My Name Escapes Me by Alec Guinness (out of print). One of the great character actors of all time, Guinness was 81 when he wrote this memoir about his life and work. A treasure chest of memories, it's hilarious, wise, and peppered with grace notes about his Catholic faith and how he found it.
Charlie by Ben Hecht (out of print). Perhaps the best book ever written by a man about his best friend. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were friends from their days as war reporters during World War I, then teamed up as Hollywood screenwriters. Hecht's great book documents Charlie's amazing and improbable life as he finds lasting love with the actress Helen Hayes.
I, Fellini by Charlotte Chandler (Cooper Square, $20). If you want to know what it would have been like to know director Federico Fellini and share a long al fresco lunch with him, read Charlotte Chandler's delicious biography of the Italian master.
Ferber by Julie Goldsmith Gilbert (Applause, $16). Edna Ferber wrote the novels Giant, Show Boat, and the Pulitzer Prize–winning So Big. She lived a fabulous Manhattan life as a single woman, and no one has captured it better than her great-niece Julie, who turned over every emotional rock for this honest portrayal of one of the 20th century's best writers.
Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven (Hodder & Stoughton, $16). A most gifted actor, David Niven was equally adept at delivering stories on the page. In this jewel of a memoir, life on stage and off shimmers with possibility, triumph, and regret as Niven reaches career heights and suffers over the accidental death of Primula Rollo, his young wife and the mother of his children.
Life Is a Banquet by Rosalind Russell (out of print). In this bible for the career woman, screen goddess Russell shows us how to juggle work, marriage, and motherhood. Her big life took a poignant turn when she fell ill in the 1970s, but her grace, dignity, and unflappable sense of humor hold her in good stead as she reminds the reader that life is a gift, so live it up.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
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- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- The troubling persistence of eugenicist thought in modern America
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- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
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- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
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- 11 facts yü should know about the umlaut
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