I’m done. The fun part is over—the fun part being sitting alone night after night, figuring out the story and writing it. If you commit to 1,000 words a session and understand that some of the words will be good, some bad, and some indifferent, before too long you get a book. Following that process, along with three trips to the Netherlands and a year associated with Dutch researcher Maddie van Leenders, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II, is written and weighs in at about 103,000 words. Release is set for April 15, 2019. As a workaholic introvert, I have enjoyed the experience of spending two years alone with Audrey Hepburn more than I can tell you. She’s been very pleasant company; in fact about the pleasantest ever, right up there with George Washington.
When you work on a biography that long and get so deep inside the heart and soul of your subject, he or she invariably becomes a friend, or at least a “work friend.” When I produced the three documentary films on George Washington, we became pals and I still miss him after more than 10 years.
I would call Errol Flynn a work friend at best because here I was working in the same office with a tortured soul for two books and along the way finally figured out what was going on in his chaotic, complex mind. Just yesterday I watched his finest acting job, in Elizabeth and Essex, and because I know him so well, my heart broke at the heroic effort this generally lazy hedonist put into one very tough job, to make sure the powers trying to defeat him would not prevail. Then there was the leading lady of his lifetime, Olivia de Havilland, who I had to figure out for the book Errol & Olivia (BTW, Belated Happy Birthday this past July 1, OdeH). We had been correspondents for a long time, and I studied her from Saratoga, California, on; in fact it was there in the concrete driveway of the Fontaine home that I laid my hand over the tiny handprints of Livvie and her little sister Joan. They must have been six and five at the time they pressed them into the cement, but it’s as if these two future Academy Award winners were already performing their own Grauman’s Chinese ceremony. I think in retrospect Livvie’s the most interesting person I’ve ever tackled. She remains at age 102 a closed book, a loner, and 100% pure badass. I have come to admire her tremendously.
I’ve documented Carole Lombard on these pages as well as in Fireball so I won’t bore you with more, except to say hers is a lively spirit to spend a couple of years alone with. There were a number of surprises on that project. Among them was Clark Gable, an interesting guy and, I concluded, an OK guy despite a flawed character. But then most of us are flawed characters one way or another. The second surprise involved the 15 Air Corps pilots on Lombard’s death plane who wanted their stories to be told. Who knew? One of these fellas even showed up a couple years ago, which introduced me to a new friend, Felicia Borla of the Clark County Coroner’s Office.
Jim Stewart and I came to an understanding over the course of Mission’s development. During his lifetime, two things were sure about Jim: 1) he would not talk about his WWII combat career, and 2) he hated biographers. So what did I set out to write? His combat biography. You’d suppose that on the other side he wouldn’t be happy with me, but in describing Stewart in combat I put a spotlight on the great group of guys he commanded in battle. Those men deserved the kind of attention that their proximity to Jimmy Stewart the actor would have promoted, and Mission made that happen. So now Jim and I are OK; not tight, but OK.
And now we come to Audrey Hepburn. Audrey’s another tough cookie for a simple reason: She had secrets she felt could not be revealed, which led her to turn down several seven-figure offers from publishers to write her memoir. Then she died much too soon, and biographers went to town writing about her life and they’re still at it, and now I’ve done it too.
My book’s different from the others because I went right after the secrets, and had to hack and slash through a lot of false leads, inaccurate reporting, myths, and subterfuge to get at the truth, or at least what truth can be determined when files have been intentionally destroyed. I’m not going to give you any spoilers here, so you’re going to have to wait and read Dutch Girl to find out what the secrets are and if she makes it out of World War II alive.
Like always there was a get-acquainted period with Audrey, and I came to see her as a pretty fierce introvert. Well, to be precise, she wasn’t an introvert as a ballerina, which is all she ever wanted to be. It was the acting and particularly the speaking that gave her the shakes. We got along very well and the good vibes grew, and now I’m associated and sharing information with her son, Luca Dotti. Luca’s now in the process of adding some pretty incredible details to the narrative, things only someone inside the family could.
There’s nothing like the experience of positive energy aligning on a great project, and that’s what Dutch Girl has been—the most enjoyable adventure of my career thanks in large part to a wonderful group of Dutch people who love history, or lived it, or knew Audrey, or had some sort of expertise they were willing to provide to a clumsy American. They include Maddie along with Gety, Annemarth, Clan, Rosemarie, Ben, Herman, Patrick, Johan, Dick, and Robert, Luca in Rome, and Marina and Ann, my stateside researchers. They all have made collaboration a joy—even for a guy who likes nothing better than to sit alone and write.
I can’t wait for Dutch Girl to come out.
And you nailed Olivia, alright! Cheers!
Thank you, Brenda. You have been a loyal supporter for a very long time and I appreciate it.
Really cute stuff, and I am certain Gable was a right guy. Too much on the right side of the ledger, such as Lennie Bluett’s story about rest room facilities on Gone With The wind. Anyway, thumbs for you and yours. Barry
You have a point about Gable–he wasn’t as progressive as his bride Lombard, that’s for sure. And who knows if that alone would have become a bone of contention before long had she lived.
Robert, you can be a right guy and be a Republican. I am, and I am. As for Gable and Lombard, who knows. They loved each other and they were actors. Turbulent, sexy and interesting. Wish they had both lived longer. Barry
Progressive in terms of people: Lombard had a lot of love in her and accepted all colors and gender preferences. Gable not so much. And down the line I could see that becoming a problem.
Congratulations on your new book. Hope all is well. Let me know when you plan to come to Vegas.
Sent from my iPad
Thanks Mike. We’ve been away from Vegas too long already, it feels like. And there’s still activity percolating on film rights for Fireball, so stay tuned.
Your work ethic has always impressed me, Robert!You ARE always on the move.
Well, looking forward to 2019 and Audrey. I was so in love with her when I was a teenager, and yes, I still love her, but now I favor another It girl, Grace Kelly, for very private reasons. Audrey was such a generous actress and person, and despite all this goodness, managed to make quite the career in cutthroat Hollywood, so all in all, a pretty impressive lady.
Well, Priscila, I’m never really happy unless I’m writing, so the cat is already giving me a wide berth since I finished Dutch Girl.
I’m pretty sure you will love Audrey even more after you read it, especially for the fact that she was all too willing to say “goodbye Hollywood” to raise her sons, both of whom turned out to be fine humans.
Has anyone done a bio of Grace Kelly? I guess I should know that but I don’t.
I am so glad you have another book coming soon. I have poured thru Fireball when it came out and recently bought the extended version and delved into that. My family and coworkers probably know more than they wanted to about Lombard and Gable. But whatever. Who knew the subject could be so fascinating? I ordered the book about Jimmy Stewart for Christmas and consumed it over the holidays. I can never watch his movies without thinking that there was so much more to the guy than just what was on the screen. Am saving Errol and Olivia for another time. Love to have a book so to say waiting in the bank. I like that Golden Age of Hollywood. So I know it’s early but any ideas what you might be going to write next? I am sure it will be worth waiting for. They always are. Thank you.
Thank you, Robyn! The best compliment I could ever be paid is that someone has felt compelled to drag one of my books off the shelf and read it a second time. But then with Fireball’s cast of characters and storyline, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Dutch Girl will complete my “Hollywood in World War II” trilogy, and since Audrey is a tough act to follow, I have no idea what might be next. I didn’t see Jim coming after Fireball, or Audrey coming after Mission, so I’m kind of curious who’s going to appear next wanting their story to be told.
Can’t wait for your next book, Robert! I look forward to it. I’ve enjoyed all of your work.
Congratulations on a possible film adaptation of “Fireball.” As a long-time fan of both Ms. Lombard and Mr. Gable, I too have pondered whether their marriage would have endured if she had lived. All the tea leaves indicate it would not, but then again, who knows? I know a couple who’ve been married for over thirty years, but nobody thought it would last for two months. Toward the end, I think that Carole was focused on having a baby, and believe me when you are grappling with fertility issues, nothing else takes precedence. It consumes your every waking thought and drives all your actions. I think that issue may have clouded her judgment, but that’s only my opinion.
Happy belated 102nd birthday to Olivia! I am beginning to think she’ll outlive us all.
By the way, you asked, and I’m pretty sure there are several biographies about Grace Kelly out there, but I’m sure you’d write the best one if it’s your choice. A suggestion, but how about a biography of David Cassidy, perhaps the most popular teen idol ever, but a wounded sparrow (as one of his co-writers observed) in reality.
Best regard, and best of luck on your Audrey book! Love her!