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Picks and Pans Review: Sam Spiegel

updated 05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/2003 01:00AM

By Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni

Sam Spiegel (1901-1985), subject of this thorough, lively biography, was a near caricature of a Hollywood producer: He chomped cigars, cavorted with starlets and prostitutes (despite being wed thrice), lived high even when broke (blithely bouncing checks his entire life) and lied habitually. His saving grace? He was charming. And as journalist Fraser-Cavassoni, the daughter of biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, argues convincingly, Spiegel played a vital role in making such enduring film classics as The African Queen, On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. Director David Lean, his often irked collaborator on Kwai and Arabia, said of Spiegel's powers of persuasion and persistence: "If you wanted traffic stopped in Piccadilly for 10 minutes at 11 o'clock on a certain day and have six tanks go down the middle, if anybody could get permission to do that, Sam [could]." (Simon & Schuster, $30)

BOTTOM LINE: A Hollywood legend comes alive, flamboyantly

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