by Patricia Bosworth (Lipper/Viking, $21.95)
STELLA! STELL-AAAH! Funny how a few ill-chosen words, or artfully turned phrases, can define a guy's entire career. Especially when it comes to two-time Oscar-winner Marlon Brando (b. 1924), the septuagenarian screen actor whose last turn in The Score was more notable for his gargantuan white suit and co-stars (Edward Norton and Robert De Niro) than for any cinematic merit. Ironically, this same year has seen the expanded and improved 1979 Apocalypse Now Redux, which now represents Brando's last great performance (Larry King Live appearances notwithstanding).
Since he burst onto the Broadway stage on Dec. 3, 1947 in A Streetcar Named Desire, the Nebraska-born thespian has been lauded as the savior of American acting and a buffoon of international caliber. Between 1954's On the Waterfront (for which he earned his first Oscar) and 1972's Last Tango in Paris (his second, memorably declined by Indian-rights spokeswoman Sacheen Littlefeather on his behalf), the guy made about two decent films, practically destroying his reputation (and let's not start with Superman or The Island of Dr. Moreau).
What happened? Don't look to this piece of short-order hackwork for answers. Written by some actress-turned-alleged-journalist invited to the set of The Score on the condition she not ask questions (why not just offer free blow jobs while you're there?), this biography is truly just a bio: a book written for Entertainment Tonight viewers who can't be bothered to read. A contributing editor at Vanity Fair (that explains it), the author acknowledges her debt to the three definitive tomes on Brando: his own 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me; the same year's Brando: The Biography; and Time critic Richard Schickel's 1991 Brando: A Life in Our Times.
Truth be told, that's a lot of pages to digest, and who has time to delve so deeply into the life of a no-longer-relevant screen legend? His sons (e.g. De Niro) and grandsons (e.g. Norton) live on, so can't we bury the old geezer yet? Inferences, secondary sources, and bald inventions ("rage propelled Brando") make this an excellent, slim volume to shim a table leg three-quarters of an inch. Otherwise, it falls a mile short of understanding.
REBEL HEART: AN AMERICAN ROCK 'N' ROLL JOURNEY
by Bebe Buell and Victor Bockris (St. Martin's Press, $24.95)
"I WAS dangerous and damn good- looking. I had acid and a car!"
And so we begin. By the time you hit the last page of Rebel Heart, ber groupie—pardon me, ber muse—Bebe Buell's memoir, you'll either be completely annoyed or utterly awed by her. Buell, a woman who's bumped uglies with everyone from Todd Rundgren to Stiv Bators, is probably best known as Liv Tyler's mom. During the '70s, she was the caviar of celebrity girlfriends, wending her way through a veritable who's who of rocker cock.
Now, I love prurient gossip more than most, but a sense of humor and a dose of humility would've helped this book immensely (an editor would've been a nice touch as well). Though Bebe is indeed a very beautiful woman, her retelling of seemingly every compliment she ever received grows depressing quickly. I want to know which Rolling Stone had the biggest pocket rocket (Keef, naturally!), without having to wade through paragraphs detailing how Mick Jagger thought she was way smarter than the rest of his second-string side action.
And then there's her truly disturbing Elvis Costello fixation. In the years following her on-again, off-again home-wrecking affair with Costello, she remains convinced that he continues to send her messages through his songs. About his record Almost Blue she says: "And if you look at the word Blue, doesn't Buell jump out at you?" Huh? Not really. I kept wondering if tinfoil headgear is necessary to pick up these secret communiqu鳮
If one were to believe Buell, it would seem that there was barely a song written in the '70s that wasn't influenced by her or directly about her. She's even convinced that Prince—whom she's never met—allegedly wrote "Little Red Corvette" with her in mind. The line used as evidence is "Baby you're much too fast," which she reinterprets as "Bebe, you're much too fast." (Uh, yeah, and "Hey Jude" was written about me.)
I'm sure it's going to infuriate Buell that her tome will inevitably be compared to Pamela Des Barres' far more amusing I'm With the Band in every review it garners, but c'mon . . . the biggest difference between the two is that in Des Barres' book we're laughing with her.