Picks and Pans Review: Trio

updated 08/12/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/12/1985 01:00AM

by Aram Saroyan

The women who are the subjects of this amazing book—Oona O'Neill Chaplin, Gloria Vanderbilt and Carol Matthau—were debutantes in New York City. Seven husbands, 15 children and 45 years later, they are still the best of friends. Oona (Eugene's daughter and Charlie's widow) tells Carol, the wife of actor Walter Matthau, "If you ask me, you're the person Gloria loves more than anyone else in the world. I mean the way she loves you makes me love her." This readable book, full of sweet-natured gossip, was written by Carol's eldest child, a son she had while married to writer William Saroyan. (Aram, 41, wrote a harsh book about his father in 1982 and a more objective biography of him in 1983.) Saroyan also quotes Truman Capote, who called Vanderbilt and Matthau "charmingly incompetent adventuresses." Indeed similarities link all three women. Each had a troubled childhood. They married older men while in their teens. Saroyan tells their stories in fragments, with many flashbacks and recounted dreams. Scenes are re-created with lots of arresting details and intimate dialogue. Forty years later, for instance, Oona and Carol continue to giggle about the football weekend they spent at Brown University when their dates disappeared. And near the end of the book, Saroyan touchingly depicts the frail, 83-year-old Charlie Chaplin's return to the U.S. to get a special Oscar. For a party, Walter Matthau got hold of the screen test that Charlie directed of Oona when she was 18, just before they wed in 1943. The author is totally admiring of his mother, her friends and the strange, luxurious lives that they created. (Linden, $15.95)

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