Charmed Lives combines many of the elements of a successful book about rich and glamorous moviemakers. It is biographical, being a recounting of the lives of the famous Korda brothers, Alexander, Zoltán, and Vincent, and it is autobiographical in its discussion of the early life of the author, Michael Korda, Vincent’s son, as he grew up in the presence of many of the world’s most famous film personalities. It is also highly peppered with gossip, social history, and self-analysis, all of which usually ensure a book’s place on the best-seller list.
Korda is well qualified to write such a book on many counts. Being one of the principals of this biography/autobiography, he had first hand information as well as meaningful insights into the complex lives of the Korda family. As an author of nonfiction material who has written three previous books (Male Chauvinism!, Power!, and Success!, Michael Korda is an accomplished writer who did not need to rely on a ghost writer to make his story intelligible, as is frequently the case among Hollywood biographies. In recent years, best-selling biographies of stars or important directors have fallen into three general categories: highly inflamatory biographical exposés; reminiscences of life and romances as told by a celebrity to a ghost writer; or discussion of a famous person by an offspring such as Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford or Haywire by Brooke Hayward.
Although the last category would seem the most appropriate for Charmed Lives, it is to the author’s credit that he does not succumb to the temptation of adding yet another psychological horror story to the list of those already in print. Instead, he successfully combines aspects of all three of these categories. Korda recounts his own life from early childhood to young adulthood without bitterness or maliciousness despite a rather unsettled and unhappy youth. Born in October, 1933, Korda was shuffled between London, Hollywood, and various boarding schools in the 1930’s and 1940’s as a result of the circumstances of being not only the son of art director Vincent Korda, but also, more importantly, the nephew of producer and impressario Alexander Korda.
Although the book is a family biography, Alexander looms large in the study. The book’s title comes from a statement made by Alexander’s third wife and widow, Alexa, made shortly after her husband’s death. She told the twenty-two-year-old Michael that Alexander had not led a “charmed life”; and although Michael protested that he never thought that his uncle did lead such a life, his book belies his protest, depicting Alexander as the sun around which the entire family, including Michael, revolved. When Michael was sent to school, for example, it was his uncle rather than his father who decided to which school he would be sent; even though Alexander never appeared overly fond of his nephew—or, indeed, of any children—he was nevertheless the head of the family. However, while his brothers usually complied with his wishes, they also managed to undermine his authority in small ways. One incident which illustrates this pattern involved Alexander’s attempt to coerce Vincent into keeping a chauffeur. Vincent opposed such trappings of wealth and initially refused. Alexander got his way, however, by instructing the...
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