ADDRESSES: Home—Dallas, TX. Agent—Jim Donovan Literary Agency, 6343 Richmond Ave., Suite 4, Dallas, TX 75214.
CAREER: Author. Former editor in chief of Mandate, Honcho, and Playguy.
All about "All about Eve": The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, NormaDesmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Contibutor to periodicals, including Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Artnews, Publishers Weekly, and New York. An excerpt from All about "All about Eve" was published in The Best American Movie Writing 2001.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book focusing on the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire.
SIDELIGHTS: Sam Staggs's books focus on film. In his novel MM II: The Return of Marilyn Monroe, he fictionalizes the factual circumstances surrounding the famous film star's affair with President John F. Kennedy and her apparent suicide in 1962. In Staggs's story, the alcohol-and drug-addicted Monroe believes Kennedy wants to ditch Jacqueline and have her, his long-time lover, masquerade as the first lady. However, Kennedy's brother Bobby, the attorney general, involves the CIA in tapping Monroe's phone, places one of his staff members in her home as her housekeeper, and even puts her doctors on his payroll. As Monroe prepares to publicly announce the engagement, she is kidnapped. The body of a dead look-alike prostitute convinces the world Monroe is dead, and Monroe is sequestered on an isolated ranch in Pueblo, Colorado.
Monroe kicks her habits, drugs her captors, escapes, has minor reconstructive surgery following an accident, colors her hair, and hides out in Manhattan as a waitress, a clerk at Doubleday's Fifth Avenue bookstore, and an Off-Broadway actress. All the while she wonders if her lover, now assassinated, had a hand in her kidnapping. "Staggs pulls off triumphant Marilyn sound-alike dialogue and at last—himself clearly having fallen in love with his character—charms away all his reader's reserve with Marilyn's own voice," wrote a critic in Kirkus Reviews. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "Although some of the narrative seems sadly plausible while other passages veer close to parody, this remains an enticing read."
For his almost 400-page-long All about "All about Eve": The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made, Staggs unearthed virtually every conceivable fact surrounding the conception and production of the 1950 film All about Eve. The now-classic film by Joseph Mankiewicz, nominated for fourteen Academy Awards and winner of six, starred (among other big names) Bette Davis as aging Broadway diva Margo Channing; Anne Baxter as Eve, a supposedly star-truck fan who becomes Channing's assistant and then uses any devious means available to connive her way to stardom; and Marilyn Monroe as Claudia Caswell, described by her onscreen escort (the ruthless and venomous theater critic Addison DeWitt, played by George Sanders) as "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art."
"This book covers the complete story, beginning with actress Mary Orr's short story 'The Wisdom of Eve,' a lightly fictionalized account of the actress Elizabeth Bergner's relationship with her understudy [on which All about Eve was based]; through the film's production; to the Broadway musical version, Applause, starring Lauren Bacall," wrote Steven E. Alford in the Houston Chronicle. Staggs thoroughly investigated all aspects of the movie and interviewed many people still living who contributed to it. In what Edward Karam of People called "a thrilling final coup," Staggs even tracked down and interviewed Martina Lawrence, the real-life inspiration for Eve, who lived in Venice.
In this book, Staggs not only exposes Hollywood ambition and the eccentric personalities and volatile relationships of the actors, he also studies the film's homosexual subtext and its resultant cultural influence. "Staggs conjures up the cult that quickly arose around the film," wrote L. S. Klepp in Entertainment Weekly. Alford commented: "Staggs argues that 'more than politics, psychology, or camp, it's the vitality of the movie that keeps us hooked.' However, this does not prevent Staggs from devoting considerable space to the gay elements of the film, both its appeal to a gay male audience and its 'crypto-Sapphist' subtext." Alan Stern concluded his review for the Denver Post by saying: "For the first time, we get to hear the entire story from Eve's point of view. It is a hypnotic and compelling narrative that could probably serve as the basis for a great movie itself."
In Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream, Staggs turns his attention to yet another 1950s movie, Sunset Boulevard, in which Gloria Swanson played the great but insane silent screen star Norma Desmond, and William Holden played screenwriter Joe Gilles, whom Anne Stockwell called in her Advocate review "[Desmond's] doomed gigolo." Although it won no Oscars, the film was a huge success. Using a plethora of facts and recounting the film's production, including the behind-the-scenes catfights, Staggs traces the film's history from its inception, through production and ultimate popularity, and further—to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical composition of the same name staged in the 1990s.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor criticized Staggs's "excesses" and his habit of discussing "dubiously relevant material," but concluded that his "catty tone is amusing." Publishers Weekly reviewers Mark Rotella, Sarah F. gold, Lynn Andriani, and Michael Scharf commented, "Staggs has succeeded in presenting another remarkable film study."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, March 28, 2000, John Sanchez, review of All about "All about Eve": The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made, p. 91; June 11, 2002, Anne Stockwell, review of Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream, p. 66.
Booklist, January 15, 1991, Ivy Burrowes, review of MM II: The Return of Marilyn Monroe, p. 1008; March 15, 2000, Gordon Flagg, review of All about "All about Eve," p. 1310.
Denver Post, July 30, 2000, Alan Stern, review of All about "All about Eve," p. H4.
Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 2000, L. S. Klepp, review of All about "All about Eve," p. 64.
Gay & Lesbian Review, fall, 2000, Alistair Williamson, review of All about "All about Eve," p. 51.
Harper's Bazaar, March, 2000, Jamie Wolf, review of All about "All about Eve," p. 304.
Houston Chronicle, April 9, 2000, Steven E. Alford, review of All about "All about Eve," p. Z18.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1990, review of MMII, p. 1705; March 1, 2002, review of Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard, p. 319.
Lambda Book Report, October, 2000, review of All about "All about Eve", p. 46.
Library Journal, February 1, 2000, Jaune Plymale, review of All about "All about Eve", p. 88.
People Weekly, April 24, 2000, Edward Karam, review of All about "All about Eve", p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, December 7, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of MM II, p. 70; January 17, 2000, Jeff Zaleski, Charlotte Abbott, Sarah F. Gold, review of All about "All about Eve", pp. 49-50; April 1, 2002, Mark Rotella, Sarah F. Gold, Lynn Andriani, and Michael Scharf, review of Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard, p. 13.
San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 2001, Edward Guthmann, review of All about "All about Eve", p. C.10.