Monday, January 21, 2008

These Books Were Starred!

I've always wished I could go to one of Cher's garage sales.

Several years ago I was waiting in line at the grocery store and just happened to pick up a tabloid and just happened to come across a story about Cher having a garage sale --

(Did you notice that no one will ever admit to buying a taboid? They always say they JUST HAPPENED to pick one up in the grocery line and JUST HAPPENED to see an article because they're too embarrassed to admit the truth: they buy them and read them like everybody else. the interest of telling the truth, I'll start over:)

Several years ago I bought a tabloid at the grocery store, then brought it home and read it from cover to cover, just like I always do. One of the articles said that Cher had recently held several garage sales, selling clothes, knick-knacks, and books. I wished I was there, as I would love to see what kind of books Cher reads. I was especially intrigued when the article went on to say that Cher sometimes accidentally left bookmarks in the books she sold...and she was known for using one hundred dollar bills as bookmarks!

Can you imagine?

I never did buy a book from Cher, but I do have two volumes in my collection that belonged to honest-to-goodness stars. The main reason I have them is not because they were once owned by famous performers, but because those performers had some special connection with each book.

Published in 1981, M.E. Kerr's HIM SHE LOVES? concerns the romance between middle-class, gentile Henry Schiller, whose family owns a German restaurant, and a wealthy Jewish girl named Valerie Kissenwiser, whose father is the famous comedian "Al Kiss." No one is better than M.E. Kerr at depicting the clash-of-cultures between the Haves and the Have-Nots and even when her novels are at their most hilarious, there's often a streak of melancholy lurking beneath her wise-cracking prose. That is the case here, as love-besotted Henry finds his romance becoming fodder for Al Kiss's comedy routines. I always imagined Al Kiss to be a comedian along the lines of Alan King. Several months after King's death, I discovered a copy of HIM SHE LOVES? for sale with the following inscription:

M.E. Kerr is not only my favorite writer, but she's also a special friend. So I was able to ask her directly about this inscription. She told me that she was a big fan of Mr. King and had somewhat modeled the characer of Al Kiss after him. She always hoped he'd play that role if a movie was ever made of HIM SHE LOVES?

Another special volume in my collection is A STAR FOR THE LATECOMER by Bonnie Zindel and Paul Zindel, published in 1980. In this novel, sixteen-year-old Brooke has spent her life training hard to be a dancer. The realization that is she's trying to fulfill her mother's dashed dreams of a dancing career instead of pursuing her own goals is further complicated when her mother, Claire, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. My copy of this touching and personal novel is inscribed:

"Shelly" is Shelley Winters, who was a friend of the Zindels and once did a stage production of Paul Zindel's brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning play THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-MOON MARIGOLDS. Those who only remember Shelley from TV's ROSEANNE (or, even worse, BLOODY MAMA on the big screen) may not know her earlier, first-rate work in films. If a movie of A STAR FOR THE LATECOMER had ever been made, and Shelley had played the juicy role of sympathetic stage mother Claire, she might have won her third Academy Award.

As I said, I love these volumes not simply because they were once owned by notable figures, but because of the insight they provide into the creative process, letting us know how M.E. Kerr and the Zindels envisioned their characters as they wrote these fine books.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious, Peter: how did these two volumes come to be in your collection? Did you find them by chance?

Peter D. Sieruta said...

I found these two on, while hunting around for signed Kerr and Zindel volumes. Of course most signed books are fairly generic ("To Bill Smith, from Paul Zindel") but occasionally you'll find one inscribed to a famous person. When that's the case, the dealer usually bought an entire collection from that celebrity. For example, the dealer I bought the Zindel book from (for $45) also had several other volumes that once belonged to Shelley Winters. I also saw another dealer selling many books that once belonged to Barbara Streiand.

Anonymous said...

I looked for years and years for a signed copy of "Harriet the Spy" and finally found one on Ebay inscribed to "George and Fred." I've always wondered who they were.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

"Fred" is one of Harrison Withers's cats; could that be a clue?

One of the most extraordinary books in my collection is also a signed copy of HARRIET -- and my copy is inscribed to one of the "cats" as well....

I received my copy as a birthday present last October and I've yet to put it on the shelf. I keep it out in special place so I can look at it every day and send grateful thoughts to the friend who gave this book to me.