Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun: George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead

Novelist Colson Whitehead, recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant and a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, has devoted his latest novel to zombies. Is there a trend here? These days zombies are showing up in all the best places, including alternative versions of the genteel novels of Jane Austen. (I’m referring, of course, to Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which one of these days may be coming to a movie theatre near you.)

Whitehead, who’s usually more interested in the African-American experience and the history of New York, chose to depict a zombie-ridden apocalyptic future in his new Zone One. His choice isn’t entirely out of the blue when you realize he’s been having zombie nightmares ever since he saw Dawn of the Dead (zombies take over a shopping mall!) at age nine. In promoting his new novel, Whitehead released a list of classic films that have stoked his imagination. Kicking off that list is George Romero’s seminal zombie trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead), which Whitehead categorizes as “Sane Black Man Vs. The Crazy White People.”

Whitehead’s focus on the racial aspect of Romero’s films isn’t inappropriate. In Night of the Living Dead, the last man standing in the war against the encroaching zombies is black. The 1968 film, made on a shoestring and shot in shaky black-and-white, centers on a Pennsylvania farmhouse where a cluster of locals seeks refuge from creatures who are literally blood-thirsty, and won’t take no for an answer. As the number of humans holed up in that farmhouse starts to dwindle, some become belligerent, and others weepy. Yet Duane Jones as Ben stays cool, bravely inventing stratagems to keep the monsters at bay. Ben’s skin-color is never mentioned, but it gives additional punch to the film’s shocking conclusion. When state troopers arrive at the farmhouse with guns and dogs to disperse the zombies once and for all, Ben is the only human being still alive. The troopers spot him in an upstairs window, quickly decide he’s one of “them,” and capably pick him off with a bullet to the brain, with one man congratulating another on his marksmanship.

Romero had never planned to make a movie about race. He cast an African-American as his hero because Duane Jones was the best actor who auditioned. But in the late Sixties, when the civil rights struggle was coming to a boil, the accidental resonance of this film could not be denied. Jason Zinoman’s article for Vanity Fair chronicles how on April 4, 1968, the print of Night of the Living Dead was sitting in the trunk of Romero’s Thunderbird convertible as he drove to New York to try selling his fledgling directorial effort to Columbia Pictures. Over the car radio came word that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated in Memphis. Though personally devastated by the news, Romero couldn’t help thinking, “Man, this is good for us.” King’s death convinced Romero of the timeliness of a film “whose defiant black hero fights off an army of the undead only to be gunned down by an all-white posse.” Americans already edgy about black-and-white tensions quickly picked up on the racial nuance.

This Halloween, we have a brand-new monument to Martin Luther King on our National Mall. But that’s not to say that all America’s racial problems have been solved. If Republican-leaning zombies start lurching toward the White House instead of a farmhouse, let’s hope Obama comes off better than poor Duane Jones.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Francesca Lia Block: Pretty in Pink (Smog)

Imagine my surprise when Francesca Lia Block enrolled in my online screenwriting course. I don’t usually get students who are well-known authors. Back in 1989, Francesca shook up the staid world of Young Adult fiction when she published Weetzie Bat, a simultaneously lurid and romantic novel about young punks in old Hollywood. I’ve heard librarians refer to Weetzie Bat as “a modern classic.” Since its publication, she has written a host of other books, most set in a gaudy, glittering version of L.A. that is a hipster’s paradise. Coming up next year is the latest entry in the Weetzie Bat saga, Pink Smog.

Still, despite all her success as a novelist, Francesca wanted to work on her screenwriting chops, with the goal of adapting the original Weetzie Bat story -- now called Dangerous Angels -- for the screen. I hadn’t realized until we chatted recently that movie-making has always been her secret love. Trouble is: all she knows how to do was write. So she decided at an early age, “If I just make these movies in my head, and write them down, it’s almost as good.”

Francesca came by her passion for movies naturally. Her mother’s mother had written for radio, then came out to Hollywood for a screenwriting career that ended in broken promises. Her father, Irving Block, had better luck. He contributed visual effects to a host of Fifties sci-fi flicks, even creating Robby the Robot for Forbidden Planet. There’s a Roger Corman connection too: Block was a writer and co-producer on War of the Satellites, Roger’s quickie response to the launch of Sputnik.

Francesca herself grew up amid the suburban sprawl of the San Fernando Valley. Craving excitement, she and her friends would drive over Laurel Canyon into Hollywood, where she found her own Land of Oz by way of Marilyn Monroe, pink sunsets, bougainvillea, and the Hollywood Sign. Along with Old Hollywood, she also discovered the New Punk Hollywood of the 1980s: “That’s the sensibility that formed Weetzie Bat.”

But translating Weetzie and her friends to the silver screen has not been easy. The material has been optioned by some of the biggest names in town (think Spielberg), but somehow the project has never come to fruition. Determined to write the screenplay herself, Francesca has revised her version “hundreds and hundreds of times,” which is how she ended up in my rewrite class. (She was a diligent student, unfailingly gracious to classmates with a lot less experience and talent.) Alas, Hollywood producer-types can’t seem to see the world through her eyes. Trying to define her aesthetic, she’s prone to refer to Juliet of the Spirits, a film few Hollywood honchos remember. What she craves is a blend of “Felliniesque, over-the-top, saturated-color, beautiful romantic vision with this very dark, gritty, punk-rock, hand-held camera, club-scene vision . . . Those two things – to me they go together perfectly.” But no one seems to understand.

A dedicated Angeleno, Francesca praises films like L.A. Story and (500) Days of Summer that capture the landscape she knows so well. Nonetheless, she can’t think of a single movie that shows her own private Shangri-LA. Director Catherine Hardwicke, trying to help her launch a Weetzie Bat film, advised her to pare down any scenes set in Hollywood and eliminate any references to the Eighties as a way of saving on expensive locations and period costumes. Good advice, but not something Francesca can accept, because in her work “the city becomes a character. You lose a whole character if you don’t pay attention to that stuff.”

(Photo credit by Maria Andreotti)

Monday, October 24, 2011

UCLA Writers’ Program: Far Beyond Kindergarten

My colleague, Ernie Contreras, got off a good one the other day. We were at an instructors’ retreat sponsored by the Writers’ Program, UCLA Extension’s widely acclaimed program for those wanting to study (either in the classroom or over the Internet) the art and craft of writing. All of us who teach screenwriting through the Writers’ Program can share with our students our own hard-earned experience in film and television. And we take our responsibilities seriously. That’s why we’d gathered on a Saturday morning to discuss ways to enhance our teaching skills.

In a session designed to focus on “How to Solve Problems Before They Start,” we moved onto the thorny topic of giving feedback to novice writers. Sometimes, we agreed, the problem was with a hypersensitive student unwilling to hear even the most constructive advice. But there also were students who used the chance to critique their peers as an opportunity for rampant nastiness. I mentioned to the group an example from early in my teaching career. Though I had made it a point at the opening class to discuss the need for courtesy and a positive approach, a young man who’d missed the first session was later discovered to be scrawling all over his classmates’ submissions helpful comments like these: “Boring!” “I nearly fell asleep here!” and the ever-popular “This sucks!” Ironically, I noted to my colleagues, this very opinionated young man showed no particular talent in his own written work. That’s when Ernie quipped, “Sounds like this guy has a great future as a studio executive!”

A knowledge of the industry is one thing that binds us instructors together. Another is a genuine desire to help fledgling writers get their foot in the door. We all have our success stories, of working with student writers who’ve ended up signing with major agencies, joining the staff of established TV shows, or winning prestigious writing contests. (A few of us can boast of having had the ubiquitous James Franco in our classes, which has got to be a victory of some sort.)

One of the issues that arose at our retreat was whether to tell a student writer that his or her screenplay-in-progress lacks commercial appeal. Pragmatic as we are, we feel the need to make clear the basic parameters of what Hollywood is looking for. After all, our students expect practical advise from people who have been there and done that. On the other hand, the last thing we want to do is stifle someone’s creative impulses. And it’s also true that, as screenwriter William Goldman famously said, in Hollywood “nobody knows anything.” Times change, approaches vary, and you never know where that next great movie hit will be coming from.

It so happens that at the gym yesterday, while huffing and puffing on the elliptical trainer, I found myself watching my former governor’s 1990 hit, Kindergarten Cop. This thriller about a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher in order to track down a drug-dealer has it all: an appealing hero (Ahnold at his best); a pair of scary, complex, picturesque villains; some sparkling featured players; plus kiddie humor, a cute little boy in jeopardy, a tightly-plotted climax, and a classroom pet who helps out when least expected. I’d be proud if any of my students ended up writing a movie on that level. On the other hand, whether their goal is a top-notch commercial flick, a deeply-felt personal story, or a funky experiment, I’m there to help them move from Fade-In to Fade-Out.

Read more about the UCLA Writers’ Program here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Muammar Gaddafi: Condi’s #1 Fan Bites the Dust

Well, the world is now rid of another brutal dictator. The demise of Muammar Gaddafi (or Kadafi or Qaddafi -- take your pick) is not something I feel the need to mourn. But I can reflect on what goes through the minds of powerful guys with too much time on their hands. In the case of Gaddafi, the world has just learned that he filled a well-stuffed scrapbook with scores of photos of his political fave: Condoleezza Rice. Which reminded me, of course, of passionate movie fans, then and now.

I just recently learned that the Library of Congress’s film and TV reading room collects the occasional fan scrapbook, like the beautiful one from the 1930s I browsed on my last trip to Washington DC. Its focus was on Greta Garbo, but other celebrities too were incorporated with loving care. Such scrapbooks tell us a good deal about how movie fans of all ages put their screen idols on a pedestal, especially in the days before 24/7 Internet gossip. My own childhood scrapbooks contained the occasional Hollywood reference: a clipping about the re-release of The Wizard of Oz, a souvenir program from a new Danny Kaye flick. But I never put together an album devoted solely to movie stars.

I did, however, make one special scrapbook. It dates from the days when I was about seven. As a student at Lester Horton Dance Theater, I was totally in love with lead dancer Carmen de Lavallade. Like the other little girls in my classes, I diligently clipped newspaper photos of the Horton troupe and pasted them into a homemade “Carmen book.” To further adorn my album, I solicited autographs, complete with personal messages, from the senior dancers. The ones addressed to me by pioneering choreographer Lester Horton (who died suddenly in 1953) and by the late Alvin Ailey are probably valuable today.

Less valuable, I’m sure, are the autographs I occasionally came home with after attending public events. I went to some big charity show at the Shrine Auditorium, and afterwards spotted two of the featured performers, Jerry Colonna and Marilyn Maxwell. She, in particular, meant nothing to me (once I figured out that -- despite the initials and the blonde hair -- she definitely wasn’t Marilyn Monroe). But a star was a star, and I’m sure those two scribbled names are still somewhere at my mother’s house, tucked away for safe keeping.

Then of course there were those special times when I was photographed with a celebrity. As a UCLA student journalist I went to a press luncheon, and someone took a photo of me with Harry Belafonte, my mother’s absolute hero. I was sent an 8x10 glossy to commemorate the event, and it has been up on Mom’s bulletin board ever since. (I myself occasionally got covered up by other memorabilia, but Belafonte’s smiling face has always had a place of honor.) Why do these photos and scrawled names mean so much? I think because it’s proof that you and I occupy the same world as the stars, that we breathe the same air, that for one brief moment our lives have intersected. Too bad for Muammar Gaddafi, though: he and Condi Rice are no longer on the same planet. If, of course, they ever were.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Moneyball: The Musical

I finally saw Moneyball. With autumn arriving and the 2012 World Series just around the corner, my timing seemed perfect. I like baseball, and have fond memories of cheering the Dodgers on to the National League pennant. (Yup, that was long ago.) So I was prepared to enjoy this look at how General Manager Billy Beane used statistical savvy to power his Oakland A’s into the play-offs.

Too bad the film seemed so sluggish. I learned a lot about the role of a general manager on a big-league baseball team, but the energy of good baseball was largely missing. Moneyball instead lingered on the softer side of Brad Pitt’s character. We got a glimpse of his past as a one-time hot prospect who never lived up to his advance billing. And much time was spent on a hackneyed exploration of his bond with his young daughter, which apparently remained strong despite the tensions of a divorce. Games were won and lost in the course of Moneyball, but I never felt like root-root-rooting for the home team, because baseball in this film seemed more like an intellectual exercise, to be observed from afar. (In fact, Billy Beane apparently DID see his teams play only from afar – via TV screens and video feeds – because he simply couldn’t bear to watch up-close. But the passion I gather he brought to the game never came through to me in my bleacher seat.)

It seems wacky, I know, to jump from baseball to its prissy-looking English cousin, cricket. For a red-blooded American it’s hard to grasp the logic of a game that lasts for days, stops for tea-breaks, and talks of stumps, wickets, and creases. But I still feel great affection for this gentlemanly sport, because it led me to meet some splendid people. In 1975, on our first trip to England, my husband and I spotted a group of teenage boys playing cricket behind a stately home. Watching, we somehow made a close connection with Mary and John Gower and their adorable five-year-old Daniel, whose older brothers were out on the cricket pitch. We’re still friends, and Daniel has evolved into a movie buff too.

Despite my sentimental attachment to cricket, I wouldn’t have thought to see a movie on the subject. Especially not one that’s four hours long. Then in 2001 I started hearing about a Bollywood flick called Lagaan. Set in the days when the Brits ruled India, it presents a David-versus-Goliath conflict in which residents of a drought-stricken Indian village are challenged to a cricket match by a British colonial lord. If they win, three years of tax obligations (lagaan) will be cancelled. If they lose, their tax bill will triple. Since these humble folk know nothing about cricket, gathering a proper team is challenging. When they take the field, their ranks include a farmer, a fortune-teller, an “untouchable,” and a spy for the other side. Fully half the film shows us the match, in detail – and I could follow what was happening every step of the way. The characters and their plight were so engrossing that I was thoroughly caught up in the action, and so was everyone else in the theatre. No wonder Lagaan has been named one of the greatest sports movies of all time.

Since Lagaan is part of the Bollywood tradition, it is of course a musical, and I’ve just discovered that the catchy tunes are by A. R. Rahman, who won two Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire. Like Lagaan itself, they capture the passion for sport and for life that Moneyball so completely overlooks.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Roger Corman’s Fearless Biographer

If it weren’t for Roger Corman, I wouldn’t be a biographer today. But I am – and I’ve joined the company of a lot of smart folks. One is Dona Munker, who kindly invited me onto her “Stalking the Elephant” blog, which covers not big-game hunting but the writing of biography. I provided ten tips, the first of which reads: “In starting out, scour your life for a subject you are in a unique position to explore. When writing a biography, consider making your own relationship with the central figure a part of the story.” Good advice, if I do say so myself.

My first book, the tastefully titled Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, begins in the personal realm: “I first laid eyes on veteran Hollywood filmmaker Roger Corman in the summer of 1973, when he interviewed me for a job as his assistant.” I had a great anecdote from that meeting, and an even more telling one from the day I learned he was replacing me, both to help out a needy former staffer and to save the difference between her salary and my own.

Throughout most of my Corman book, though, I stayed in the background. Because this was Roger’s story, not mine, I never spelled out how hard he tried to take charge of my project. But since I’m now persona non grata in the Corman world -— barred from any film documentary or DVD commentary over which he has control —- it seems high time to set the record straight.

When I told Roger in 1998 that I had a contract for a book about him, he had a ready response: “I would be happy to cooperate with you in any possible way, as long as you can reassure me that this book will be largely favorable.” Taken aback by his bluntness, I stammered that I had spent wonderful years in his employ, and hoped to bring that spirit to the book. Soon afterward he handed down an ultimatum: he wanted my publisher and me to sign a legal document allowing him to read my book in manuscript and remove anything he considered “derogatory.” Obviously, this was not the ideal way to do biography, especially since I knew from experience that Roger could be prickly about his public image. I let a few weeks pass, then wrote a polite letter explaining that of all the lessons I’d learned from him over the years, one of the most valuable was the importance of artistic independence.

Roger didn’t give up easily. Once my research was well underway, he phoned to say he had told various celebrity alumni not to speak to me, because he’d heard my book was to be “a hatchet job.” No, I said, it was intended as an objective study, worthy of the finest libraries in the land. My answer pleased him, I think, but I asked no favors. Because by then I grasped that Roger would never be satisfied until he had reshaped my book to his best advantage. (Earlier biographers, eager to be hired onto Corman movies, had willingly agreed to his demands.) I wrote the biography my way, and was gratified by the number of Cormanites who insisted my book had come far closer than any other to capturing the essence of a very complex man.

I’m sorry that in its aftermath, Roger has seen fit to shun me. But I’m proud my book sits on the shelf of the Library of Congress, and in many of our best libraries. Artistic independence, it seems, does pay off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jacqueline Cooper: An Intern Gets Lucky

The thorny topic of unpaid interns is once again on the lips of Hollywood insiders. Two ambitious fellows who worked behind the scenes on last year’s Black Swan, have filed suit against Fox Searchlight for violating minimum wage and overtime laws. This is not exactly the way to earn points in Hollywood: the two interns will definitely never eat lunch in this town again. Still, I can understand the frustration of those who toil long hours for no money and little credit, on behalf of a movie whose glamour never quite seems to rub off on them.

Nonetheless, for aspiring filmmakers who can’t rely on nepotism to help them break into show biz, internships remain a good way to get a foot in the door. I broached the subject with a family friend, Jackie Cooper. Jackie grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, near the famous national laboratories where her father still works as a physicist. She has an older brother who’s a science-type and an older sister who’s an artist-type, so it’s perhaps not surprising that her own interests combine the technical with the creative. Jackie graduated in 2002 from University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in film and digital media. Nine years later, she’s a visual effects artist (what’s known as a compositor), who has worked her magic on such big-budget films as Tron and Harry Potter. Currently she’s in London toiling on Clash of the Titans 2.

How did it happen? Certainly not because family connections paved the way. I’ll let her describe how she left funky little Santa Cruz for the big bad world of Los Angeles: “When I first arrived I took a job as an unpaid intern for a production company, which was essentially a man with his own screenwriting company looking for interns to ‘teach how to make films.’ My personal belief is that he wanted interns to help him build his new office. The bright side for me was that I learned how to use carpentry equipment and stucco.” Not surprisingly, she soon quit.

“Two weeks after that, I started applying for jobs in the post-production world. I actually thought I wanted to be an editor. A kindly editor named Steve asked me to do my interview at a visual effects studio in Santa Monica, and helped sneak me into a presentation they were giving on visual effects. The first time I saw a walking dinosaur on the screen using 3D, I honestly thought to myself that ‘this is what I want to do with my life.’ I asked to get an internship at that company, and a wonderful woman named Katherine took me in. I worked for her by day, driving around reels of our visual effects house to different production companies around town. It was pretty neat, as I got to go to Disney, Warner Bros., and Sony. . .

“But by night, I would do what they call in VFX “RTFM,” which stands for "read the f!(@#&* manual." till about 3 AM, doing tutorials. After three months, I showed that I was good for something, and I stopped doing the driving and started working on music video projects. After six months they kept me on and started paying me.”

Jackie concedes that she was very lucky. As an unpaid intern, she found bosses who truly were ready to invest in her future. Here, from her demo reel, are the kinds of cool things that now fill her days. (Do check out the rest of her website too.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: Farewell to the King of the Computer Nerds

I’m saddened to learn of the death of Steve Jobs. There’s no question that his creative mind touched my life, as well as the lives of those around me. Not that I’m an early adopter, by any means. Back in the 1980s, when we were shopping for our very first personal computer, I could imagine myself buying a Apple product, because the little icons that dotted its screen made sense to me. But my husband, the engineer, vetoed the purchase. A fan of complex technology, he decided the user-friendly Mac system was “too simple.” So I became an IBM gal, now and forever—but one who has succumbed to the lure of an iPhone and (yup!) an iPad.

Jobs was a rare combo of technological savvy and showmanship. There’s no question that his Apple brand revolutionized Hollywood, starting with a groundbreaking commercial directed by Ridley Scott that aired in 1984 during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. Look at what Pixar (acquired by Jobs in 1986) has done to change the face of American animation. For better or for worse, the hand-drawn animated features that made Disney’s name have been almost entirely stamped out by the advent of Toy Story and its ilk. On a smaller scale, every ambitious kid can now use his or her home computer to make, edit, and distribute movies—and most of those creative types prefer Macs. The Apple brand soon became invaluable for creating cheap campaigns too. Which is why a Roger Corman underling, Michael Amato, quickly became a Mac expert.

Amato was named Concorde’s head of marketing in 1993, at a time when the company’s direct-to-video sales were in decline. Corman’s solution was to make ever more films on ever slimmer budgets. With only one assistant, Amato was asked to crank out ad campaigns for thirty-six movies a year, while also handling promotional materials for the major film markets. (By contrast, Concorde’s main competitor at the time, Trimark Pictures, released twenty-two in a year, and its marketing staff numbered eleven.) At first each of Michael’s campaigns cost about $4,000, mostly for the hiring of freelance graphic designers. Then Corman decided to slash costs by using cut-and-paste methods. When told that modern advertising required computer technology, he sent Amato to his house to create ads on his son’s home computer. They weren’t great ads-—but to promote Corman’s sex-and-violence cheapies they were surely good enough.

Since I’m hardly passionate about technology and business affairs, when I think of Steve Jobs dying at the age of 56, my mind goes elsewhere. First of all, I remember all those Hollywood weepies in which the focal point is an attractive person who dies young. (To me, let’s face it, 56 seems youngish.) Hollywood was practically founded on such movies. Like Camille and Love Story, where beautiful young heroines become even more beautiful as they succumb to dreadful, but flattering, diseases. And the many films (Dead Poet’s Society and a host of others) in which a sensitive young man dies because he can’t survive the harshness of the real world. Yet Steve Jobs, for all that he was a visionary, was very much a part of the world of today. And he was less an ethereally beautiful young person than a bespectacled computer nerd. In fact, in his black turtlenecks and jeans, he managed to make nerd-dom chic. In the movies and TV shows of today, nerds are frequently viewed as heroes. Maybe Steve Jobs should get credit for that as well.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cary Grant's Daughter Tells All

How glamorous is it to be the child of a Hollywood celebrity? My good friend’s late father was a noted character actor. He played featured roles for Frank Capra, Roman Polanski, and Martin Scorsese, then co-starred in a long-running sitcom. Along the way, he married six times, and fathered six daughters.

My friend was fascinated by her dad. For years she’s been digging up tidbits about his career, hoping to write his biography some day. She once shared with me a long-ago photo of the two of them, laughing uproariously. When I saw this treasure, I was moved to comment that this token of their relationship made me wistful. I’d loved my own father, but had no picture that captured our connection with such immediacy. Look again, my friend said. Her photo certainly looked candid, but both father and little daughter were well-groomed and well-dressed. And the photo itself was a sharp 8x10 glossy, with somebody’s name embossed in the corner. In other words, this was a photo op: a photographer had been hired to get some at-home publicity shots. The father-daughter intimacy I envied was not entirely bogus, but it was on-again, off-again, depending on where he was in terms of his career, his marriages, and his life.

Visiting Southern California, my friend asked to be driven to one of L.A.’s scenic canyons, where we hunted for a particular street address. This was where her father had been living with his last wife at a time when my friend -— then a young divorcee with a small child —- had fallen seriously ill. In desperation, she wrote her dad asking for $500. He prepared a check for $350, then held it for a week before sending it with a note that read, “The bond market is down and my financial status is not secure.” This despite the fact that his TV series was in worldwide syndication. As my friend stared at the spacious canyon home where her dad had been ensconced while she was sick and broke, her sadness was contagious.

Which brings me to Jennifer Grant’s new memoir, Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant. Though Grant married five times, Jennifer was his only offspring, born during his late-in-life marriage to Dyan Cannon. Jennifer’s book about her father, who died when she was twenty, is a “Daddy Dearest,” in the very best sense. Through her pages we learn that Cary Grant -— so charming, and funny on screen —- was very much the same in daily life. He was also so thoroughly besotted with his daughter that he took extraordinary pains to give her a special childhood.

Jennifer got many celebrity-kid perks: riding lessons, a Malibu beach house, trips to Monaco to attend the circus and hobnob with Princess Grace. But Grant also clued her in to practical matters. Remembering his own days of genteel poverty, he taught her how to appreciate money, and how to handle it. (She was signing her own tax returns from an early age.) He taught her to be generous toward those less fortunate. Most valuable of all, she got her father’s undivided attention. Having retired from the screen just before her birth, he devoted himself to educating his darling daughter in the ways of the world. The depth of his affection is seen in the book’s photos and snippets of transcribed audiotape. Grant saved everything connected with Jennifer’s life, treating mementos of their time together as precious relics.

Only one problem for Jennifer Grant: she hints that no adult male can compete with her father’s memory. It’s hardly surprising that her heart belongs to Daddy.