Last night at the Viper Room




River Phoenix was just 23 years old when he died following an overdose of heroin and cocaine. He died on the pavement outside Johnny Depp’s Viper Room club on Halloween 1993. I was only 13 at the time and along with several of my classmates, did not take news of his death well. Being so young we hadn’t even seen his films but he was our misunderstood pretty-boy pin up who loved animals and wanted to save the rainforests. “R.I.P RIVER” we tippex-ed on our pencil cases.

Over 20 years on, his memory has faded though his devastatingly short life still holds intrigue for many of us. In his book, Gavin Edwards has brilliantly documented the troubled young actor’s life. We follow him from an unconventional childhood brought up by his hippy parents in a religious cult. He never went to school and the family moved around a lot throughout the U.S and Latin America. Later on during interviews, River would tell many different versions of his early years but it was largely understood that he was sexually active/abused in the cult and carried the burden of family breadwinner from an impossibly young age – encouraged to busk, beg and even scavenge to feed his parents and siblings.


This beautiful, blonde boy sang and played guitar on the streets and was soon noticed and began attending Hollywood auditions. This led initially to TV ads and small roles and an upswing in the Phoenix clan’s finances. His first big break came in the film Stand By Me. Although he went on to be Oscar nominated for his part in Running On Empty, Stand By Me is thought to be the jewel in River’s screen legacy.

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Burton’s last epic



Burton diary cover

Richard Burton was at one time Hollywood’s most highly paid actor, famed as much for his epic romance with glamorous Elizabeth Taylor and his heavy drinking, as he was for his magnetic performances on stage and screen.

Throughout much of his life, Burton kept a diary. Although he dismissed them as “merely a daily exercise in the observation of frustration,” they have now provided us with an invaluable insight into the life and mind of the legendary actor.

His diaries were published for the first time in full last year having been lovingly edited and referenced by Chris Williams using Burton’s original journals plus other photographs, newspapers, recordings, scripts and books.

The resulting 654 pages are utterly brilliant and as compelling a read as any great novel. Burton is articulate, charming, callous and full of fun and gossip. He writes with such a beautiful and poetic voice that you feel yourself falling for him.

Burton documents a life well lived amongst famous friends and the elite. Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando cop quite a bit of his wrath throughout!

 burton and taylor pose

As well as a journal of his own life it is also interesting to read Burton’s take on history, current affairs, travel and sport. From the moon landings to Churchill, Mussolini to golf, Burton offers intelligent opinions on the topics of the day.

The ease with which he uses quotes from, among others, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and  Yeats  to illustrate his thoughts and feelings is a tremendous delight to read and reread. You find yourself marvelling at his cleverness and recall.

We discover that he found the actual daily business of making movies a bore and that he sought other activities to stimulate his mind. He was a very well read man; devouring books almost at the same rate he did vodka and liking nothing better than hiding away from his family and his entourage with a good, or bad, novel. He also studied many languages including French, Italian, Spanish and Russian and liked to watch his weight with what he called “the drinking man’s diet.”

Below I have compiled my favourite Burton quotes from these diaries on subjects such as his darling Elizabeth Taylor, doctors, drinking, social occasions and attacking paparazzi. Please read on, these extracts are beautifully written and often hilarious in their spiteful observation. Who doesn’t love a witty put down? Continue reading

Just the (Italian) job this summer



Italian coastline! Glamorous movie stars! Romance! Everything you need from fantastically written, modern, summer fiction can be found right here in Jess Walter’s exquisite, rich story, Beautiful Ruins. In his book he takes us to the coast of Italy and to Rome, with brief stop offs in Idaho, England and Scotland before concluding half a century later in Hollywood.

Set mostly in a remote Italian fishing port in 1962, we meet Pasquale, a young man with big dreams but only a small forgotten hotel (amusingly called The Hotel Adequate View) to show for them. A beautiful young American actress mistakenly comes to his hotel (from the movie set of Cleopatra with Burton and Taylor) to hide from the world, convinced she is dying. Fate, circumstance and a langauge barrier seek to block a promising romance between the actress and the unassuming hotellier as she faces up to the real cause of her illness and he questions everything that has gone before. From there a fabulous tale unfurls featuring flawed characters, crazy romance and scenic landscapes spanning  fifty years and two continents. Continue reading