SHELF LIFE: "American Theatre Reader," Photos by Joel Grey, New Looks at Bernstein and Horne

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30 May 2009

This month, we page through a new book of photographs from Joel Grey, bios of Leonard Bernstein and Lena Horne, a Charles Grodin memoir, a compendium from American Theatre Magazine and much more.


1.3 – Images from My Phone
By: Joel Grey
Published by: Powerhouse Books
Publication Date: June 2, 2009
List price: $29.95, slipcased hardcover; 120 pages; 103 four-color photographs
"Whenever I see something I don't quite understand," says Joel Grey in the publisher's notes, "a shape, a color, an odd juxtaposition of the real and the abstract — nine times out of ten, it's my reason for taking the photograph. For me, taking pictures is like asking questions." In addition to being a Tony and Academy Award–winning actor (both for Cabaret), Grey is also an accomplished photographer, and this latest is his third published book of pictures. While visiting a small museum in St. Lucie, FL, in 2007, Grey's photographic eye became intrigued by a number of objects. But he had forgotten his ever-present Nikon. What to do? He grabbed his Nokia 133 cell phone — with its 1.3-megapixel lens (hence the title of the book) — and began shooting. At first unsure of the quality that would result from a cell phone that afforded none of the bells and whistles of a more sophisticated camera — like the ability to control aperture, focus, etc. — Grey rose to the challenge and spent the next eight months taking pictures with his phone, resulting in this collection of images of street life, still life, architecture, natural and urban settings. The book itself is something of a work of art, designed by Sam Shahid in his third collaboration with Grey. Go to for more information or to see some of Grey's photos.

Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician
By: Barry Seldes
Published by: University of California Press
Publication Date: May 26, 2009
List price: $24.95, cloth; 296 pages; 9 b/w photographs
This new biography of Leonard Bernstein examines the composer and conductor's art through the prism of his political views and makes the case, according to publisher notes, that "Bernstein's great concert-hall and musical-theatrical achievements and his real and perceived artistic setbacks" were linked to his "involvement with progressive political causes." Bernstein's career, which began with a dazzling conducting debut in 1943 and ended with his death in 1990, took shape during a tumultuous time in American politics. With the Cold War raging, notes the publisher, he was blacklisted by the State Department in 1950, took voluntary exile from the New York Philharmonic in 1951 for fear that he might be blacklisted, signed a humiliating affidavit to regain his passport, and ultimately returned in triumph to the New York Philharmonic as the political climate of the mid-1950's began to change. Seldes, who is a professor of political science at Rider University, has utilized previously unpublicized FBI files and materials in the Library of Congress' Bernstein archive to make his case. His extensively documented biography not only adds to an understanding of Bernstein the artist but also reveals the often-overlooked intersection of politics and culture.

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne
By: James Gavin
Published by: Atria Books/Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: June 2009
List price: $27, hardcover; 608 pages
When he was a teenager, author James Gavin was introduced to two Lena Horne albums — "Lena & Michel [Legrand]" and "Lena, A New Album" — and was moved by what he heard. As he describes it on his publisher's web site, "The sadness, anger, and disappointment I heard in her singing — the raw passion — touched me deeply, and led me on a search for all the Lena Horne recordings and movies I could find." On his journey, Gavin discovered a woman whose glamorous, sometimes glacial public persona hid deep wounds and frustrations, rooted in a difficult childhood and the blatant (and hidden) racism she encountered in a career that began in the glory days of Harlem's Cotton Club, passed through the M-G-M dream factory, where her talent was recognized but marginalized to guest spots in musicals, and took her to Broadway, where she starred in 1957's Jamaica, for which she was Tony-nominated, and triumphed to a Tony Award–winning turn in 1981's Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. In 1994 Gavin interviewed the legendary star for a piece in The New York Times, and he was once again impressed by the candor and vulnerability that captured him in those early recordings and belied the public face. These are the qualities of this complex American icon that he reveals in his new biography, via insights from Ruby Dee, Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, Arthur Laurents and even several of Horne's colleagues from her days as a Cotton Club chorine, as well as those he gained from his 1994 talk with the star who has inspired singers from Aretha to Streisand.


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