THE BOOK SHELF: Memoirs from The Jets, The Sharks, The Trapp Children and Frank Langella

By Steven Suskin
11 Mar 2012

Cover art for "The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook"

You have West Side Story on the one hand and The Sound of Music on the other, and you'd think that never the twain would meet. There were, nevertheless, a web of interpersonal links between the two, starting with the Rodgers/Hammerstein/Sondheim links and continuing through to Hollywood (where Robert Wise directed and Irv Kostal orchestrated both). So it is not the greatest surprise to find the "kids" from the 1961 West Side film and the children from the 1964 Sound of Music film bump into each other on the shelf of new books. "The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook" by Fred Bronson [Applause] is as glossy and professional as the West Side tome isn't. This one seemingly sent the kids back to their old family homes to dig up every piece of paper they could find relating to that time almost 50 years ago when they went out to the 20th Century Fox lot, and on to location shoots overseas. Production photos, candid photos, personal photos; letters and drawings to dad and mom, some seemingly scrawled on scraps of paper; production documents, and more. Most interesting — or oddest, at least — are full-sized, full color facsimiles stuffed into the many pockets within the book. Diary pages, autograph books, costume designs, greeting cards, premiere tickets, plane tickets, you name it.

To make this even more of a holiday for Sound of Music fans, there is a DVD with the kid's own home movies of the shoot. "The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook" is an altogether interesting compilation; I don't know that I've ever seen anything quite like it. Although if forced, I would have to admit that I'm more of a West Side type of guy.

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Cover art for "Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them"



Frank Langella is, Lord knows, an endlessly interesting actor whom I suppose we could call larger than life. Over the last couple of decades he has moved from a fine actor to a flavorful actor; it is hard to watch him nowadays without being immediately pulled in by the twinkle in his eye. Whatever he wants you to feel, to think, however he wants you to respond — it's all under his calculated control.

He has now written his first book, "Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them" [HarperCollins], and what is there possibly to say except that Langella immediately pulls you in with the twinkle in his unseen eye? It is no surprise that he is a prime storyteller; you kind of assume that he must be. But who knew the range of his experiences?

He begins with the tale of a little brunch at which he found himself unexpectedly present one Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1961, when he was acting in children's plays at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA. Turns out the girl who took him home was the daughter of Bunny Mellon, step-daughter of philanthropist Paul Mellon; the five guests — whose names Langella is thus forced to drop — were the President (in bright yellow pants) and Jackie, Noel Coward, Adele Astaire ("I'm Delly") and aspiring actor Frank. Who looked on in awe through the afternoon, culminating with Delly and Jack doing a soft-shoe while Noelie played "A Room with a View."

And that's just the beginning. "Dropped Names" is filled with fascinating, candid and not necessarily positive glances at show folks, with politicians and society types mixed in. (Including "a fair amount of forks to the eye and knives to the throat," as Langella warns us.) Sixty-four portraits, with most including multiple celebrities. Delicious morsels, they are.

I once spent a couple of months with Frank, night after night in his dressing room. (I was managing a play that he produced, and he insisted on discussing business after the curtain came down.) I quickly realized that here was the perfect Henry Higgins, if only someone would produce a revival of My Fair Lady. A performance we never got to see, alas. I found him to be intelligent, sharp and winningly amusing — although not quite so amusing as the Langella on the pages of "Dropped Names."

(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," now available in paperback, "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's On the Record and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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