Another edition of Old Hollywood Book reviews and this time I’ll be looking at an upcoming biography about one of Hollywood’s unsung actors and I’m not saying he’s unsung as in “not recognized,” just seemingly on the outskirts of full Hollywood stardom. Writer Marc Eliot does a loving job detailing the life of Michael Douglas in a personable way which kept me entertained. I’ve seen many of Douglas’ films but I’d never include him in a list of my favorite actors and/or I had very little idea about his life outside of the basics. For the most part Eliot details the hits of Douglas’ life including the turmoil with his father Kirk, his various relationships with wives and family without delving into the lurid or scandalous. This isn’t a Hollywood tell-all and if you don’t know anything about Douglas you’ll learn quite a bit.
At a little over 200 pages (with an additional 100 composed of Douglas’ filmography and assorted bibliography) it took me about a week to read this making it a brisk read for biography fans. The book hits the major career highs and lows of Douglas’ life including spending a great deal of time on his childhood and his attempts to reunite his parents during their divorce, sadly this is something that would bubble over into the dissolution of his first marriage. Eliot does a great job of connecting father Kirk Douglas to his show, emphasizing that while both Douglas’ were estranged for quite a time, Michael did develop quite a few of his father’s traits. The emphasis on “genes” is something harped on by Douglas himself in the numerous interviews and quotes Eliot uses as well as interwoven within the biography.
As mentioned above I’ve seen many a Michael Douglas film but I didn’t know much about his personally. Eliot’s book discusses Douglas’ career as a producer, something I didn’t know, as well as the various films he does. I will say this is where the book falls short as Eliot gives a brief synopsis on the movies and includes numerous quotes from film reviews which leaves a small portion about the making of the films themselves. It seems that Eliot knows a lot about the behind-the-scenes elements of Douglas’ earlier work as opposed to his later ones which makes the last half of the book feel rushed as he just starts naming later movies with their plots and giving no context or discussion.
It also appeared that Eliot didn’t know what he really wanted to do with this biography. It’s certainly not a lurid tell-all as it briefly touches on a few of the affairs Douglas had throughout his career either implying that Douglas led a boring life or Eliot himself was afraid of being too harsh. That wasn’t a key reason I wanted to read the biography to begin with but it became apparent that Eliot was holding back some things.
The worst element is that this book definitely needs a copy editor. I don’t generally harp on spelling errors and format issues with galleys but considering the problems, this went beyond a misplace period. There were several sections I had to reread a few times as Eliot makes no sense in some of his sentences. Certain sentences went on for several lines with a multitude of commas where four sentences were needed. This makes reading certain passages feel like a chore because you’re not quite sure where things end. The worst is the repetition of points Eliot makes. When discussing Basic Instinct there’s one opening line that references nudity three times in one line. The way it’s written seemed to imply that the film is nothing but nudity…we get it! Other times Eliot appears to be attempting to entice young people to read this book, blindly including references to Justin Beiber, the Kardashians, and openly making fun of Michael Douglas nude. I don’t think tweens are going to be interested in this book so why include such blatant grabs for attention?
There’s more to rag on as opposed to what works. As much as Eliot mentions Douglas playing passive men, this biography reads as rather passive. It’s constantly holding back and never pushes Douglas too far into the turmoil, especially when Eliot appears to be playing devil’s advocate in the later sections when Douglas’ personal relationship with his older son becomes a problem. Anyone reading this book is going to think Douglas is a tad lousy for being so proud of his second family with actress Catherine Zeta Jones while ignoring his first family but Eliot doesn’t call Douglas out, instead hemming and hawing either way. I know biographers don’t try to inject personal opinion but considering the author made a metaphor about Justin Beiber, an opinion here wouldn’t have felt out-of-place.
Michael Douglas: A Biography is a good beginner’s biography of an actor whose career has spanned decades and who is one of the few second-generation actors to make it big. Sadly, Marc Eliot doesn’t appear to be the author to put that story down relying on the highlights and little else. It’s a solid library read if available but not necessarily the strong biography I expected about such a prolific actor.
Michael Douglas: A Biography hits bookshelves September 18th and thanks to Crown Publishing Group for allowing me to review it!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.