit, charm, intelligence and talent; my head would probably explode.

One thing I know for sure, this is one book I am going to enjoy reading.  Just thought I would pass this along to all of you.


  1. What am I, chopped liver?

  2. Sometimes I feel like an idiot. Now is one of those times.

    There is a gay gift shop on Clifton Blvd. in Cleveland called 'Clifton's Web". Up until this moment reading your blog I had no idea the store's name was a play on the name of some old actor. That's really cool.

  3. I ADORE Clifton Webb!!! And I had no idea that an biography of him had just come out! Thanks for the review! Off to Amazon.com I go! :)

  4. Tiger,

    I have to apologize for my pompous comment "I wish I could recommend it to my friends but I'm afraid it is all over their heads...." I was wrong! You would "get it". My friend Don McK. told me that my comment was a "bit pompous" and he was exactly right! If you can get this book, get it! Clifton's prose is a delight!

  5. Oh Mark, it seems that I have offended some of my friends with my comment "I wish I could recommend it to my friends but I'm afraid it is all over their heads.." My friend Don McK. promptly sent me an e-mail stating that my comment was "a bit pompous don't you think?" Well, I did forget about him. He would "get it" because he knows who Clifton Webb is and would appreciate his acerbic wit. However, my friend Mark, do you KNOW who Clifton Webb is? This is the problem with being as old as I am. The younger generation (that would be you) have no idea of who Clifton Webb is as well as many other stars and personalities of the Forties and Fifties.

  6. Ron,

    What happened? You're reading his biography and turning into the rather aloof and pompous roll he was famous for playing?

    At least I'm glad none of we friends contain enough wit, charm and intelligence to make your head explode. I'd hate to see your brains dripping down the wall.


  7. Cubby,

    Do you know who Clifton Webb was? He was more than "some old actor." He was ONE OF A KIND. I am so glad I finally found his biography and even better, most of it is written in his own hand. He come alive again! It's a shame that so many gay men today do not know of Clifton Webb. He was a treasure.

  8. Lar,

    You're pretty well read but I doubt if you would "get" Clifton's acerbic wit. Now he was a writer. I wish I had 1/10th of his talent.

  9. You're right. I'm sorry I used the phrase 'some old actor'. In fact I fretted about it all day. I'm glad you told us about him.

    And to top it off, my memory got the name of the gift store wrong (in case you have any Cleveland readers). It's the Clifton Web, not Clifton's Web.

  10. You're right, until you mentioned him, I had no clue who he was. Or maybe I do know him but obviously not well enough.

  11. Man on street: Hey Noah, what are you doing with that Ark?

    Frank Gilbreth: Collecting animals like the good Lord told me, brother. All we need now is a jackass. Hop in!

    —"Cheaper by the Dozen"


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