Curtis, James 1953–

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Curtis, James 1953–

(James Richard Curtis)

PERSONAL: Born November 16, 1953, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Richard Borah (a purchasing agent) and Dorothy Dawn (Motley) Curtis; married Debra R. Reed (a bookseller), June 4, 1978, divorced, 1992; married Kim Geary (a health benefits broker), January 1, 1994. Education: Fullerton College, A.A., 1974; California State University, Fullerton, B.A., 1979. Politics: "Nonpartisan."

ADDRESSES: Home—658 Magnolia Ave., Brea, CA 92821-6552. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer and consultant. Insgroup, Inc., Huntington Beach, CA, instructional designer, 1979–80; MSI Data Corp., Costa Mesa, CA, senior promotional and technical writer, 1981–83, director of corporate communications, 1983–85; California Dental Health Plan, Tustin, director of communications, 1986–90, vice-president of communications and product coordination, 1990–94; freelance marketing consultant, Brea, CA, 1995.

MEMBER: Authors Guild of America.

WRITINGS:

James Whale (biography), Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1982.

Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1982.

(Editor and author of introduction) David Lewis, The Creative Producer: A Memoir of the Studio System, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1993.

(Editor and author of introduction) Featured Player: An Oral Autobiography of Mae Clarke, Santa Teresa Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1996.

James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1998.

W.C. Fields: A Biography, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

James Whale has been published in Spanish.

SIDELIGHTS: James Curtis is the author of biographies focusing on such Hollywood notables as directors James Whale, perhaps best known for his classic horror film Frankenstein, and Preston Sturges. In Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges, Curtis recounts the life story of Sturges, a brilliant director and screenwriter who became an overnight success in Hollywood during the 1930s and an overnight failure less than two decades later. "Sturges' life," wrote Washington Post Book World contributor Kenneth Turan, "was certainly as dizzying as any of the screwy plots he later specialized in." David Williams of Newsweek commented: "James Curtis in his careful detailing of the failed schemes gives us a sobering picture of the sweat and disappointment that lie beneath the Hollywood hoopla. But his fascination with Sturges's failure often comes at the expense of the delight we might have taken in his success." Irwin Blacker of the Los Angeles Times Book Review found Between Flops "well researched." Alan Abrams of the Windsor Star noted: "While most biographies of film directors read like the first draft of a discarded screenplay, Curtis' writing style and wit shine as brightly as did those of his subject…. Like Sturges' films, the book itself is virtually perfect." Terrence Rafferty, in Newsday, observed that Between Flops "sensibly keeps its focus on Sturges' career as a filmmaker and manages to suggest the relationship between the life and the work without ever really insisting on it…. What comes across most powerfully in Curtis' account is Sturges' intransigence, his absolute belief that he could make a film better if everything were up to him." Jeff Simon of the Buffalo News wrote: "All things considered, Curtis could have written a book with considerably more humor, Hollywood context and evidence of larger intelligence…. But he does an elegant job of adhering to the facts, which was, really, all that was necessary to produce the best movie biography of the year."

Curtis told CA: "Although I've always had a particular fondness for biography, I can think of very few people I'd care to spend three years researching; certainly none who would be considered commercial subjects. I think there were two things that attracted me to Whale and Sturges: a good book had been written about neither, and both seemed to inspire an odd fascination in me—the artistic heights to which they climbed, and the premature (and seemingly inexplicable) ends their careers came to."

Curtis's first book was a biography of Whale, which appeared in 1982. Little known outside of Hollywood circles at the time, the book found a small publisher but Curtis was not happy with the effort. "About five years ago," Curtis told Jan Herman in a 1998 interview for the Los Angeles Times, "when nobody else had done anything on Whale, and people who had an interest in him were directed to me, I became embarrassed by what I'd written. I cringed at some of the errors. My standards had risen." As a result, Curtis wrote a new biography of the director titled James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters. In addition to Frankenstein, Whale also directed the cult classics The Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. "It was Whale who recognized that giving the monster human qualities would ultimately win the sympathy of the audience," Curtis told Herman.

In the biography, Curtis traces Whale's life from his time growing up in an industrial part of Great Britain to his stage work to his emigration to the United States and work as a director at Universal Studios. In a review of Whale's biography in the Library Journal, contributor Jeff Ingram wrote: "This well-researched film biography is an exhaustive study of the man's work." William J. Mann, writing in the Lambda Book Report, observed that "we can be enormously grateful that Curis has assembled such a clear, thorough account of Whale's career."

Curtis delves into the life of a film comedian icon in W.C. Fields: A Biography. Fields was widely known for his curmudgeon persona both on film and in real life. However, Robert Cashill, writing in Cineaste, commented that the author "slices through the flab of fiction and finds a stronger, more compelling, and infinitely more poignant vein of fact." Based largely on interviews with colleagues as well as private papers and letters, the biography traces the hard-working comedian's rise from vaudeville to his stardom in films while disavowing long-held beliefs about Fields, noting that he did not dislike children and was not a miser. Eric Monder, writing in Variety, noted that the biography "succeeds admirably." New York Times contributor Richard Schickel wrote: "This is by far the fullest, fairest and finally most touching account of this sad, solipsistic life that we have yet had."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Biography, summer, 2003, review of W.C. Fields: A Biography, p. 527.

Booklist, April 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, p. 1408; March 1, 2003, Mike Tribby, review of W.C. Fields, p. 1133.

Buffalo News, August 1, 1982, Jeff Simon review of Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges.

Cineaste, fall, 2003, Robert Cashill, review of W.C. Fields, p. 62.

Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, March, 1995, Robert Fyne, review of The Creative Producer: A Memoir of the Studio System, p. 161.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2003, review of W.C. Fields, p. 123.

Lambda Book Report, June, 1998, William J. Mann, review of James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, p. 18.

Library Journal, May 1, 1998, Jeff Ingram, review of James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, p. 100; February 15, 2003, Roy Liebman, review of W.C. Fields, p. 141.

Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1998, Jan Herman, "Film: A Brea Author Reminds Us that the Director of 'Frankenstein' Was First in Giving Us Creatures to Care About," p. 6; March 30, 2005, Donald Fanger, review of W.C. Fields, p. R-5.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 11, 1982, Irwin Blacker, review of Between Flops, p. 7.

Newsday, August 8, 1982, Terrence Rafferty, review of Between Flops.

Newsweek, July 26, 1982, David Williams, review of Between Flops, p. 72.

New York Times, March 30, 2003, Richard Schickel, review of W.C. Fields, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1998, review of James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, p. 60; February 10, 2003, review of W.C. Fields, p. 173.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), March 3, 2003, Roger K. Miller, review of W.C. Fields.

Variety, May 12, 2003, Eric Monder, review of W.C. Fields, p. 35.

Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1982, Kenneth Turan, review of Between Flops.

Windsor Star, August 28, 1982, Alan Abrams, review of Between Flops.

ONLINE

Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (August 29, 2003), review of W.C. Fields.

Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (August 29, 2003), David Thomson, review of W.C. Fields.

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