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Rita Kohn
Book Reviews

Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb

by Rita Kohn
September 6, 2011
3 ½ stars
Clifton Webb with David L. Smith
Foreword by Robert Wagner
University Press of Mississippi Hollywood Legends Series, 2011

Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association.
Clifton Webb, born in Indianapolis in 1893, had a whirlwind career spanning Broadway to Hollywood, opera to ballroom dance studio, exhibited painter to revered peacemaker. His New York City credits range from Children's Theatre "circa 1896-1900" to the Plymouth Theatre's long run Present Laughter at mid-20th century mark. His film career, which began in 1917, interfaced with stage appearances until his permanent departure for Hollywood in 1947. By his 1962 retirement Webb had been in some 40 stage shows, danced in various NYC clubs and on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit and appeared in 27 films, gaining multiple Oscar nominations and winning Golden Globes' Best Supporting Actor for The Razor's Edge. But statistics fail to show the scope of Clifton Webb's life throughout one of the most colorful era's in the U.S.A. entertainment industry. Webb knew just about everyone, and was particularly kind to fellow Hoosier rising stars, including James Dean. Webb wrote the first six chapters and then abandoned his autobiography. David L. Smith, author of Hoosiers in Hollywood [Indiana Historical Society Press, 2006] found the manuscript replete with copious notes. The completed book is a delightful adventure particularly because Webb's urbane demeanor and incisive wit translates to his writing. Describing his stepfather: "He dressed for the occasion even when no occasion was in sight." A rehearsal pianist "bore the aspect of one recently bereaved." Upon visiting the aged Sarah Bernhardt: "We…were admitted by a manservant who looked long since embalmed." Webb's infallible formula was to say 'yes,' which you can always change to no. 'No' at the outset is irrevocable. Yes, read Sitting Pretty.
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