Having read a bunch of review about this book both before I bought it and since reading it, I have this to say: it’s gossip. I bought this as an audiobook because Plummer narrates the book himself and I thought it would be more interesting with the author talking about his own life.
You have to really like Hollywood gossip to read the whole thing. It would be better if you aren’t overly prudish, don’t mind street language and aren’t offended by men who talk about the women with whom they have slept in intimate detail. He is also an awful snob. He came from the upper class, you see, and he’s never quite been able to get into the whole “everyone-is-equal” thing.
Which is contradictory because in his personal life and relationships, he is very egalitarian. He doesn’t care if you are pink, black, yellow or polka-dot, gay, straight or something weirdly in between. He tends to judge people by the quality of their acting and how well they hold their booze. He also is almost entirely lacking in malice, which is refreshing considering how many of these memoirs by stars seem to have been written for the express purpose of settling old scores. Christopher Plummer seems to mostly want to remember the good old days — the golden days of Broadway and live theatre in Canada (he’s a Montrealer and proud of it) and Great Britain. He loved the theater and does not seem to have reconciled himself to the encroachment of movies and television.
Even though most of his career has been spent working in Hollywood and television, neither medium could ever match his passion for the stage. The world up and changed. Although he did what he had to do to continue to work, it was never as good for him as it was in the 1950s.
This is a very mixed bag as a book and as a listening experience. Certainly you can’t argue with Plummer’s beautiful voice and crisp, classical enunciation. But he doesn’t know the difference between narrating and acting, so the entire book is more acted than read. You get used to it after a few hours of listening, but especially at the beginning, he’s more than a little over the top.
He started working young, so he got to know many of the legendary greats of stage and screen. His admiration and personal love for the people — Jason Robards, Raymond Massey, Tyrone Guthrie, Everett Edward Horton, Lawrence Olivier, Archibald MacLeish — to name but a few are matched only by how very much he misses them. There is a strong whiff of sadness as he tells the stories of his youth, always adding when he or she died. He is one of the few left standing.
Most memoirs are more than slightly sad. By the time someone is writing his or her memoirs, it’s usually because they have grown old, the world they loved has gradually — or not so gradually — disappeared. Plummer is honest, generous in his assessment of anyone he ever regarded as a friend. For example, he rates his pal (with whom he started out in Montreal theatre) William Shatner as a fine actor, which I think is more than generous. I like Shatner too … but great actor? Not exactly. Apparently a really good friend, however.
Christopher Plummer cannot say a bad word — or enough good ones — about anyone he likes and he liked most of the people with whom he worked, drank and slept. Oh, just in case you’re wondering, the ones he slept with were women. Now you don’t have to hold your breath waiting for the revelation.
If you are a film buff, enjoy knowing the back stories to movies, or just love Hollywood gossip, you will enjoy the book. It’s a bit long, wistful, and occasionally repetitive but not preachy (which I appreciate). The aristocratic superiority Plummer sometimes exudes can be a bit much. Yet, for all that, I’m glad I read it and I’m particularly glad I heard it as an audiobook. The author’s voice changes it. There is no way I would picked up all the nuances without the author’s voice.
IN SPITE OF MYSELF is also available on Kindle and paperback. You can find plenty of second-hand hardcover copies available on Amazon and probably other sites too. I bet the print version of the book includes photographs. You lose that in audio, but I think it’s a worthwhile trade.
- Shatner recalls his ‘magical’ Stratford days (metronews.ca)
- “The Tempest” Starring Christopher Plummer | Review of the Play (petergalenmassey.com)
- TV: Random Roles: Christopher Plummer on the greatest piece of direction he ever received (avclub.com)
- Actor Christopher Plummer: ‘Do I love the Oscar? … Well, if the Oscar is gay, yes, of course’ (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Shatner comes home to receive Stratford Festival honour (globalnews.ca)
- Celebrity Memoirs Hit the Bargain Bin (parkerpaige.wordpress.com)