Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote here about a truly wonderful memoir of her renowned parents by my friend Vicki Riskin. Vicki, I must note, is very accomplished on her own -- a former president of the Writers Guild of America, whose own credits include writing the TV movie My Antonia, producing Member of the Wedding, and is also a former practicing psychologist, an international board member for 12 years of Human Rights Watch -- at one point, its president -- and recipient of the WGA's Valentine Davies Award for "bringing honor to writers everywhere." .
But how renowned were her parents?
Her father was screenwriter Robert Riskin, one of the founders of what is now the Writers Guild of America, as well as the long-time partner of director Frank Capra, and the Oscar-winning screenwriter for It Happened One Night (the first film to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress). Robert Riskin was also the writer of Mr. Deeds Comes to Town, Meet John Doe, You Can't Take It With You, Lost Horizon, Lady for a Day (which was later remade by Capra, as well, as Pocketful of Miracles), and many, many more. Moreover, he headed the U.S. government's Bureau of Motion Pictures during WWII. (I wrote about him in greater detail here.) And her mother was even more famous -- honest -- the actress Fay Wray, best-known, of course, for starring in King Kong, but also with a half-century-long career of making more than 100 films, and even wrote Broadway plays and books. And an autobiography of her fascinating life that has one of the best titles ever -- On the Other Hand.
I mention all this because her book, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir, has just been released in paperback, and you can find it here. (For that matter, it's also available in a Kindle edition, for thems who read books that way.)
There are several reasons the book is so terrific. For starters, most memoirs of their parents aren't written by children who are professional writers, and Vicki writes with grace and charm. Also, most children who write memoirs of their parents aren't trained psychologists who can bring such deep insight into their work. And also, what I love about any biography or autobiography is that it isn't just about the person, but as much about the times, and serves as a history book, as well as memoir. And Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir is not just a rich, lovely tale of two fascinating people, but the story of Hollywood from the silent movies through its Golden Age and into WWII.
By the way, lest anyone think my high praise of the book is biased, here are just some of the reviews which show that I'm not alone.
"Graceful and loving. . . . There is so much to admire about both subjects that it’s a pleasure to engage with them in this warm and edifying biography. It earns my highest recommendation."—Leonard Maltin
"One of the great real-life Hollywood love stories; a warm, evocative, and deeply moving tale."—Kenneth Turan, former Los Angeles Times film critic
"Victoria Riskin remembers her parents with warmth and a perceptible touch of melancholy....Wray's diary entries, along with the adoring love letters Riskin wrote her when he was engaged in his war work, constitute the raw, mournful heart of their daughter's touching memoir."—Scott Eyman, Wall Street Journal
"In this engrossing tribute to her parents, the author provides a thoughtfully documented portrait of early Hollywood. A must-read for fans of this era of film history." -- Kirkus Reviews
So, no, it isn't just me. It's really good.
Anyway, the book is now available in paperback. And I just wanted people to know. It deserves its praise and success, and I hope now that it gets even more.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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