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Actor Frank Langella's memoir is a quality gab-fest

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By Elysa Gardner
Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some actors are good only with other people's language, or they're too discreet to publicly indulge in deep-dish gossip. Frank Langella, happily, is not one of them.

With his first book, "Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them," the theater and film veteran -- whose many celebrated roles include Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and Richard Nixon -- reveals a first-rate gift of gab that translates wonderfully onto the page.

"Dropped Names" is subtitled "A Memoir," which at first blush seems contradictory. The focus is, as the main title suggests, on other noted personalities, from Bette Davis to Jack and Jackie Kennedy.

Through Langella's interaction with, and reflection on, these often iconic characters, we learn a lot about his experiences and worldview.

We get to observe Laurence Olivier "stinko" on booze, watch Anne Bancroft throw a hissy fit and ogle along as Roger Vadim directs Langella in an intimate scene with Rebecca De Mornay, "as my mouth moved down Rebecca's throat, across her breasts." (Some of the book's choicest excerpts are unprintable here.)

Langella holds forth without reserve on the women and men he has loved off screen, and a few he hasn't. Anthony Quinn is likened to "a big bully in the school yard or an imperious mob boss"; Charlton Heston is described as having a real-life God complex.

In contrast, Langella's affection and admiration for Raul Julia and Noel Coward, though platonic, is almost erotically charged. Of meeting Coward, he writes, "Straight-cut or queer-shaped, there is nothing as sexy as rapt attention to your every word."

Most portraits are more balanced, whether the subject is a troubled genius such as George C. Scott or Elia Kazan or one of numerous screen goddesses that Langella has romanced. The chapters on Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor are especially affecting; one might question the appropriateness of recalling the late actresses' struggles with age and love, but Langella's accounts are as compassionate as they are witty.

Remembering Taylor, he points to "her indiscriminate search for the one thing she could never and would never have: Enough!"

Devouring Langella's juicy page-turner, you'll relate.

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