Picks and Pans Review: James Cagney: the Authorized Biography

updated 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Doug Warren with James Cagney

Here are three movie-star biographies that fans will like, even if they're short on revelations. The Cagney book (St. Martin's, $14.95) is fun mostly because the Irish are marvelous storytellers. The old man—now 84—rambles on in disjointed fashion about events in his early life that may—or may not—be true. He is particularly full of boyhood fighting tales, including one battle spread over three days against a bully named Carney. The author, a newspaperman and author of more than 60 books, loved the time he got to spend with Cagney and the actor's cronies, and the book reflects that easy affection. Beatty (St. Martin's, $12.95) is a man who is fanatical about his privacy, so the book on him is culled from clippings. All the information about his childhood comes from sister Shirley MacLaine's autobiographical books. According to author Munshower (The John Travolta Scrapbook and The Diane Keaton Scrapbook), whose book is a glaringly uncritical testimonial, Beatty has shown Hollywood that he can do pretty much as he pleases-as an actor, director, producer-writer. But he has a bigger ambition. It is, saints preserve us, to be President of the U.S. While Beatty had a pleasant childhood, Branson's (St. Martin's, $9.95) was so doubled that joining the Army at 22 was a joy. He then used the G.I. Bill to study acting and landed minor roles in an amazing number of films before he, like Clint Eastwood, moved to Europe and became a bankable star. This book is not much longer than a magazine article. The author, who has written film biographies of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, among others, observes of Branson's recent lackluster movies, "Fortunately, the forgettable soon gets forgotten." The aphorism fits the book, too.

From Our Partners