Marla's Truth: The Autobiography of Marla Del Marr, as told to Stephen Schaefer (St. Martin's Press: $14.95)
Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside: The Bittersweet Saga of the "Sock It to Me" Girl by Judy Carne, with Bob Merrill ( Rawson: $15.95)
Let's start with Marla first. She was born the last of six children in South Dakota, the apple of her daddy's eye--until he left, during the Depression. She gets a highly dubious scholarship at an equally dubious local college, but leaves in her first year because of a sexual contretemps with a clod.
Like so many beautiful young girls, she voyages to Hollywood, where, still at the age of 15 (16?) she is held a virtual prisoner in a picturesque apartment above Sunset Boulevard by Benny Farber: "Bald, tanned and bulky, he could have been anywhere between 30 and 60 years old." Benny claims to be an agent, and actually is, but he throws Marla over after she imprudently has a one-night stand with an old enemy of his, a failing, independent producer who dresses for the occasion in a fur jockstrap and wolf mask.
Marla, tossed out, finds a job as a waitress at the Blue Moon Cafe, and has her first real, torrid affair (with John Garfield, whom she remembers to call Julie). Of course, the world knows nothing of this, since he takes her out of town to "tiny, tidy" motels, and insists that their rendezvous remain " a deux. "
Then the war comes, and Marla (who's already suffered the heartbreak of an abortion and has a drinking problem that would stagger a buffalo) meets handsome Earle, who marries her, goes off to war and leaves her with a Benzedrine habit and the world's worst case of VD. Some Hollywood hopefuls might become just a bit discouraged, but Marla gets up at dawn for her daily exercise classes, drinks concoctions filled with wheat germ and brewer's yeast flakes, consults psychics, and even when she meets a crazed cowboy who ties her up with his lariat, or when Earle returns--not dead, but just a homicidal maniac--Marla (not her real name, of course) tends to look for the silver lining.
Her tastes are simple, and she puts it best remembering her first (and favorite?) husband, Earle: "He was funny. And such fun! He'd arrive with his bottle of Seven Crown, which he drank mostly with ginger ale, and for the rest of the night, all we'd need was ice and each other."
Poor Marla! She's not one for self-analysis, and even when depression overwhelms her, she plays down those suicide attempts. On the other hand, she's not exactly one for shouldering responsibility: How many times she misses those all-important screen tests, when one of her lovers kicks the phone off the hook during one of their magic evenings, or that agent of hers simply forgets to phone.
Well, her career has its ups and downs--and sometimes it's hard to remember exactly who she was in filmland: Vera Hruba Ralston's stand-in, or the first victim of the "creature" in the sequel to "The Creature in the Black Lagoon." But she was James Dean's real love; she swears it. He brought her a pet goose, and after Dean died she and the goose did all they could to keep each other company. . . .
This "generic," fictional autobiography is terribly funny. And it's terribly sad. The true aficionado of the "as-told-to" Hollywood biography will recall Mary Astor's "life," actually written by Frank Carothers, who used his money to finish graduate school and go on to become chairman of Loyola-Marymount's Department of English. And yes, Hollywood is a place of fabrications; if Marla wants to claim James and "Julie," who's to say her nay? Surely, in Hollywood, if nowhere else, we may embroider the truth.
Stephen Schaefer's send-up of the as-told-to autobiography succeeds, if you adhere to Marla's behavioral code and never allow yourself a moment's introspection.
Because here--authentic nonfiction--is also Judy Carne's as-told-to autobiography. In case her name doesn't immediately ring a bell, the publishers thoughtfully include her identity in the sub-title: "Laugh-In's" "Sock It to Me" girl. It's been 18 years since "Laugh-In."
Judy, like "Marla," came from humble beginnings. Her father was a greengrocer in the English midlands. She had to work hard to learn to pronounce her h's. Judy, too, was both innocent and a bit of a good-time girl. While she was still single she was "friends" with Anthony Newley and Vidal Sassoon and Stirling Moss (whom she helped with his memory after a terrible crash). And Judy was married to Burt Reynolds, who had terrible taste in Early American furniture, and made her wear push-up bras and cut their honeymoon short so he could watch football on television.