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Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets.

PETER LAWFORD - The Man Who Kept the Secrets by James Spada (Bantam Books, 504 p.) is another one of those biographies almost designed to show the destructive influence of Hollywood on an actor. In this case, Lawford occupied a rather special niche, having married into the Kennedy clan.

According to Spada, Lawford was a handsome, suave, utterly charming, always elegantly-dressed Englishman, with a minimum of talent and only a modicum of intelligence. His were cliche performances, whether he played the swaggering Lord Lovat in The Longest Day or the fun-loving senator in Advice and Consent. There was no depth to Lawford, no intellectual scope, no inherent decency. Spada's book makes it clear that this was a man who most of the time lived on the edge of other people's lives, whether it was the Kennedy (he married John Kennedy's sister, Patricia, in 1954) or the famous Rat Pack - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop.

Spada has a great knack for drawing character, and his portrayal of Lawford is both fascinating and devastating, the picture of a shallow man, addicted to drink, drugs and money, short on ethics and long in an endless chase for women.

He divorced Pat Kennedy, and then married two more times. He had affairs aplenty, many of them detailed in the book. Ending them was easy for Lawford. As Spada relates, when he wanted his relationship with Judy Holiday to terminate, he simply stopped speaking to her.

Inevitably, the well-titled book goes into some considerable detail about Lawford's relationship with Marilyn Monroe, her affairs with the Kennedy brothers, and the mystery of her death. Was Lawford the man to whom Marilyn made her last call before committing suicide? How did he protect the Kennedy reputation?

It's all there, well researched and colorfully described, including some priceless passages involving Lawford's snobby English mother, his bitter fights with Sinatra, the actor's absurd and superficial values, and his sexual preferences.

Spada does a fine job delineating a simple man, out of his depth among the Kennedys who alternately used and ostracized him. He also very cleverly puts Lawford into the right setting, which includes the social stratosphere of the Kennedy family, including the president's blatant womanizing.

There is some question whether Peter Lawford deserves the attention of a full book. There was no great mystery about him, but Spada does well in weaving a portrait of the actor into the social and political fabric of the 1950's and 1960's, making Lawford a sad, dissolute, but utterly believable. figure.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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