“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” and Gloria Grahame’s Defiant Power

Source: The New Yorker

The rise of talking pictures coincided with the Great Depression. The ostensible golden age of the studios paralleled the darkest days of the thirties. Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane,” released two months and two days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, sparked an artistic revolution amid the Second World War’s stifled traumas. Current-day Hollywood contrives its public self-image from the phantoms and the fumes of the classic studio era; in the process, it evokes, with a fallacious longing, the hard-knock times that high-studio movies symbolize. The latest revenant of reflected glory is in not a Hollywood movie but a British one—“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” based on the British actor Peter Turner’s memoir about his relationship with the Hollywood luminary Gloria Grahame, which began in 1978 (when she was fifty-four and he was twenty-six) and lasted until her death, in 1981.

 

As the title of Turner’s brisk, poignant book suggests, it’s the story of how Grahame, one of the most celebrated (and, to my mind, one of the best) movie actors of the nineteen-fifties, ended up being nursed through her final illness by him and his pleasantly unexceptional, warmly conventional working-class English family (who offer an extraordinary breadth of generosity and depth of emotion). The book’s strength is found in its sketches of surprising personal connections through a diverse range of places and settings: Turner and Grahame met in London, visited California and Las Vegas, and lived together in New York before Turner returned to Liverpool and, after a break in their relationship, was summoned to London to gather Grahame there and deal with her failing health. Turner, a working actor of local renown, found himself in contact with a legend whose way of life had become surprisingly ordinary but whose personality retained its grandeur, whose every casual remark resonated with the weight of a past that was populated by potentates and geniuses and by fierce conflicts—intimate, public, and historical. Continue reading

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