Meade, Marion 1934–
MEADE, Marion 1934–
Born January 7, 1934, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of Surain S. (a physicist) and Mary Elizabeth Sidhu; married Charles F. Meade, 1952 (divorced, 1956); married Forbes Linkhorn, 1960 (divorced, 1971); children: (second marriage) Alison Linkhorn Sprague. Education: Northwestern University, B.S., 1955; Columbia University, M.S., 1956.
Writer. Consultant for "The Ten Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table," PBS American Masters, 1987, and Would You Kindly Direct Me to Hell: The Infamous Dorothy Parker, Arts and Entertainment Network, 1994.
Authors Guild, National Arts Club, New York University Biography Seminar.
Hertog Research Assistantship, 2001, 2005; Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase was named among best books of 1995 by New York Times; Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin named among best books of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post.
Bitching (nonfiction), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1973.
Tennis (biographical sketches), Harvey House (New York, NY), 1975.
Free Woman: The Life and Times of Victoria Woodhull (nonfiction for children), Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.
(Compiler) Little Book of Big Riddles, illustrated by David Ross, Harvey House (New York, NY), 1976.
(Compiler) Little Book of Big Bad Jokes, illustrated by Chris Cummings, Harvey House (New York, NY), 1977.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (biography), Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.
Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1979.
Madame Blavatsky: The Woman behind the Myth (biography), Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.
Sybille (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.
Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? (biography), Villard (New York, NY), 1988.
Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase (biography), Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1995.
The Unruly Life of Woody Allen (biography), Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor and author of introduction) The Portable Dorothy Parker, Penguin (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of foreword to A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York, by Kevin Fitzpatrick, Roaring Forties Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005. Contributor to books, including TimeOut Book of New York Walks, TimeOut Guides, 2000; and Biography and Source Studies, AMS Press, 2001. Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, New Republic, Nation, Ms., Village Voice, McCall's, APHRA, off our backs, Brill's Content, Book-forum, and the Baltimore Sun.
Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard was adapted for film as Stealing Heaven, Amy International Films/Jadran Films/Film Dallas Pictures, 1989.
According to Spectator critic David Wright, biographer and novelist Marion Meade's Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? is "a lively book, an entertaining read and a memorable portrait" of Parker, an author who ultimately became more famous for her cutting humor and wit than for her actual writings. Parker was a member of a New York City salon known as the Algonquin Round Table. Many of the members of this clique, which flowered during the 1920s, were, like Parker, associated with the newly created New Yorker magazine. Of the members of the Algonquin Round Table—writers such as Robert Benchley, Robert Sherwood, Edmund Wilson, and Alexander Woollcott—many would die young, burnt out from hard drinking and other excesses. Parker was as indulgent as any of them, but lived to a lonely old age. Her rapier wit, never tempered by kindness, was feared even by her friends; the subtitle to Meade's biography was Parker's standard response whenever her doorbell announced a visitor.
Parker's life was filled with dramatic events, including suicide attempts, failed marriages, long drinking binges, and misadventures with numerous notable literary figures. Reviewer Emily Toth praised Meade for avoiding a sensationalistic approach to her subject, writing in the Women's Review of Books that Dorothy Parker "does not build up to punch-lines (rising action, climax, falling action—a masculine approach). Rather, it follows what feminist theorists might call a feminine approach: moments of consciousness, a lyrical portrayal of the dailiness of life." As Meade herself once explained, " Dorothy Parker is a sad book: like many women's biographies, it concentrates on losses, and it would be dishonest to make Parker's disintegration anything but painful to read about."
Less impressed with Dorothy Parker was New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who complained that Meade does not penetrate deeply enough into her subject, demonstrating instead "a tendency to dwell on the details of Parker's and her friends' private lives, filling us in on their sexual predilections, their drinking habits and their continuing quarrels with one another. This makes for fast but not very illuminating reading; indeed, the reader ends with the feeling of having plowed through several decades worth of gossip columns." Still, other reviewers remained laudatory. Diana Eden, writing in the New Statesman, declared that "Meade is to be congratulated upon a detailed and balanced reconstruction of a life based on interviews, insight, and research," while Times Literary Supplement contributor Shena Mackay credited the author with creating "a balanced and generally sympathetic study of an artist and her era, rich in detail and gossip." Meade was also given high marks for the scope of her work by Anne Chamberlin, who wrote in the Washington Post Book World that Parker "left no clues behind her when she died. No letters, no manuscripts, no memorabilia, no private papers of any kind…. Undismayed by this daunting void, biographer Marion Meade … has peered into every cranny that is left. No crumbling shard escaped her gaze."
Meade looks deeply into the background of another famous American in her 1995 biography, Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. First attaining fame as a star of silentfilm comedies, Keaton, according to Joseph McBride in the New York Times Book Review, "developed a stoicism that set him apart from the more sentimental comedy of his contemporaries." In her book, Meade reveals the macabre roots of Keaton's comic artistry. As a child, he was featured in his family's vaudeville act, the Three Keatons. Young Buster was billed as "the Human Mop," "the Little Boy Who Can't Be Damaged," and "Mr. Black and Blue." His part in the show was to remain stoic while his sadistic and frequently drunken father dragged, kicked, and threw him about the stage.
As an adult, Keaton became a famous silent film star, only to have his career go into a tailspin with the advent of talking pictures. According to McBride, Meade "chillingly details Keaton's headlong collapse with the coming of sound and gives a full and sympathetic account of his remaining decades as a dogged journeyman comic on television and in such movie potboilers as Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. " In the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Buster Keaton "is an engrossing portrait of a tormented comedic genius."
Meade's 2000 biography, The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, appeared in print as an "unauthorized" profile of the famous actor/writer/director a month after another major Allen biography, John Baxter's Woody Allen. Whereas Baxter devotes a considerable portion of his book to Allen's movies and his other work as an entertainer, Meade concentrates on the personal aspects of Allen's life. She emphasizes what she considers the central event of that life: the 1992 scandal that began when Allen's then-longtime lover Mia Farrow found nude Polaroid photographs of her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn on the mantle in Allen's Manhattan apartment. Meade's prologue to The Unruly Life of Woody Allen portrays Farrow's discovery of those photos in dramatic style, and more than half of the remaining text deals with that discovery and the events precipitating from it, including the legal battles surrounding Allen's custody suit for his own son, Satchel, and Farrow's allegations of child abuse against her adopted daughter, Dylan.
Reviewers' estimation of Meade's approach to Allen varied widely. Iain Johnstone noted in the London Sunday Times that "Meade deals with … [the] initial part of Allen's career in an insightful fashion, bringing his family to life with a colorful pen, and pertinently integrating the roles of those who helped Allen on his way." This includes Allen's growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn in a dysfunctional family, his frequent childhood retreats into movie theaters, his precocious comedic talents (selling jokes to newspapers while still a teenager), his failed marriage while in his early twenties, his relationships with Louise Lasser and Diane Keaton, and his dalliance with a teenager when he was forty-one years old, as well as the professional dealings and relationships that led to his worldwide success and acclaim as an independent filmmaker. Describing Meade's coverage of such events, Mim Udovitch commented in the New York Times Book Review that Allen's "basic biographical facts are handled with dispatch." "This is not a vile book," Udovitch added; "it is accurate to its sources; its presentation of the facts of Woody Allen's life, while highly selective, is not irresponsible." Still, the critic ended by characterizing Meade's treatment as a "triumph of the trash imperative." In contrast, Entertainment Weekly contributor L.S. Klepp, while observing that "Meade is often perfunctory about the movies and other work" created by Allen, still called The Unruly Life of Woody Allen "an evenhanded, prodigiously researched biography." A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as "a psychologically nuanced, tough-minded portrait," while Dade Hayes in Variety found Meade's biography to be an "exasperating read" because of its "sense of disappointment and disapproval in Allen." However, Hayes concluded: "Meade's attack fizzles, due to the lack of serious consideration about an artist's moral compass." Overall, the psychological portrait that emerges of Allen is not a favorable one.
In 2004, Meade returned to the Roaring Twenties in her book Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties. This book focuses on the lives of Dorothy Parker and three other women writers: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber, and Zelda Fitzgerald. Like Parker, all of the women lived dramatically in the Twenties, whether living in excess, breaking hearts, fighting off mental illness, or just striving to accomplish their best writing. Millay and Ferber both won Pulitzer prizes during the decade. Meade's group biography chronicles the decade in a series of vignettes, sharing the lives of the women and making real the literary world in which they lived. Describing the book to Julie Farin in the WordSmitten Quarterly Journal, Meade explained: "It is a book about writers and the business of writing…. The people who follow writing as a profession and what it costs them. And the costs are plenty, especially for these women." "Since these ladies got around—in every sense," commented Carolyn See in the Washington Post, "the larger, American, international literary scene comes into view through their eyes."
In History, Amy Henderson noted that Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin "grew out of Marion Meade's love for the 1920s, and for the way writers live their lives. She has chosen fascinating characters who illuminate both and who scintillate by their complexities. It is a book that deserves a wide readership." Ms. contributor Brenda Wineapple wrote: "Weaving together the lives of her subjects in rapid-fire style, Meade … creates a bright book of hardships, tears, success, and hilarity," while Gretchen Gurujal predicted for the Olympian that readers interested in the 1920s "will be hard-pressed to find a more scintillating and easily readable book."
Meade is also the editor of the 2006 edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker, a classic compendium of Parker's work that Meade completely overhauled. She replaced approximately one-third of the material in the volume, remaining true to what Parker selected for the original 1944 edition of the book but replacing many of the additional pieces that were added in the second edition. According to Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in the Dorothy Parker's New York Web site, Meade "took a collection that has been in print for 62 years and made it fresh again." Meade explained to Fitzpatrick: "I wanted to add things to show the breadth of her humor." Meade's edition, he continued, "shows who [Parker] was, what her life was like, and is very representative of her work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, review of Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard, p. 102.
Booklist, December 15, 1999, Bonnie Smothers, review of The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, p. 738; June 1, 2004, Whitney Scott, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties.
Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 1988, review of Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, p. 20.
Entertainment Weekly, February 18, 2000, L.S. Klepp, "Scandal Sheets," review of The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, p. 78.
History, April 1, 2004, Amy Henderson, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, p. 315.
Kirkus Reviews, winter, 2005, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, pp. 59-60.
Library Journal, July, 1994, review of Stealing Heaven, p. 134; February 15, 2000, Stephen Rees, review of The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, p. 165; May 15, 2004, Anthony J. Pucci, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, pp. 84-85.
Listener, April 21, 1988, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 33.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 26, 1989, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 10.
Ms., summer, 2004, Brenda Wineapple, "Queens of the Jazz Age," review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, p. 88.
New Statesman, April 22, 1988, Diana Eden, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 28.
New Yorker, April 25, 1988, John Updike, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 109.
New York Times, January 9, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of Dorothy Parker, p. A17; April 28, 1989, Caryn James, "Doomed Passion of Abelard and Heloise"; October 6, 1996, Janny Scott, "It's a Lonely Way to Pay the Bills: For Unauthorized Biographers, the World Is Very Hostile," p. 37.
New York Times Book Review, October 8, 1995, Joseph McBride, review of Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase, p. 12; March 5, 2000, Mim Udovitch, "Deconstructing Woody," review of The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, p. 13.
Observer (London, England), February 27, 2000, Neil Mullarkey, "Misdemeanors and All."
Olympian (Olympia, WA), June 6, 2004, Gretchen Gurujal, "Gossipy Book Examines 1920s Literary Scene," review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin.
Publishers Weekly, September 4, 1995, review of Buster Keaton, p. 59; January 3, 2000, review of The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, p. 67; March 29, 2004, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, p. 45.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 2004, Diane Scharper, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, p. M1.
Spectator (London, England), April 23, 1988, David Wright, review of Dorothy Parker, pp. 30-31.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 6, 2000, Iain Johnstone, "Woody and His Women," Section 9, p. 39.
Times Literary Supplement, November 30, 1973, review of Bitching, p. 1473; May 6, 1988, Shena Mackay, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 497.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 24, 1988, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 6.
Variety, March 20, 2000, Dade Hayes, review of The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, p. 39.
Washington Post, June 18, 2004, Carolyn See, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, p. C03.
Washington Post Book World, February 14, 1988, Anne Chamberlin, review of Dorothy Parker, pp. 4, 7.
Women's Review of Books, May, 1988, Emily Toth, review of Dorothy Parker, p. 4.
WordSmitten Quarterly Journal, autumn, 2004, Julie Farin, "Running Wild with Zelda, Dorothy, and Two Ednas," review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, p. 41.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 24, 2005), Bob Rhubart, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin.
Dorothy Parker's New York,http://www.dorothyparker.com/ (April 27, 2004), Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, review of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin; (March 15, 2006), Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, " The Portable Dorothy Parker: A Conversation with Marion Meade."