Forthcoming from McFarland in spring 2016
A librarian jocularly wrote to me asking about my “next victim." Some critics rank biographers just above serial murderers. I don’t share their horror at my work because I am of the Samuel Johnson school of biography that adheres first to the truth as the biographer sees it, and not first to the feelings of others. I am not the only biographer to write a memoir about my work. But I am still looking for the kind of inside story this book offers. I show not only how I became interested in my subjects, I reveal the mechanics of the trade—how I put together book proposals for publishers, conducted interviews and archival research, and sometimes had to joust with editors as much as with my subjects and their literary estates. A reader of biography will discover the backstory of how biographies get made. A scholar will appreciate discussions of methodology and strategy. One has to have an understanding of process, of how the biographer goes about his business. Other biographers have described this process, but they remain discreet—not wishing to offend their sources and supporters. I have eschewed that kind of caution. I aim to be resolutely indiscreet.
The revised and updated biography of Susan Sontag, fall 2016, University Press of Mississippi
Michael Foot, one of the 20th century's greatest orators--and much more.
Early Cover design based on my own photographs of sailing with Michael Foot in Dubrovnik, and with him in Plymouth looking at his portrait.
The new cover for the paperback and ebook appearing on June 1, 2014
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The controversial American poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925), a founding member of the Imagist group that included D. H. Lawrence and H. D., excelled as the impresario for the “new poetry” that became news across the U. S. in the years after World War I. Maligned by T. S. Eliot as the “demon saleswoman” of poetry, and ridiculed by Ezra Pound, Lowell has been treated by previous biographers as an obese, sex-starved, inferior poet who smoked cigars and made a spectacle of herself, canvassing the country on lecture tours that drew crowds in the hundreds for her electrifying performances. In fact, Lowell wrote some of the finest love lyrics of the 20th century and led a full and loving life with her constant companion, the retired actress Ada Russell. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1926. This provocative new biography, the first in forty years, restores Amy Lowell to her full humanity in an era that, at last, is beginning to appreciate the contributions of gays and lesbians to American’s cultural heritage. Drawing on newly discovered letters and papers, Rollyson’s biography finally gives this vibrant poet her due.
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I have just published American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath on the 50th anniversary of her death. I welcome comments in the Discussion section about her life and work. Here is a list of the book's highlights:
The first Plath biography to benefit from the new Ted Hughes archive at the British library, which includes 41 letters from Plath and Hughes as well as other unpublished papers; new information and insight into Plath’s early reading and addiction to popular radio shows like Jack Benny, Superman, Stella Dallas, and The Shadow; new interviews with several of Plath’s friends at Smith College and with students she taught; photographs of Plath and her children published for the first time; new details about the mysterious Richard Sassoon, the only male ever to rival Ted Hughes in Plath’s imagination;
revealing discussions of the letters that Sylvia’s mother did not include in Letters Home, as well as of Aurelia’s later comments on the Plath legend in the material Aurelia deposited at Smith College; an account of a court deposition dealing with Plath’s misgivings about her decision to marry Ted Hughes; fresh statements and corrections of the biographical record from David Wevill, husband of Ted’s Hughes’s lover, Assia Wevill, and from Elizabeth Compton Sigmund (one of Plath’s Devon neighbors); startling new details about Plath’s final days and the pivotal role critic A. Alvarez played in the fraught Plath-Hughes marriage and what Plath wrote in the journal Ted Hughes “lost” or destroyed.
A biography of the great film noir actor
Dana Andrews (1909–1992) worked with distinguished directors such as John Ford, Lewis Milestone, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, William Wyler, William A. Wellman, Mervyn Le Roy, Jean Renoir, and Elia Kazan. He played romantic leads alongside the great beauties of the modern screen, including Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Greer Garson, Merle Oberon, Linda Darnell, Susan Hayward, Maureen O’Hara, and most important of all, Gene Tierney, with whom he shared five films. Retrospectives of his work often elicit high praise for an underrated actor, a master of the minimalist style. His image personified the male mask of the 1940s in clas- sic films such as Laura, Fallen Angel, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, in which he played the mas- culine ideal of steely impassivity. No comprehensive discussion of film noir can neglect his performances. He was an actor’s actor.
Here at last is the complete story of a great actor, his difficult struggle to overcome alcoholism while enjoying the accolades of his contemporaries, a successful term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and the love of family and friends that never deserted him. Based on diaries, letters, home movies, and other documents, this biography explores the mystery of a poor boy from Texas who made his Hollywood dream come true even as he sought a life apart from the limelight and the backbiting of contemporaries jockeying for prizes and prestige. Called “one of nature’s noblemen” by fellow actor Norman Lloyd, Dana Andrews emerges from Hollywood Enigma as an admirable American success story, fighting his inner demons and ultimately winning.
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I'm at work on a biography of William Faulkner
A University of Toronto Ph.D, Rollyson has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His work has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times
and the London Sunday Telegraph
and in journals such as American Literature
and the Dictionary of Literary Biography
. For four years (2003-2007) he wrote a weekly column, "On Biography," for The New York Sun
and was President of the Rebecca West Society (2003-2007). His play, That Woman: Rebecca West Remembers
, has been produced at Theatresource in New York City. Rollyson's biography of Amy Lowell was awarded a "We the People" NEH grant. Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews
, a biography of Dana Andrews was published by University Press of Mississippi in September 2012. His biography, American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath
, was published on January 29, 2013. His reviews of biography have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Kansas City Star, The Barnes & Noble Review,
and The New Criterion
. His column, "Biographology," appeared in bibliobuffet.com. He is currently advisory editor for the Hollywood Legends series published by the University Press of Mississippi. He welcomes queries from those interested in contributing to the series. His forthcoming projects include a revised and updated edition of Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon
, Understanding Susan Sontag
, Confessions of a Serial Biographer
and This Alarming Paradox: A Life of William Faulkner
Amazon Author Central Page
See a list of my books and book trailers
Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress
Lillian Hellman: Her Life and Legand
Beautiful Exile: The Life of Martha Gellhorn
Norman Mailer: The Last Romantic
Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl
Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon
To Be A Woman: The Life of Jill Craigie
American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath
Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews
Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography
A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan
A Private Life of Michael Foot
Amy Lowell Among Her Contemporaries
Female Icons: Marilyn Monroe to Susan Sontag
Biography: A User's Guide
A Higher Form of Cannibalism? Adventures in the Art and Politics of Biography
Essays in Biography
Lives of the Novelists
How my writing about biographers and biography stacks up
My two subjects together: Jill Craigie and Michael Foot. After writing about Jill in Tjo Be a Woman
, I turned to Michael in A Private Life of Michael
To Be a Woman: The Life of Jill Craigie
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Michael Foot campaigning against Margaret Thatcher, accompanied by his dog, Dizzy (named after Disraeli).
You will get the full story in A Private Life of Michael Foot
forthcoming from Plymouth University Press in August, 2015
They have just erected a memorial in Michael Foot's home town, Plymouth.
My office desk
Some of my book jackets. Dana Andrews met Marilyn Monroe and Norman Mailer (to his regret) did not.
My Marilyn Wall
My wife did the needlepoint pillow. Also featured are the book jackets of my Jill Craigie and Rebecca West biographies.
Caricature in Gay & Lesbian Review of Amy Lowell Anew
A shelf of my Amy Lowell books, including her biography of John Keats. There is also a Sappho on the shelf because without Sappho there would be no Amy Lowell. I also have next to Lowell's books, Samuel Richardson's novels, Pamela
and because Lowell loved 18th century novels. She was also a big fan of the novelist Dorothy Richardson and of one of my other subjects, Rebecca West.
Moon Pies: One of Amy Lowell's favorite desserts, served to me at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I gave a talk about my biography and Lowell's letters about her lover, Elizabeth Seccombe. Their letters can be found in the Robert Grovsnor Valentine Papers.
The gravestone of Elizabeth Seccombe, Amy Lowell's lover who died on the Lusitania
Norman Rockwell's portrait of Walter Brennan
Sylvia Plath's house in Wellesley, where she grew up.
Where Walter Brennan grew up. I took this picture of the town sign while doing research for a biography of this great actor.
Taken at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, where I was doing work in the papers of Walter Brennan.
Inside is the Margaret Herrick Library, where I did research for biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Dana Andrews, and Walter Brennan.
A Private Life of Michael Foot
adopts a no holds barred approach to biography, leaving a political figure stripped bare, and revealing a deeply complex, introverted man for all to see.
The first biography of the prodigiously hard-working actor who embodied the Western ideal
A documentary approach to the life and legend. With details of her childhood, her young adult years, her ascent to superstardom, and the hour by hour moments leading to her tragic early death, this volume supplements—and, in some cases, corrects—the accounts of previous biographies.
A riveting examination of Amy Lowell’s private life and lover, Ada Russell, who did so much to make Lowell’s career possible
The startling discovery of a new Amy Lowell lover who perished on the Lusitania. A compelling window into Lowell’s gregarious character. Concise readings of Lowell’s most important poems reveal the depth and range of her erotic imagination. An astute analysis of the way biographers and critics have maligned Lowell as a person and poet.
A revisionist view of the poet, her fellow writers, and their biographers. In this series of essays, beginning with a look at how her own biographers have behaved, I have tried to re-conceive the familiar anecdotes and episodes, circling back again and again to certain incidents and contretemps, as the point of view shifts from one writer to another. As a kind of coda to my quarrel with biographers is an essay, “Remembering Amy Lowell,” in which I assess the varying degrees to which the memoirs of her present a credible person and poet. I have not paused to define in any great detail terms such as Imagism, although I’ve included an essay on the Imagists in an appendix as well as the full texts of the poems discussed in this book. These appendices provide a context for the discussion of Lowell and her contemporaries and serve, I hope, as an inviting introduction to her work.
A biography of the great film noir actor. Here at last is the complete story of a great actor, his difficult struggle to overcome alcoholism while enjoying the accolades of his contemporaries, a successful term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and the love of family and friends that never deserted him. Based on diaries, letters, home movies, and other documents, this biography explores the mystery of a poor boy from Texas who made his Hollywood dream come true even as he sought a life apart from the limelight and the backbiting of contemporaries jockeying for prizes and prestige. Called “one of nature’s noblemen” by fellow actor Norman Lloyd, Dana Andrews emerges from Hollywood Enigma as an admirable American success story, fighting his inner demons and ultimately winning.
Here, at last, is the true story of Sylvia Plath's last days and her estate's efforts to shape her husband's role in her death and the world's understanding of Plath and her work. Here, too, is a new Sylvia Plath, immersed in popular culture and proto-feminism, presaging the way we live now.I wrote this biography because there were aspects of Sylvia Plath that other biographers have overlooked or misunderstood. But as I wrote I re-read my predecessors. I checked to see how others had handled the same material. I think my practice in doing so is worth mentioning because I have dispensed with a good deal of the boilerplate that most biographers feel compelled to supply. I say little, for example, about the backgrounds of Plath’s parents. I don’t describe much of Smith College or its history. I do very little scene setting. Previous biographers do all this and more, and what strikes me about their work is how distracting all that background is for someone wishing to have a vision of Sylvia Plath, of what she was like and what she stood for. To put it another way, since earlier biographers have done so much to contextualize Plath, I have not wanted to repeat that exercise, as valuable as it can be for the Plath novice. Instead, I have concentrated on the intensity of the person who was Sylvia Plath, restricting my discussion of her writing only to the truly crucial pieces that advance my narrative. I have tried to write a narrative so focused that a reader new to Plath biography may feel some of the exhilaration and despair that marked the poet’s life. I wrote this biography because there were aspects of Sylvia Plath that other biographers have overlooked or misunderstood. But as I wrote I re-read my predecessors. I checked to see how others had handled the same material. I think my practice in doing so is worth mentioning because I have dispensed with a good deal of the boilerplate that most biographers feel compelled to supply. I say little, for example, about the backgrounds of Plath’s parents. I don’t describe much of Smith College or its history. I do very little scene setting. Previous biographers do all this and more, and what strikes me about their work is how distracting all that background is for someone wishing to have a vision of Sylvia Plath, of what she was like and what she stood for. To put it another way, since earlier biographers have done so much to contextualize Plath, I have not wanted to repeat that exercise, as valuable as it can be for the Plath novice. Instead, I have concentrated on the intensity of the person who was Sylvia Plath, restricting my discussion of her writing only to the truly crucial pieces that advance my narrative. I have tried to write a narrative so focused that a reader new to Plath biography may feel some of the exhilaration and despair that marked the poet’s life.
The first biography that truly shows the actress at work.-- Ellen Burstyn
A new edition, revised and updated, from University Press of Mississippi. In American popular culture Marilyn Monroe has evolved in stature from Hollywood sex symbol to tragic legend. Most books about Monroe stress the sensational events that surrounded her-this book is the first to deal honestly and critically with Monroe as an actress, evaluating her moves as crucial forces in the shaping of her identity. Through careful examination of her performances, from her small appearances in The Asphalt Jungle
and All About Eve
to her memorable roles in Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot
, and the The Misfits
, the author traces her development from cover girl innocent to an actress devoted to her craft. Based on extensive interviews with many of Monroe's colleagues, close friends, and mentors, this comprehensive, critically balanced study describes her use of Method acting as well as her instruction with Michael Chekhov and, later, the Strasbergs. Carl Rollyson has written a refreshing analysis and appreciation of Marilyn Monroe's enduring and, until now, underestimated gifts as a creative artist.
America's most controversial radical playwright. Through diaries, letters, government files, and interviews Carl Rollyson draws a vital and vibrant portrait of the life, the work, and the legend of Lillian Hellman, America's most controversial radical playwright. Rollyson explores the sources and backgrounds of her best-selling memoirs, the development of her politics, her successful screenwriting career, and her famous appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He provides entertaining and informative accounts of her feud with Mary McCarthy, her many love affairs and surprising friendships. He also provides a provocative and compelling portrayal of this complex and brilliant woman, who was called everything from a "viper", "a goddam liar" to "an empathetic genius with a highly original and penetrating mind." Near death, Hellman spoke of being blocked; this biography will show what got in her way.
The first biography of Gellhorn, relying on key archival sources and interviews with her friends and associates. Martha Gellhorn died in February 1998, just shy of her 90th birthday. Well before her death, she had become a legend. She reported on wars from Spain in the 1930s to Panama in the 1980s, and her travel books have become classics. Her marriage to Ernest Hemingway and affairs with legendary lovers like H. G. Wells, and her relationship with two presidents, Roosevelt and Kennedy, reflect her campaigns against tyranny and deprivation, and her outrage at the corruption and cruelty of modern governments. This controversial and acclaimed biography portrays a vibrant and troubled woman who never tired of fighting for causes she considered just.
Delves beneath the surface to examine the forces that made Sontag an international icon, exploring her public persona and private passions, including the strategies behind her meteoric rise to fame and her political moves.
The first book to survey the broad range of Sontag's work. Includes a comprehensive glossary of Sontag's extensive allusions to literary figures and ideas.
Twenty-five years of writing about female icons and biography. Female Icons: Marilyn Monroe to Susan Sontag
Bits and pieces that resulted not only in a biography of Marilyn Monroe but also in much of the work subsequently done on Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and on the nature of biography itself. This book includes New York Sun book reviews dealing with female icons such as Mary Stuart, Mary Wollstonecraft, The Brontës, Marie Curie, Harriet Tubman, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Sylvia Plath.
The standard biography of one of the 20th century's greatest prose stylists.. What is new in this second edition of Carl Rollyson's standard biography? It begins with a portrait that attempts to evoke the living person in all her dimensions. It concludes with an interview with one of her favorite secretaries, Elizabeth Leyshon, who eluded him in the 1990s but provided new insights into her employer's character for this book. The biography's new title emphasizes that Rebecca West was a prophet-one not always appreciated in her own day. As early as 1917, she understood where the world was headed and realized that the revolution in Russia held out false hope. Because she took this view as a socialist, those on the left scorned her as an apostate, whereas she understood that Communism would result in a disaster for the British left. Readers wishing to gauge the range of West's fiction and nonfiction should read Woman as Artist and Thinker, published by iUniverse. Rollyson has read his words anew, sharpening sentences, omitting words and paragraphs-sometimes entire sections-in order to provide a refreshing, more engaging, and spirited account of one of the world's major writers.
The first book to explore the entire corpus of her extraordinary career.
Religion, politics, and the writing of biographies.
Filmmaker, feminist,, wife--a twentieth century woman.
The first literary biography of Norman Mailer, updated and revised
Essays in Biography
is a play on words conveying an attempt to explore the nature of biography in pieces about the history of the genre and in portrayals of biographers (Plutarch, Leon Edel, and W. A. Swanberg), literary figures (Lillian Hellman, Jack London), philosophers and critics (Leo Strauss and Hippolyte Taine), political figures (Winston Churchill and Napoleon), and artists (Rembrandt and Rubens).
For those addicted to reading biography, enhancing their pleasure by providing insight (or you might say, the inside word) on how biographies are put together.
Provocative reviews of American subjects, originally appearing in The New York Sun.
A candid and revealing account, by an expert in the minefield of the biographer’s contentious work
A terrific companion for biography writers and lovers.-- James McGrath Morris, editor of the monthly "The Biographer's Craft"
Thomas Jefferson and Slavery
Barnes and Noble Review of A Slave in the White House
Wall Street Journal review of the latest Salinger biography
The Hunt for Herman Melville
Wall Street Journal review of Hershal Parker's Melville Biography
"Biographology," a column about biography at bibliobuffet.com
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