Unlike the uncountable young people who fill the bookstores now with memoirs of lives that haven’t yet been lived, Anne Edwards has earned the right to tell her story. She will turn 85 Monday, and she can look back on a life filled with hard work, interesting travel and occasional adventures (many of them of the amatory variety), in addition to which she can browse a large shelf filled with her own books. These, to be sure, are almost entirely ephemeral celebrity-biographies — her subjects have included Vivian Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Princess Diana, Maria Callas and Margaret Mitchell — and all but a handful are out of print, a fate shared by all eight of her novels. If “Leaving Home” is her effort to make one last plea for the public’s attention, well, she’s entitled.
Back in the day when I was still writing a weekday review for this newspaper’s Style section, I took it upon myself to consider a couple of her many books. It was a decidedly mixed experience. The first of these, “The Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell” (1983), I found notable for its “meticulous” and “sensitive” treatment of the difficult and in many ways unhappy life of the author of “Gone With the Wind.” But in the second, “A Remarkable Woman: The Life of Katharine Hepburn” (1985), there was precious little to praise: “Edwards’ blend of gossip and deference in . . . personal matters makes for a lumpy pudding,” and she “is curiously silent about her sources.”
“Leaving Home” is most definitely of the second category. Readers whose interest in show-business gossip and the author’s sex life is greater than their expectations of narrative coherence and literate prose may find things to enjoy, but more demanding readers will feel, as I do, that this book would have been best unpublished, or at least edited far more tightly than it has been and stripped of the utterly false claim — being blacklisted — made in its subtitle.
Yes, Edwards did work in Hollywood during that period in the late 1940s and early ’50s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his allies on the House Un-American Activities Committee cowed the movie business into blacklisting a number of screenwriters for real or trumped-up charges of communist activity or disloyalty, but the young Anne Edwards most certainly was not among them. She did have leftish leanings of the conventional Hollywood variety, but this came to nothing more than being put on the “graylist” of the studio for which she worked. She did go to London to work on a film while all this was going on, but she stayed there not because she had been specifically added to the “Hollywood Ten” but because a friend warned her (whether justifiably or not is never made clear) that her passport could be confiscated if she tried to return to the United States, thus preventing her from returning to England should further work become available there. But she was never blacklisted in the way that Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr. and others were — sent to prison in some cases, deprived of the right to work (except under aliases) at their chosen trade.