Picks and Pans Review: Black Knight, White Knight

updated 05/18/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/18/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Gloria Vanderbilt

This second installment of the author's projected five-volume autobiography traces her growth from 17 to 30. As she did in her first book, Once Upon a Time, Vanderbilt uses the different voices she had at each age, and that is a problem. Vanderbilt's stream of consciousness can bring women readers back to the time when "important" meant what you would wear on the next date. But teen talk can get boring and silly: "At least I had the wit to put the shocking-pink shade of lipstick in the bag along with my swimming paraphernalia—it matched the color of the strapless bathing suit to a tee...." In spite of the glamorous figures Gloria mixes with in Hollywood—Errol Flynn, Gene Tierney—it's hard, early in the book, to avoid questioning both Vanderbilt's intelligence and values. So when her first husband, Pat De Cicco, a sleazy Hollywood agent, tells a reporter that Gloria "is impressionable and not really very smart," and her soon-to-be second husband, conductor Leopold Stokowski, tells her she has "no sense," they seem astute judgments. But after she meets Stokowski, the book takes off, and Vanderbilt at times writes brilliantly. On the birth of her first son, Leopold Stokowski III: "A mask was put over my face and I started hurling in space...endlessly faster...I hit the light, blinded for an instant as I crashed through, and as I did the answer came to me ...light flooded me and the sun and the glory of the son and I knew I had given birth to a boy." Vanderbilt became morbidly dependent on Stokowski. Then she decided she wanted what he had: sustaining work. This book's title refers to De Cicco, the black knight who beat her up and once tried to kill her, and Stokowski, the white knight. Although thin and patchy in spots, the volume has a compelling emotional authenticity. Vanderbilt has an affair with Howard Hughes; Orson Welles makes a pass at her while his wife Rita Hayworth is pregnant with their child. And Vanderbilt ends the book after a date with Frank Sinatra, the man she hopes will give her the courage to end her marriage to Stokowski. Stay tuned; there are three volumes and more than 30 years worth of autobiography to go. (Knopf, $18.95)

From Our Partners