Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood movie star, a hunk whose toned physique was photographed many times. He married twice, the first time to Jane Wyman, one of the great Hollywood actresses, and the second time to Nancy Davis, who was not a memorable actress at all. Eventually, Ronald became President of the United States, survived an assassination attempt, left his legacy with Reaganomics, and finally died of Alzheimer’s disease. Wyman won an Oscar for Johnny Belinda and became the matriarch on Falcon Crest. And Nancy became famous for her phrase “Just Say No”.
Any one of these three remarkable, determined and driven individuals would make for a good book, but my favorite biographers, Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, combine all three lives in the massive 628 page Love Triangle: Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman & Nancy Davis, from Blood Moon Productions. All three actors were big stars. It’s no surprise that none of them were saints.
There’s something about Darwin Porter’s biographies that really fascinates me, and I didn’t put my finger on it until I read this one. To read Porter is to take a trip down memory lane accompanied by the town’s biggest gossip. Often, totally forgotten actors are mentioned, their whole life story and career arc encapsulated and enriched with photographs. For instance, a young Wyman dated a cute gay actor named Ross Alexander, who made a number of movies before shooting himself in the head at 29. It makes me want to rush out and re-watch his movies Captain Blood or Here Comes Carter.
Porter and Prince are encyclopedic in their knowledge of old Hollywood history and scandal, and not a stone is left unturned. Not surprisingly, the book is almost all Hollywood and no Washington. The authors do not pretend to be political analysts. But who’s complaining when there is this much info to chew on.
Finally, a note on phraseology. Porter is famous for making up quotes, lines of dialogue neither he nor anyone else might have actually heard uttered by the speaker. “Since we at Blood Moon weren’t privy to long-ago conversations as they were unfolding, we have relied on the memories of our sources for the conversational tone and phraseologies of what we’ve recorded within the pages of this book,” they state. “This writing technique, as it applies to modern biography, has been defined as “conversational storytelling” by The New York Times, which labeled it as an acceptable literary device for ‘engaging reading’.” They needn’t defend themselves to me – I love the gossipy tone, and I tend to believe most of what they publish.
Thank God for Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. They do such a good job making icons seem human, and an even better job revealing all their long-suppressed secrets. Love Triangle is a really good book, the ideal beach read for this coming summer.