BOOKS… Starstruck My Unlikely Road to Hollywood (2021) by Leonard Maltin

#2020s

 

One Lucky Man…

 

Film critic, academic and self-confessed lifelong film nerd Leonard Maltin tells of his awesome life so far.

 

Gremlins 2 – Leonard Maltin criticizes his last movie, mhaly101

 

Leonard Maltin has eaten a soup made by Katharine Hepburn, watched films with Titanic (1997) star Gloria Stuart giving her personal commentary, swapped Buster Keaton anecdotes with Betty White and shared childhood cinematic memories with Martin Scorsese. He is loved, trusted and revered by the stars, those behind the camera and the public. His amiable sentiments of these stars are echoed in many of his personal anecdotes littered throughout his autobiographical book, Starstruck, My Unlikely Road to Hollywood.

It’s clear from Maltin’s enthusiastic writing, that this man is first and foremost a movie aficionado or as he puts it “an unabashed fan”. His intense passion for film is seen as a constant throughout his life of “happy accidents” that are shared in his heartwarming, affable and genuine autobiography. Dotted throughout his book, he relates prized memories of meeting those Hollywood names, how his career came to be in surprising ways and his never-ending love and support from his wife, Alice and daughter, Jessie.

Maltin’s unpretentious and down to earth writing was as infectiously enthusiastic as a good musical. I polished off this 375 paged star-studded book over two awestruck mornings. This time vanished quickly, as this charming book was hard to put down thanks to Maltin’s contagious enthusiasm and his natural storytelling abilities.

His stories are told more from an avuncular manner, and names not named dropped but mentioned as welcome parts of his experiences. Maltin clearly loves those he’s met, and his genuine responses when meeting those Hollywood added to his stories, are those of a movie fan and a genuinely nice guy making this book a joy to read. His tales are accompanied by eight pages of wonderfully chosen personal photographs, pictures and cuttings. In these, you can feel his intense passion for his career and family radiating from every one of them.

In his book, Maltin mentions more headlining and supporting stars than those who appeared in The Towering Inferno, and his names are just as jaw-dropping. In his writing, Maltin tirelessly shares his continued awe and a deep appreciation for his lucky break into a dream career. And he believes that these stars responded to his “general enthusiasm”, pertinent questions, vast film knowledge and often told him the stories they don’t often share readily.

His love and respect for the stars and the movies they star in bursts out from every anecdote and description of his interviews with those Hollywood legends. Judging from their authentic and natural responses in Maltin’s company, these suggest he is an unpretentious and giving man who is himself in his rapport and his interactions with them. His honesty and sincerity are reflected in his writing.

Maltin adds to those memories by telling a wee bit about his personal life. Leonard Maltin was born in Manhattan and his family moved to New Jersey after his brother was born. His father was a judge for the Immigration and Naturalisation Service and his mother, a one time Broadway star who appeared in the original production of Carousel.

His love for movies started after a childhood “obsession” with silent comedy films, comic books and telly. This started after he got hooked on Laurel and Hardy and silent films. He remembers reading his father’s weekly read, Variety and soaking up the film and biographical sections.

As an adolescent, he moved onto films from the 30s and 40s, which he remembers watching on television in the wee small hours. He remembers trying not to fall asleep at school on these occasions. Maltin proudly tells how he met his first celebrity and idol, Buster Keaton at 13 years of age. As he recounts the story surrounding this event, you can feel his then childhood exuberance from this time has continued to this day.

During this time, he wanted to be a cartoonist and with his friends published two magazines – the Bergen Bulletin and Profile – where he included his cartoons and biographical entertainment-themed content. He states he wrote at this time with “youthful observations” and “facts” gleaned from “obsessive TV watching”. He later wrote about film history.

At this time he wrote to the stars of the day directly – rather than through PRs – and found this the most successful approach in getting a response. This was beautifully illustrated as Maltin recounts his early correspondence and meetings with names you will recognise, such as actor Dick Van Dyke, actress Carol Burnett, Snoopy cartoonist Charles M Schulz and director George Stevens. Maltin tells of his then more amateur mistakes and those lessons learned. As an entertainment blogger, these candid divulgences are valuable, for one who sometimes interviews the stars.

At 13, after reading an article in The Famous Monsters of Filmland, his life changed by chance after he sent a review to two publications. His reviews were praised with both publications showing interest in publishing them.  He was given a regular column named Research Unlimited. In 1966, at 15 years of age, he was asked to helm Film Fan Monthly and he stayed in this role for nine years. At 16, it seemed all his out of school activities were film-related as he shares more wonderful memories of this time. He also remembers the aftermath after Kennedy’s shooting, when television was cancelled for four weeks and then watching Oswald shot on live TV.

He met his wife, Alice at a film history lecture. Shortly after this, their friendship became a whirlwind romance, and lead to a quick engagement months later. They married the following year. It’s clear from his passionate and affectionate writing about his wife, Alice, that she is his support and soulmate. This couple believe;

“they will never break up as we are the only people who get each other’s pop culture references”.

At 17, Maltin was asked to write a book about movies on television, and this book became an annual publication until 2014. At one time, his daughter Jessie was involved in this book and Jessie seems a chip off those old blocks. It’s clear from her father’s book that she has inherited her parents’ passion for movies. Her father’s remembrances of Jessie’s brushes with those famous names – such as Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins and Robert Wagner (who introduced himself to her by his personal nickname RJ) – illustrate that she is just as full of awe about her own personal entertainment-themed experiences as they are.

Maltin’s first appearance as a film reviewer on Entertainment Tonight was in 1982, reviewing Annie (1982) and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982). This was followed by his big screen debut – playing himself – in Gremlins II (1990). The family moved to Los Angeles in 1983, and he recounts “days of movie related excitement” for himself and his family.

He writes enthusiastically – and with obvious awe – about his recollections of visiting and then moving to Hollywood, on attending numerous award ceremonies and festivals. In 1997, Maltin joined the world of film academia – also by chance – in a role arranging films and guest speakers for the University of California. Currently, he is a renowned film podcaster with Jessie by his side and he organises Maltinfest with his family.

As he writes about his life experiences and on meeting our film idols, Maltin does so in a grounded manner and embellishes these stories from a personable manner. These make his life so far more of an enjoyable trip and he tells it was one of chance. As he adds his experiences in the latter half of this book, you feel more of the awe and wonder he’s felt on meeting these big names, as he writes at a deeply personal level.

Like a good friend, Maltin happily writes many of his first meaningful entertainment themed experiences, and these are added to his unassuming way of writing. These memories were supported with his vivid writing, and these are then warmly imagined in your imagination.

The first of these was his first movie memory as he shares this was watching “Prince Charming leading Snow White towards a gleaming sun”, this description is not elaborated on any further but was enough for my mind to visualise just that. He also remembers Broderick Crawford his first star sighting and meeting a young Katherine Ross in a “rare moment of glamour” as he researched a book.

From a personal viewpoint, I noted we both shared a childhood love of Disney films, as I too remember collecting every book I could with a Disney theme. We were also both telly addicts in writing to the stars – which I did asking for signed photos – and with those attributes, we share with our life partners (regular readers will know Darlin Husband also my soulmate who gets those pop culture references!). Through these, I felt a connection with this author, and I felt a strong empathy with his unbridled happiness when he received mail from those stars, as a kid I had received signed photos of the Eastenders cast, Jeremy Irons and Terry Wogan to name a few!

As an entertainment blogger, I also like Maltin, prefer to approach my future interviewees directly or to tag those I’ve reviewed on social media. I can concur with this approach results in getting more unique replies. These including some Dallas and Dynasty stars and those I have interviewed for this blog. This book does not have an extensive index of references, quotes and instead relies on his warm and affectionate anecdotes, which I believe are accurate and trusted. And his book will certainly be referred to again, as I write relevant posts.

In writing his book, Maltin states that he never kept a journal but instead jotted down his thoughts after “special days”. And I for one hope, one day these notes may be shared in a book sharing his memories of the movies and those stars from this point of view. It is clear, that Maltin is a keen storyteller and he wants to share his experiences of these film stars as people, rather than with them.

This is beautifully illustrated in this book as he warmly recounts his meeting with Elizabeth Taylor. Maltin tells that when the camera’s stopped filming her, she relaxed and he was privileged to see her as a “saucy woman with a wicked sense of humour”.

This man as a writer and critic, I believe akin to a wee child, in a sweet shop with unlimited funds that he joyfully wants to share with the world, rather than keep them all to himself. And I am sure I write for many by saying that I am looking forward to seeing what treats he’ll be sharing next.

 

A disclaimer and personal thank you to Leonard Maltin and GoodKnight Books for giving me an Advance Reader Copy of Starstruck My Unlikely Road to Hollywood by Leonard Maltin. Financial compensation was not received, however, I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you would like your book to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.

 

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