Review | The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven

Unbelievably charming. 5 shining Hollywood stars.

The Moon's a Balloon by David Niven - autobiography cover

The blurb:

One of the bestselling memoirs of all time, David Niven’s The Moon’s a Balloon is an account of one of the most remarkable lives Hollywood has ever seen.

Beginning with the tragic early loss of his aristocratic father, then regaling us with tales of school, army and wartime hi-jinx, Niven shows how, even as an unknown young man, he knew how to live the good life.

But it is his astonishing stories of life in Hollywood and his accounts of working and partying with the legends of the silver screen – Lawrence Oliver, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward and dozens of others, while making some of the most acclaimed films of the last century – which turn David Niven’s memoir into an outright masterpiece.

An intimate, gossipy, heartfelt and above all charming account of life inside Hollywood’s dream factory, The Moon’s a Balloon is a classic to be read and enjoyed time and again.

My take:

I don’t read as much non-fiction as I feel I should, particularly biography and autobiography. So I was stepping outside my comfort zone when I picked up David Niven’s autobiography, taking a chance on it mostly because I’ve always found him charming in films (A Matter of Life and Death is one of my favourites).

And I’m very glad I made the effort because The Moon’s a Balloon is absolutely cracking. “Gossipy” doesn’t do this wonderful series of tales justice. Niven does apologise in the introduction for the name dropping that is to follow and he is not building up false expectations. Every time you think he can’t possibly name a bigger star, he does. Then when he can’t name anyone further up the pecking order of Hollywood royalty he’s rubbed shoulders with, he drops in real royalty and chats with Winston Churchill just for fun.

Continue reading…

Review | Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen by Greg Jenner

As meticulously researched as it is entertaining. Top stuff! 5 stars.

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner book cover

The (much shortened by me for the sake of brevity) blurb:

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. DEAD FAMOUS is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.

My take:

I don’t read anywhere near as much non-fiction as fiction. This is simply because I can never read it as quickly and I often find my attention sliding away from the page. However, I really wanted to read Dead Famous because I’m a fan of Greg Jenner, particularly his BBC Podcast, You’re Dead to Me (it’s on BBC Sounds, please check it out, you won’t be sorry).

Jenner excels at making history accessible, entertaining and often funny. I chuckled many times while reading Dead Famous and once laughed out loud at such volume I made my kids jump! (It was at a particularly hilarious pun, if you’re wondering).

Continue reading…