Patricia Bosworth, who has meticulously reported on some of the fascinating lives that rubbed up against hers when she was pursuing an acting career during the 1950s—Montgomery Clift, Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, Diane Arbus—has turned the book around and reinvestigated that decade as an autobiography.
The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan is a compelling account of her emotional coming-of-age, in the wake of a double suicide in her family. The daughter of Bartley Crum, the lawyer who defended the blacklisted Hollywood Ten before the House Un-American Activities Committee (his triumph and his undoing) and novelist Gertrude Bosworth, whose surname she swiped to spare herself the indignity of being billed Patti Crum.
“In every one of my biographies, there are glimmers of some of the stories in this book,” she points out. “When I wrote about the Actors Studio with Jane in great detail, I was really remembering my own days there. The same is true with Clift and Brando, and, to some extent, Arbus. Those books were preparation for me. I had known all of them then. I didn’t realize I was going to write this until recently.”
The ’50s was a golden age for theatre in New York, and the Actors Studio on West 44th was where most of the sparklers shot out. Marilyn Monroe did a scene with Maureen Stapleton from Anna Christie that was barely audible, but with that luminous presence, who cared? Steve McQueen would give a girl a spin on his motorbike but, otherwise, stay true to his fiancée, and later first wife, Neile Adams.
The ordeals Bosworth endured to do her first and only major film, The Nun’s Story (1959), could scare any wannabe starlet out of show business—but there was one glittering consolation prize: meeting Audrey Hepburn in prime Audrey Hepburn mode, gliding across a crowded set, “her feet barely touching the ground,” to introduce herself to you. After their last shot, Hepburn invited her to lunch, starting a lifelong friendship.
All of which she’ll discuss at a screening of The Nun’s Story on Sunday, February 26, at Film Forum.
In the film, Bosworth played a postulant less committed to becoming a nun than Hepburn’s Sister Luke. Similarly, in real life, Bosworth was listing toward a change in profession. There had been signposts along the way—mentors like Gore Vidal, Elia Kazan, and Lee Strasberg suggesting she should write instead of act—so after four years of understudying, and then starring, in Mary, Mary, she made the switch.
“I love covering theatre,” confesses Bosworth, who does it for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and all the major venues. “I left acting, but I never left the theatre. I’ve documented it and explored it—and taught it. I am very much still an old member of Actors Studio and a member of the board. I ran their Playwrights/Directors Unit for three years, and I still go there and teach classes and even attend them.” And she’s still got stories to tell.