Elizabeth Kendall Hailey achieved notoriety and prestige at an early age with the publication of her youthful diaries, entitled The Day I Became an Autodidact. The work, which offers an unusually insightful account of the maturation of a young woman, is characterized by witty detachment.
Hailey is the elder of the two daughters of the writers Oliver Hailey (1932-1994) and Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. Oliver Hailey was the respected author of such plays as Father’s Day (1970) and For the Use of the Hall (1976). Elizabeth Hailey wrote the novel A Woman of Independent Means (1979), which was the basis for both a successful play and a successful television film. Hailey grew up in a happy, extended family that included not only her parents and sister but also Oliver Hailey’s mother and brother. Living and traveling together, the family offered strong support for Hailey’s intellectual development. Upon graduating from high school in Los Angeles in 1983, Hailey became, in her words, “an unpaid apprentice” to both her parents. Typing manuscripts, answering phone calls and keeping household accounts, traveling on book tours with her mother and attending the rehearsals and openings of her father’s plays, Hailey learned the craft and the business of writing firsthand. She also learned about the practical side of life. In 1983 Thomas Hailey, Kendall’s uncle, who handled the family business, suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, from which it took him nine years to recuperate. Kendall Hailey took over his responsibilities during his convalescence.
One of her first chances to write came when her father asked that she write the first draft of a script for a television film (which was never produced). The film spanned several decades, including the 1930’s and 1940’s, with which Hailey was acquainted through her love of contemporary films.
In interviews Hailey has referred to herself as an “emotional journalist,” saying that though she has tried to write novels she “cannot spin a tale”; instead she prefers to write autobiographical accounts of events and their emotional consequences.
Written with a style reminiscent of such Algonquin Round Table writers as Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, The Day I Became an Autodidact is a glimpse into Hailey’s life from 1981 to 1986. It tells the story of her decision to give herself the equivalent of a college education through reading great books, starting with virtually all of the acknowledged Roman and Greek classic writers. The book also reflects Hailey’s wide-ranging interests in music, art, and popular culture.
In 1985 her family bought a second home in West Sussex, England, and began living alternately in Los Angeles and England, with occasional trips to New York and elsewhere. During this time, Hailey was given a rare opportunity to meet and learn from great artists of the theater. Perhaps most important, she met and became a protégé of the theater actor and director Charles Nelson Reilly, who helped her become more independent of her family. In the late 1980’s, for the first time, she developed a circle of friends and colleagues apart from her family. In 1991 she established herself in her own apartment in Los Angeles.
When her second book went unpublished, dismissed by publishers as not up to the standards she had set in The Day I Became an Autodidact , Hailey used the occasion to develop new aspects of her life. For the first time she began to use her interest in the theater creatively. Until then her only...
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