Picks and Pans Review: Entertainers and the Entertained

UPDATED 09/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

by John Houseman

The avuncular actor-TV pitchman, 83, has already published his autobiography in a couple of volumes, and now here is a collection of his miscellaneous writings—essays, magazine articles, newspaper columns (for the short-lived New York Star in the late '40s), a foreword to a book written by a friend, obituaries and book reviews. Houseman's roots are in the WPA theater project where, as producer or director, he was involved in such milestone projects as The Cradle Will Rock, a black Macbeth, the dramatization of Richard Wright's Native Son and then—with Orson Welles—the Mercury Theatre. Taking him through such recent projects as the esteemed TV series The Paper Chase and the film Ghost Story, this book has nothing if not scope. An assessment of the Broadway theater written in 1949 seems fresh and astonishingly timely today; just change the money figures. The essay on how Houseman became involved in The Paper Chase is one of the liveliest pieces, and it does a fine job of explaining why it is so difficult these days to get shows of substance into production. The only weak links in here are the book reviews, which seem thin and perfunctory compared to the pieces that were written originally for magazines. For readers who like to revel in the lore of the theater, this is solid stuff. (Simon and Schuster, $18.95)

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