P1000266I love reading books about famous people.

‘My Life in France’ by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (Anchor Books; Random House) What I like about Julia Child is her optimism and ability to get things done. Her energy and sense of humour is contagious. No French or knowledge of the country before she arrived there for a posting with her husband? No problem. No experience in cooking (Child asked ‘What is a shallot?’)? No problem. No kitchen? Nothing to worry about. No expertise in publishing? Not an issue. No television background (actually, they didn’t own a TV)? Not to worry. She dives right in and, with her energy and joie de vivre, she just gets things done. This book, written with Paul Child’s grandnephew, Prud’homme, is about the Childs’ life in France in the 1940s – 1970s, her life at Cordon Bleu Cooking School and how she immersed herself in the French culture and celebrated it. France inspired Child to write cook books later in her life (including ‘Mastering the Art of France Cooking’), bringing French cooking to the American table and her TV cooking programmes (such as ‘The French Chef’). The book is peppered with beautiful, fun and crazy photos taken by her husband who was a keen photographer. I love how this book is written; you can just hear Child’s exuberant and magnetising personality with her ‘WHOOOOOSH!’ and ‘Whew!’, tales of their car called The Flash, antics of Child’s husband and his twin brother, their amazing dinner parties and their absolute love of entertaining. A girl after my own heart!

Read my interview with Alex Prud’homme here.

Visit Alex Prud’homme’s website here.

P1000265‘Miss Potter; A Novel’ by Richard Maltby, Jr (Frederick Warne) Based on the movie by the same name about Beatrix Potter’s life (Icon Films), this book reminders us mere mortals that authors and illustrators have lives outside their books. We learn of Potter’s childhood, her love of animals and nature, the writing and illustrating process and then the publishing steps she takes. Faced with numerous obstacles in the form of era, gender, social expectations and technology, we follow Potter’s progress as she begins to illustrate and write her famous books (such as ‘The Tale of Pater Rabbit’) and, eventually, to have them published. The gentle, poignant Victorian romance between Potter and the son of her publisher is woven throughout the book and is evoked with restrained and careful conversation. The book is interspersed with beautiful photos from the movie. After an absolute tragedy, Potter eventually picks up the pieces and starts to build her life again. A truly amazing and courageous person. It made me look at her children’s picture books in a whole new light.

P1000267‘Audrey Style’ by Pamela Clarke Keogh (Hodder Headline) Hepburn had a dog named ‘Famous’ which was given to her by her first husband, Mel Ferrer. It is said that Famous ‘was a professional, did his job, was very photogenic and could be relied upon to come up with the goods’ when the camera or film was rolling; which are possibly all good attributes for someone or something famous. In this book we read about Hepburn overcoming insecurities about her body and a sad childhood; on Hepburn’s 16th birthday, her home, Holland, was liberated. We follow her persistence and discipline instilled as a young dancer, her friendships, family, her triumphs when she came into our lives in movies such as ‘How To Steal a Million’ (20th Century Fox) and ‘My Fair Lady’ (Warner Bros.), her reaction to fame and trying to create a private life. Beautifully illustrated with photographs and illustrations by Kate Spade and Manolo Blahnik, I loved the photos of Audrey on set which are exactly how, as a stylist, we do it – with clothes pegs holding the clothes in from the back view to make them sit just right, models having their lunch in full make-up between shoots whilst trying to avoid messing up their hair and make-up and being swaddled in blankets to keep warm on night shoots or when the clothes are in the opposite season. To me, Hepburn dressed in Hubert De Givenchy clothes is a match made in heaven – imagine being dressed by Givenchy! Grace, posture, style and work with UNICEF; all fabulous. As Gregory Peck said, ‘It was easy to love her’.

Read my interview with Pamela Keogh here.

Visit Pamela Keogh’s website here.

P1000268‘Monet’s Garden;Through the Seasons at Giverny’ by Vivian Russell (Hodder Headline) Monet is probably the most famous of the Impressionist artists and must be amongst the most famous painters of all time. His paintings are beautiful, reflective and prolific, but he was not taken seriously until much later in his life. Passed off as creating ‘unfinished’ work by the establishment of the times, it was not until decades later that Monet’s work was respected, sought after especially by Americans and marketed. Monet came from humble beginnings, but scraped together to buy a big house for his very large family. Over the years, as his success grew, Monet planted and extended the garden of this house to create a spell-bindingly beautiful oasis. Called Giverny, it is the most visited garden in the world. Monet cleverly created and composed his own motifs for his, by then, hugely successful and very much in demand paintings. He could, therefore, mostly control and have unique access to his painting content. This book talks about Monet’s life, what was important to him, his inspirations, visitors, Giverny’s construction, the garden’s restoration after neglect, the seasons, planting layout and their effects, maintenance and Monet’s stunning paintings.

P1000269‘Forever Liesl; My Sound of Music Story’ by Charmian Carr with Jean A.S. Strauss (Macmillan) Liesl was Carr’s character in ‘The Sound of Music’ movie (Rodgers & Hammerstein; 20th Century Fox), so it was great fun to read about the behind the scenes of one of my favourite (and one of the world’s most famous) movies. We read how Carr won the role of Liesl without any acting experience, missing the cue for her first line (twice) because the thunder was so loud, acting 16 when she was 21, her sprained ankle which had to be cleverly avoided whilst filming the summerhouse scene with ‘Rolf’, false teeth for little ‘Gretl’ when her baby teeth fell out, boys growing 6 inches from the start to finish of the movie and their costumes having to be altered, hair being dyed overnight, filming out of sequence, the captain being only 34 years old, dodging the rain, scenes cut from the movie, how ‘Gretl’ didn’t know how to swim, Carr’s younger sister singing in the group of backing music and meeting the original Trapp children. Carr talks about the publicity after the movie, her life afterwards, fame and the feeling that the movie siblings have of ‘family’ and camaraderie; that no one else knows what you’ve been through.

P1000270‘Van Gogh’ by Judy Sund (Phaidon) This book gave a thorough account of Van Gogh’s life which seemed so very sad and tragic. Possibly a much misunderstood man, Van Gogh had very humble beginnings and, devastatingly, did not sell one painting in his lifetime. Only after his death did he become famous and now his paintings sell for exorbitant amounts of money (his ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet’ sold for US$148.6 million and 5 of his other paintings have been bought for more than US$68 million!) I remember spending hours and hours and hours as a child playing ‘Masterpiece’ (Parker Bros. now Hasbro) which had postcard-sized prints of paintings (thank you for your patience, Carolyn!). How I loved that game – it gave me a life-long love of art. I coveted the card of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and used to wonder what sort of person painted it: I suppose I still do. Van Gogh’s paintings are very personal, lively and emotional. He was interested in the everyday man, nature and the then newly-available Japanese art. I love his use of strong colour and will always remember lying with my new-born baby staring up at the branches above which looked like the painting Van Gogh painted to celebrate the birth of his nephew. Our house is painted a bright, happy yellow in homage to Van Gogh’s ‘Yellow House’; this is a place he longed to occupy and represented such an optimistic, creative and happy time in his life.

P1000272‘Georg Jensen; Silver & Design’ by Thomas C.Thulstrup (Gads Forlag) I am a big fan of Georg Jensen – beautiful combinations of Danish designs, skills and workmanship in silver. As a first year design student at university, we each had to choose a different country to study. I was at the back of the line and the last one to choose. ‘What countries are left?’ I asked my lecturer. He suggested a  Scandanavian country. Exasperated as I knew nothing about Scandanavia, I reluctantly chose Denmark. Only then we were told that EVERYTHING we were to design or research for the rest of that year had to be in the style of our country. Thus began a passionate and enduring love of Denmark and I realised then and now what a gift it was that Denmark was the country I chose. Thank you to my Danish lecturer, Rolf, who later employed me and to Hans at the Danish Design Centre (now DeDeCe) who took me under her wing and showed me the beauty of Arne Jacobsen, Paul Kjaerholm, Jorn Utzon and other Danish designs. This book is a beautifully produced history of the Georg Jensen style using superb lines and semi-precious stones. I always thought Georg Jensen was a recent designer until I read that he lived 1866 – 1934; everything looks so modern and clean! The skills were carefully continued after Jensen’s death. I was fascinated to read about the ‘Kongemaerket’ brooch which was designed to celebrate Danish King Christian X’s 70th birthday in 1940; the brooch became a wonderful national emblem and production kept Georg Jensen in business throughout World War II. The gold-plated silver year spoons that my mother used to collect and we used on special occasions I read were the result of an in-house competition at Georg Jensen and kept the company in business at a crucial time when silver prices skyrocketed in the 1970s. Achingly beautiful home ware and jewellery, my parents gave me a Georg Jensen letter opener (which sits in front of me as I type) to celebrate my graduation, my husband and I chose matching Georg Jensen wedding rings, we use our Georg Jenson cutlery given to us as wedding presents every day of our lives and I have been fortunate to receive gifts of a Georg Jensen brooch, candelabra and key ring for various celebrations. The Bernadotte thermos jug is next in my sights!

P1000275‘Renoir’ by William Gaunt (Phaidon) Represented in the game of ‘Masterpiece’ by a print of ‘Les Parapluies’ (‘The Umbrellas’), Renoir’s paintings are pure joy. They celebrate the everyday, friendships and family. It is revealing that, before Renoir became a painter of pictures, he was a porcelain painter so he learnt how to let colours shine through, use the brush precisely and he understood glazes to create beautiful luminous skin tones. I can’t help looking at Renoir’s painting and admiring his skill. In this gorgeous book with large colour plates of Renoir’s paintings that are chronologically arranged, we can see his style evolve and develop. I remember writing many essays on Renoir’s ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ and it was fascinating to read who each of the people in the painting were; friends including his girlfriend (later to become his wife), the owner of the restaurant, a journalist and a financier. Other portraits of Renoir’s celebrate family, friends, ballet dancing and the opera; all things I hold dear to my heart. Looking at the images of his paintings reminds me of all the happy discussions and times in my art class with beloved Mrs Oakley.

P1000273‘This Time Together; Laughter and Reflection’ by Carol Burnett (Three Rivers Press; Random House) When my eldest daughter was about 3 – 4 years old, I switched on the TV and found it was part-way through an amazing version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. We were both entranced by this movie. I remembered the credits listing that the actress playing The White Queen was called Carol. For years I tried to find a copy of this movie so we could watch it from the beginning. I was probably drawn to this book thinking that Carol Burnett was the actress (it was actually Carol Channing), but I was hooked on this book as soon as I started it. It’s a book about comedian Burnett’s experiences on her TV shows, including ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, and people she met along the way. I loved her stories of, as a young aspiring actress, putting $5 in with 4 other young actresses and buying an orange ‘audition dress’ to share, her fabulous and hysterical Nanny (grandma) who revelled in Burnett’s success, introducing her own husband with the wrong name, meeting her idol Jimmy Stewart then putting her foot in a bucket of whitewash and walking away hoping no-one would notice, reading her computer manual, her contact with fans and dealing with her fame and bizarre questions at her Q&A time from her audiences. I really admire the skill of great timing and delivering a perfect line, improvising in front of live audiences; all skills that Burnett shines at. I loved hearing about her acting with some of my favourite comedians; Carol Channing, Victor Borge, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), Lucille Ball and Walter Mattheau. I found myself laughing out aloud at almost every chapter of this book. What a wonderfully funny lady she is!

P1000274‘Profiles in Fashion; Kate Spade’ by Margo Freistadt (Morgan Reynolds Publishing) Starting out as a handbag designer, Spade has grown from strength to strength and is synonymous with her strong sense of style of fashion accessories, stationery and home wares. I was thrilled to read that Spade is born on the same day and the same year as one of my older sisters, also named Kate – both strong, wonderful stylish gals. After working in the magazine industry in New York, Spade  and her husband from the advertising industry launched their business. Laughing as her husband sent out invitations to their first dinner party with copies of the Heimlich manoeuvre (warning that Kate was cooking), the couple embraced a creative and fun lifestyle. The Spades produced great window displays and advertising campaigns for their company which were always fun to follow and it was great to read about the development of an idea, then evolving to a young company which grew into a huge company and the trials and triumphs this metamorphose entailed.

Read more of my reviews of biographies here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more of my reviews of books about design and architecture here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more of my reviews of books about art here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more of my reviews of books about fashion and beauty here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more of my reviews of books about history here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more of my reviews of non-fiction books here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more of my reviews of children’s picture books hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here and here.



One response to “10 Great Books About Famous People

  • Phoebe says:

    I will definitely be adding Julia Child’s book to my list! What inspiration! And you know how much I love Audrey and Kate xx

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