Sam Spiegel. The Biography of A Hollywood Legend – Natasha Fraser-Cavasson

Little Brown , 480 pages , £16.99 , HB
Bitesize: Barnstorming biography of one of the men who made Hollywood!

These days Hollywood is run, in the main, by faceless corporations all aiming to produce blockbuster after blockbuster. The director is generally considered to be the sole author of a film and its actors the marketing push. But there was another time, just a few decades ago, when the producers reigned supreme. And Sam Spiegel, producer of such classics as The African Queen, Bridge on the River Kwai, On the Waterfront and Lawrence of Arabia was one of the best. They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Spiegel’s life was fascinating – despite his relatively modest upbringing he was well educated and well travelled. He always had the drive and ambition to become a success. But it was his personality that really helped him reach the top. He lived lavishly, whether he had money or not, and was constantly in debt in his formative years. He’d borrow people’s cars and neglect to return them. He’d throw wild, extravagant dinner parties at expensive hotels, then omit paying the bill. He was imprisoned many times in several countries for not paying his debts. He was a complete cad to his wives and daughter. But he oozed charm. People who were furious at him would forgive his misdemeanours, he could talk his way around anything.

Natasha Fraser-Cavasson’s biography is a fascinating insight into an incredibly complex character. It covers Spiegel’s life and, of course, his film output. Detailed chapters lovingly chart the production process of the movies and are filled with great anecdotes. All the juicy details are present and correct: tales of major creative clashes between producer and directors, Spiegel living it up on his yacht whilst his cast and crew were suffering on location, taking top credit on his productions and of course that old favourite, the casting couch. There’s no doubt that Sam Spiegel was an incredibly discriminating producer and, unusually, an independent, not affiliated with a particular studio. Without his drive and grandiose vision, the epics he produced would probably not have been, well, epic. His real talent lay in spotting the creative talent within others. And exploiting it.

Any Cop?: A splendid read about an extraordinary character, with plenty of tales about both the man and his films.