Four Good Queer-Friendly Coffee Table Books: 2009

Posted on December 18, 2009
Filed Under Coffee Table Books | 507 Comments

Here are four gift-able queer coffee table books–in no particular order:

Mr. Vidal has assembled an amazing collection of photographs–mostly candids of him and his friends.  We see Paul Newman, Johnny Carson, Tennessee Williams and many others.  They are often positioned casually around a pool or at the beach–frequently shirtless.  The interiors of Mr. Vidal’s fine homes are presented beautifully.  And the behind-the-scenes photos of his talk show appearances are interesting.  I particularly enjoyed the snaps of his political excursions:  his run for congress, his later appearances with Abby Hoffman and others. Gore Vidal

Unfortunately, this book is also littered with Mr. Vidal’s self-serving, pompous, often-hilariously inaccurate comments.  Particularly egregious is Mr. Vidal’s description of the famously trashy film:  Suddenly Last Summer.  Mr. Vidal writes:  “I know (Sam) Spiegel has listed beside my name Tennessee Williams himself, who did not contribute one line to the screenplay.  But Tennessee Williams was quite happy with the result.”

Gore Vidal is eighty-four years old.  Perhaps his memory is failing him.  He might have considered refreshing it by consulting Tennessee Williams’ Memoirs–published in 1975. In his Memoirs Mr. Williams didn’t spend a lot of time on the movie Suddenly Last Summer.  He mentioned that Sam Spiegel gave him fifty thousand dollars plus fifteen percent of the profits for the movie rights.  Then he added:  “…the profits were as good as the movie was bad.”  So yes:  “Tennessee Williams was quite happy with the result.”  If  we define “the result” as:  large residual checks.

Katharine Hepburn

Chronicle recently published a magnificent book of Katharine Hepburn photographs.  These photos span almost all of Ms. Hepburn’s sixty-two year career in film.  There are a number of candids as well as the glamour photos of the day.  I found the candids the most interesting, because they reveal sides of Katharine Hepburn which she tried hard to conceal.  For example, the candids of her on the set of Suddenly Last Summer reveal a woman who looks surprisingly old.  (Ms. Hepburn famously spat in the eye of director, Joseph Mankiewicz, when she saw the finished film.)  In the candid photos, Ms. Hepburn also looks surprisingly freckled and one can see why Howard Hughes nicknamed her, “Red.”  She’s also frequently photographed smoking.  And I couldn’t help but think:  For someone who lived to be ninety-six, this woman sure smoked a lot of cigarettes.

Don’t expect too much from the text.  It’s written by the man who wrote the authorized biography of Katharine Hepburn.  And this text feels authorized also.  No mention of Ms. Hepburn’s lesbianism.  (And none of the corroborating photos.)  This is strictly boilerplate:  “Kate and Spensah.”

For some hints of Katharine Hepburn’s homosexuality, one might just as well read her full-page quotes–sprinkled throughout the book.  My favorite:

I never realized until recently that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.

Some Like it Hot doesn’t start out as a very queer film.  It opens in Chicago in nineteen twenty-nine and it’s, of course, the night of the Saint Valentine’s Massacre.  There are machine guns and sight gags about hiding the prohibition-era booze.  And there is a gangster leader named Spats who wears spats and flicks a coin like George Raft, because, of course, he is George Raft.  When Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon throw on the dresses and the make-up for the first time it’s an amusing sight gag–particularly Jack Lemmon’s cupid’s bow lipstick–but it still feels like another guy film.  Even the extra-terrestrial appearance of a spaced-out Marilyn Monroe doesn’t quite lift this movie above a slightly formulaic comic diversion, for me.  About three quarters into the film, though, Billy Wilder throws a surprising loop into the formula:  Jack Lemmon’s character gets excited about the idea of marrying an older man.  And the comic dialogue, which had started out almost predictable, becomes madly unpredictable, unexpected.  As when Tony Curtis’s character asks Jack Lemmon’s:  “Why would a guy want to marry another guy?”  His response:   “Security!”

A great movie deserves a first-class companion.  And I honestly don’t think anyone could have done a better job than Laurance Maslon and the people at Collins Design.  This is the perfect gift for anyone who loves Some Like it Hot.

Earlier this year, Rizzoli published a superior Joan Crawford coffee table book.  This beautifully-produced book is comprised primarily of high quality studio shots of Ms. Crawford.  One is reminded of  how beautiful she could photograph–particularly when she was young.  And this book also shows how long Joan Crawford’s career was.  The overall effect is respectful.  And the text by Peter Cowie is also respectful in tone.  No mention of Ms. Crawford’s bisexuality here.  But I must say the quality of the writing is very high.  I actually learned a few things from reading this book.  For instance, I never knew that Joan Crawford became interested in Christian Science while filming Susan and God.

This is an ideal gift for the Joan Crawford fan in your life.

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