Classic film aficionados remember Zachary Scott as the suave con artist Monte Beragon in Mildred Pierce, or the suave con artist opposite Joan Fontaine in Born to Be Bad. A career foiled by typecasting is Scott’s life, and author Ronald L. Davis’ biography lives up to the title of laying bare the sophisticated cad. A dry, list-like tome at times, this biography is a must-read for fans of Scott and to accentuate the world of Hollywood pigeonholing.
Scott was born into privilege, the scion of Texas oil money and unfortunately he remained indebted to his parents throughout his life. He spent the majority of his career trodding the boards, both before and after his success in films, and was unable to move away from playing womanizing con men. His Hollywood career and personal life is where Davis’ biography shines because Scott’s life was insane. His first wife ended up being the wife of author John Steinbeck, and his second wife continually claimed her daughter and Scott’s daughter from his previous marriage swindled her out of money. With all the drama in his personal life, coupled with Scott’s attempts to hold his head above water to maintain his lavish lifestyle, you start to truly feel the immense pressure he must have felt as an actor.
Davis’ research is a mix of film analysis as well as copious interviews, both conducted in person and through secondary sources. There are a few choice quotes from Scott’s daughter, Waverly, but her reluctance to discuss her father proves her still coming to terms with his on-again, off-again relationship with her. Other members of Scott’s family also agreed to sit down for interviews which is a dying art in the world of biography.
The only issue with Davis’ work is how, at times, it’s painfully hard to read. Scott’s life was filled with going from A to B, and Davis tries to separate trips but the book can read like a list of dates, times, and events with little analysis or interest. There’s also a dryness to the boo which is only shook upon entering the glittering world of Hollywood.
Overall, Zachary Scott: Hollywood’s Sophisticated Cad is a well-researched biography about a man overshadowed by his persona. Scott’s life sounds fun on the surface, but was painfully difficult underneath. Davis explores the light and the dark, and even provides deep personal insight through the use of family interviews. The juicy qualities aren’t always evenly distributed, but the research wins out.
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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.