by Michael Lindsay-Hogg; Knopf, 2011; 288 pages; $26
Michael Lindsay-Hogg might not be a name that is readily recognizable, but the man has been part of our lives for more than a quarter-century. His stellar and innovative work as a director for British television (remember Brideshead Revisited?) made him a likely candidate to direct early music videos for the Rolling Stones and The Who. That success gave him Let It Be, the documentary that chronicled The Beatles’ last music together and consequently saw him direct some of Broadway’s most innovative theatrical productions.
Lindsay-Hogg is the son of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald (the Irish actress who was Bette Davis’ best friend in Dark Victory) and an English baronet who remained in Ireland for most of his son’s youth. (“It was as though my relationship with him had always been at the wrong end of a telescope, and as the years had progressed, he had become no more prominent.”)
So, as his mother worked on her career, young Michael found himself in Santa Monica in the company of some of Hollywood’s most important players. He sneaked into the home of William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies, developed a bit of a crush on Olivia de Havilland, knew the right drink to serve Humphrey Bogart, and came to suspect that Orson Welles, not Edward Lindsay-Hogg, was his father.
It was a passing remark when he was 16 that made Michael pursue the rumor that he was Welles’ son. (Insisted his mother: “You know how people put two and two together and get three.”) Welles randomly moved in and out of Michael’s life, so there was never really the right moment to ask the question. Michael’s relationship with Welles became one of many events that never really coalesced into a definitive answer.
Michael grew apart from his mother as his own career took off. His memories of filming The Beatles documentary are hypnotic. (He says he liked Yoko Ono.) His accounts of working in film and directing on Broadway are equally mesmerizing. Through all these moments, his mother rarely dominates the book, an unconscious statement, perhaps, about how little she was in his life.
He returns to her at the end of the memoir in a heart-breaking account of her dementia and death. Yet even in her papers, there were no answers to the big question. The truth about his paternity was to arrive from an unexpected source.
It’s hard to describe what Love and Circumstance is. It’s a kind of stream-of-consciousness memoir, a chronicle of the music scene in the 1970s, and a book with a seemingly unanswerable mystery at its core. That all of this is so deftly combined into one gripping read is evidence of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s originality. This past year, there have been a lot of books by and about celebrities. It will be a shame if this small wonder of a memoir gets lost among some less worthy books.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.