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Leslie Caron has written a densely packed, consistently engaging memoir that seems outstanding in two ways.
First, she doesn't write from the perspective of the lofty star who deigns to allow a peek into her fabulous life for "the little people out there in the dark" (to quote Norma Desmond). Rather, she writes as an ordinary person who unexpectedly, almost inexplicably, found herself a Hollywood star, and describes for us what it was like without ever losing her sense of being "one of us," real and grounded. As a multi-talented dancer, actor, author, hostess, inn-keeper, chef, developer and designer, she never lets her accomplishments go to her head. It's all in a day's work to Caron. She shows us the effort that has gone into each phase of her long career that has spanned both the old and the the new Hollywood, three marriages, motherhood, affairs (most famously with Warren Beatty), a sporadic stage career, being a friend to the famous, finding and remodeling a number of homes, and persevering through a grueling stint as a businesswoman in building and running her auberge in the French countryside.
Frankly, I wasn't sure by the end of the book whether I actually liked Caron, although I certainly admire her. I have seen her interviewed in person at the Motion Picture Academy in Beverly Hills, where she was charming and yet a bit remote with the audience. But as the book makes clear, she is someone you could definitely approach to borrow a cup of Tide at the laundromat. And she'd probably have some useful tips to go with it on how to get the most out of the machine.
Second, she remains generous to virtually everyone she mentions in the book--and as a international hostess to the highest of society in London as well as an international star for six decades, the number of impressive names she has known is dizzying. You KNOW not all of them could have been wonderful. But Caron never wavers in the latitude she affords others. The few she admits she didn't care for--Kirk and Michael Douglas, David Niven--she mildly dismisses with a line or two. The same with her imperious family. Even when they hurt her the most deeply, she is not out to even the score. Her career and persona were frequently compared to that of Audrey Hepburn, a European ballet dancer who also suffered greatly as a young woman during the war, then was plucked from obscurity in the early '50's to play gamine leading roles in Hollywood. Caron carefully mentions Hepburn in connection with the casting for GIGI. Curiously, she never indicates that they actually ever met, though it seems inconceivable that they didn't know each other. Is Hepburn's absence from the narrative an example of Caron's reticence concerning a rival? She also has surprisingly little to say about Lerner and Lowe. Rather than evidence of star ego (as in, "I alone made GIGI a triumph!"), these lacunae may be due to Caron believing that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all--further proof of the lady's class.
Caron's story seems to be one of a girl who was dealt a good hand for her start in life, developed character early on through severe hardship, then enjoyed some incredible luck as a young woman and had the sense to make the most of it, although not without struggle. In her commendable honesty, she even allows us to glimpse a certain bleakness in her life. Yet she has endured, and conquered much: difficult parents, war, declining family fortunes, the rigors of the ballet world, the demands of the Hollywood studio system and its subsequent collapse, a discouraging search for fulfilling acting roles, a thwarted stage career, unhappy marriages, the media glare in her years with Beatty, the daunting challenge of establishing a successful inn that led to loneliness, addiction, depression, and ultimately, recovery. The title, THANK HEAVEN, might be a bit misleading, as Caron never gushes with gratitude for all she has experienced. Her portrait on the book cover strikingly reveals her stance toward life: the almost classical pose and gracious smile combined with the self-protective gesture. As in the text, she has revealed herself without losing her poise and elegance. Her book takes its place amongst the more thoughtful and gratifying Hollywood autobiographies.