About a month ago, I was sent a complimentary copy of a book by documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley, titled "In The Company of Legends," which will be published this month by Beaufort Books on April 16.
They have made several outstanding documentaries revolving around major film celebrities. TCM's Robert Osborne has been quoted on TCM's web site as saying about the book that it's, "a king's ransom of fascinating stories about colorful, bigger-than-life people we know but don't know."
I am proud that our site was chosen to review the book before it hits the book stands. Reading through it, I felt that I too was a part of the making of the films. The tenacity that the duo have in knowing how to get to those they need to speak with and their trials in doing so, made fascinating reading. The book is a tale about how they got started making documentaries and then chronicles, from their "insider's view," how they established a reputation for doing the impossible while maintaining good relationships with those they interview.
The book includes a forward by Richard Dreyfuss and sections about Elizabeth Taylor, Olivia de Havilland, Glenn Close, Danny Glover, Rudolf Nureyev, Ginger Rogers, John Garfield, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Spencer Tracy, Stephen Spielberg, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Peter O'Toole, Jane Fonda, Errol Flynn and Patrice Wymore, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman and many more.
My two favorite sections of the book were those about Kate Hepburn and the making of their tribute to Spencer Tracy, but I also loved reading about the making of their documentary on Errol Flynn. Below are my observations about those two sections from the book:
[caption id="attachment_16698" align="alignright" width="211"] David Heeley and Joan Kramer with Katharine Hepburn - photograph by Len Tavares 1985[/caption]
Katharine Hepburn and the Spencer Tracy tribute
I always enjoy reading about my all time favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn, but other than from her biography, reading about her in this book made me feel like I was learning a lot more about her personality than I've been privileged to know before. The authors, Joan and David, tell us how they managed to contact the Great Kate and help her to realize the tribute to Spencer Tracy she wanted to do. I know and realize that getting stars to participate and enjoy that participation really requires a lot of patience and skill. Not that Ms. Hepburn was difficult at all, it's just that knowing when to say something or when to draw the line, is a skill I wish I had more of. Both Joan Kramer and David Heeley obviously know how to work "WITH" instead of just "FOR" those they play tribute to. Joan especially seems to know how to find anyone; a skill I would love to have. I learned while reading this book, that being timid is not the way to get anywhere. While it's important to gain respect and be respectful, getting that interview may be as simple as just asking and I was surprised at how helpful and friendly many stars are, and can be, when approached correctly. For example, Joan Kramer, by instinct, knew not to go directly to Katharine Hepburn, and decided that approaching her former director, George Cukor instead, was the way in.
The duo were asked by TCM and Warners to do a tribute to Errol Flynn and while Joan revealed she hadn't been a big fan and that they both knew little about him, after doing the documentary, they certainly had changed their opinion. Most of Flynn's family members were interviewed, excluding his daughter, Rory, who has since written a biography about her father and was seen at last week's TCM Classic Film Festival. After she saw the documentary, Rory told them that she wished she had been a part of it and was sorry she had declined their invitation. They also interviewed Richard Dreyfuss and Joanne Woodward about the swashbuckler because, as fans themselves, they knew a lot about him and could speak to his acting ability. But probably, for me, the best interview I enjoyed reading about in this section of the book, had to be Olivia de Havilland, Flynn's co-star in more films than any other actress. In the interview, Ms. de Havilland was open and honest about her feelings for Flynn saying that he was "The handsomest, most charming, most magnetic, most virile young man in the entire world." This was a real treat for me to read.
Today, April 7, TCM has scheduled the evening to recognize both Joan Kramer and David Heeley as entertainment’s greatest celebrity documentarians by featuring the book and showing five of their specials, read below:
The evening includes the TCM premiere of:I'll will surely be watching tonight and I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about making a documentary and what it's like to feel like you're "In the Company of Legends," too.
- James Stewart: A Wonderful Life (1987), an all-star tribute to one the movies' best-loved leading men, hosted by Johnny Carson.
- The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn (1986) views the career of the screen's great natural actor through the eyes of his longtime partner and other famous costars.
- Fonda on Fonda (1992) features Jane Fonda's personal reflections on her famous father, Henry.
- Katharine Hepburn: All About Me (1993) offers a fascinating look at the life and times of this legendary actress from her own perspective. And Bacall on Bogart (1988) has Lauren Bacall reminiscing about her life with her first husband and most noted costar, Humphrey Bogart.
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