Picks and Pans Review: Shelley Ii

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Shelley Winters

The persona Shelley Winters has always presented on talk shows is that of a blond, bazoomy bombshell, more than a bit bumptious, bovine and blowsy. She very convincingly dispels that image in this second installment of her extremely funny, entertaining autobiography.

Shelley II has all the requisites of a celebrity memoir: Many names are dropped, lovers are enumerated and evaluated, and there are inside stories about friends and fellow stars Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Lancaster and Marilyn Monroe. (Once, when she was charged with making a salad while then roommate Winters shopped for dinner, Monroe meticulously washed each lettuce leaf with a Brillo pad.) But what makes this book such a pleasure is the force and exuberance of Winters's personality, an absolute willingness to laugh at herself, an absolute refusal to take herself too seriously, an absolute insistence on being vulnerable. The book begins in the mid '50s, just after the breakup of Winters's marriage to Italian film star Vittorio Gassman. She recalls: "I had to convince my mother, as per instructions from Jerry Giesler, the famous lawyer who was representing me, that she had to testify that Vittorio was guilty of mental cruelty.... When the day of the divorce trial arrived, the judge had great difficulty getting my mother, Rose, to say anything negative about Vittorio. She said, 'Well, I heard fights downstairs,' but the judge couldn't get her to say whether it was a male or female voice screaming.

"Finally, when the judge reached the point of exasperation, she did quietly say, 'Well, he studied Hamlet all the time, which is a very big role, and that was mentally cruel to Shelley.' "

Winters also recounts her turbulent marriage to Tony Franciosa and romances with Sterling Hayden, John Garfield, the then unknown Sean Connery (who gave her very warm memories and a mink coat) and Albert Finney. She and Finney consummated their relationship in a car she bought for just that purpose. "It seems ridiculous now," she notes, "but this was, remember, the pre-sexual-revolution early '60s, and then as now Finney was a very private person. But it was getting dangerous to park by the lake in Central Park and I was amassing parking tickets."

Equal weight is given to Winters's other passions: acting, the Method, the Actors Studio and politics, first as an Adlai Stevenson Democrat (she hints at a relationship with Stevenson that was more than campaigner to candidate), then as a JFK acolyte. Remembering the early '60s, perhaps, one can forgive Winters's schoolgirlish gushing about Kennedy: "When President Kennedy approached me backstage, I had a flash of intuition or insight and began to weep. I knew this man didn't believe that there were people who hated him. He did not understand hate. He only understood love, wanting the good things of life for all Americans."

Such lapses aside, one waits eagerly for more Winters tales, picking up where this book ends in 1963. (Simon and Schuster, $21.95)

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