BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
CurtainUp Book Review
The Real Nick and Nora
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Writers of btage and Screen Classics
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
The Hacketts' many films will ring a bell of recognition with most people — to name a few: The Thin Man films whose main characters, Nick and Nora Charles, bore the stamp of the screen writers' own personalities and relationship. . . the adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, Ah, Wilderness!. . . Father of the Bride. . . musicals, from the operetta Naughty Marietta with Jeanette MacDonald and lson Eddy to some of Judy Garland's biggest hits. The writers' crowning achievement for the stage was The Diary of Anne Frank.
The glittering resume not withstanding, Frances Goodrich (1890-1984) and Albert Hackett (1900-1995) are not instantly recognizable household names. Published anecdotes about them can be found in the memoirs of some their more famous friends and colleagues. That is, until now, when their nephew, David L. Goodrich, has set the record straight with this dual biography. Given the period it spans, the book is a cultural and social history as seen through the lives of two interesting, accomplished and likeable people.
Naturally, his family ties to his subjects, gave Mr. Goodrich a leg up the biographer's ladder. However, while he doesn't hesitate to spice up his narrative by dropping in names of what at times seems like a cast of thousands, he does not lean on his kinship. Personal encounters are kept to a minimum and aunt and uncle are referred to throughout as "The Hacketts". In short, this is not an auntie-uncle-dearest biography but is a work more heavily grounded in research than personal recollections. Mr. Goodrich's affection and admiration for both Frances and Albert is obvious, but it more or less echoes how all who were part of their milieu felt about them.
After navigating through their very different childhoods —she was a child of privilege and he the son of a poor widow who put him on the stage to help the family survive— the author follows their early careers as actors, her two first marriages, and their eventual private and professional partnership. Their method of working together, which tended to be explosive, is fascinating to follow. Their intense dedication to giving their best to everything they undertook is inspirational. Like many other writers, the Hacketts found much about their work as part of the old Hollywood Studio system frustrating but they also took pride and pleasure in their work and managed to carve out a stimulating social life — their many parties brightened the landscape even for those most disgruntled about the Hollywood life style.
For all their gifts of friendship and hard work, the Hacketts had their crosses to bear. One of these was Frank Capra the director of It's a Wonderful Life, who made working on that super success a considerably less than wonderful experience. The making of the above and other films, the couple's work in behalf of the Screenwriters Guild, their extensive travels and their interest in art all give an interesting new perspective to a well documented cultural era.
Understandably, several chapters are devoted to the writing and staging of The Diary of Anne Frank, including some of the controversies surrounding the play and difficulties with the original Anne, Susan Strasberg. Both Albert and Frances were well aware that writing Anne's story was as much a responsibility as a challenge. As Frances wrote to the author's mother: "It is the hardest thing we have ever tackled. And I am sure no one is going to put it on at this time — not while [the United States is] trying to woo Germany! People's memories are very short. Only the Jews will remember that once there were. . . Nazis. And it is not only the Jews that we must reach. If fact, we are likely to be told we are anti-Semitic since we have tried to comedy into the play." Of course, the play was staged all over the world, including a recent and revised production (See Our Review) which the author correctly feels would have pleased the Hacketts.
In summary, The Real Nick and Nora adds up to a story about two people who embodied the American work ethic and the satisfactions of a close and enduring marriage. Frances Goodridge and Albert Hackett —The Hacketts— may not be as famous as many of their friends, but who needs instant name recognition when life has been a banquet of love, friendship and accomplishment.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.