Charles Higham (biographer)

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Charles Higham
Born (1931-02-18)18 February 1931
London, United Kingdom
Died 21 April 2012(2012-04-21) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation biographer
Spouse Norine Lillian Cecil
Partner Richard V. Palafox

Charles Higham (18 February 1931 – 21 April 2012)[1] was an English author, editor and poet. Higham was a recipient of the Prix des Créateurs in 1978 and of the Académie Française and the Poetry Society of London Prize.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in London, Higham was the son of MP and advertising mogul Sir Charles Higham and his fourth of five wives, Josephine Janet Keuchenius Webb.[3] His father died when he was 7, and living with his divorced mother (his parents had divorced when Higham was 3),[4] the family reportedly lived in modest circumstances during the second world war.[5] The younger Higham published two early books of verse in England,[3] before moving to Sydney, Australia in 1953, where he became a journalist and critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and, later, the Sydney Daily Mirror.[4] Higham became literary editor of The Bulletin, the country's leading weekly, in 1964, and published three more collections of verse.[3]

In the 1960s, Higham compiled a number of now-scarce horror anthologies for Horwitz Publishing House, mostly reprinting material by non-Australian writers, the majority of the stories being reprinted from Montague Summers's 1936 anthology The Grimoire and Other Supernatural Stories. Australian writer Terry Dowling contributes an essay discussing the influence of Higham's horror anthologies on his own writing to Stephen Jones Horror: Another 100 Best Books.


Because he had gained a reputation as a poet,[5] Higham was named Regents Professor by the University of California,[6] an honor accorded to leading literary figures in foreign countries, and while at UC Santa Cruz he discovered lost footage of It's All True, Orson Welles's uncompleted Latin American triptych of more than a quarter century before.

In The Films of Orson Welles (1970) and in Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius (1985), he argued that Welles suffered from a "fear of completion"[7] that led him to abandon projects when they were nearly finished because others could then be blamed for their flaws.[8] Friends of Welles, in particular Peter Bogdanovich, criticised this thesis. Newsweek devoted a full-page spread to Higham as a film detective and The New York Times engaged him as its Hollywood feature writer for the Sunday theatre Section.

Higham's first best seller was Kate (1975), the first authorized biography of Katharine Hepburn.[3] This success was followed by Bette, the Life of Bette Davis, a biography of Lucille Ball, and The Duchess of Windsor (1988, 2005). In the book about the Duchess of Windsor he claimed she had learned unusual sexual practices in the brothels of Peking and was the lover of Count Ciano and Ribbentrop.[8]

According to Higham and Roy Moseley, in their biography of Cary Grant (1989), the actor was "visiting a young male" on the grounds of the home of actress Sharon Tate on the night in 1969 when Charles Manson and his associates murdered Tate and others. "The two men were talking in the garden when screams were heard from the main house", the authors wrote. "Cary fled in the Rolls." Their account was based on comments attributed to the producer William Belasco, by then deceased. Higham himself admitted in an interview that the incident was "poorly documented".[9]

After the publication of Higham's book Howard Hughes, according to Margalit Fox, "his assertions that Hughes had a romance with Cary Grant, was centrally involved in Watergate, offering material assistance to some of the conspirators, and quite possibly died of AIDS all raised eyebrows in the news media."[10] The work became the basis of Martin Scorsese's film The Aviator (2004).[11] Higham's Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi American Money Plot 1933-1949 detailed U.S. industry's links with Nazi Germany. He also published Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine in 1984, about the long running feud between the sister-actresses.[11] He also wrote The Art of the American Film and a biography of Florenz Ziegfeld.

Higham also wrote Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery on the death of William Desmond Taylor and a biography of Jennie Churchill, Dark Lady: Winston Churchill's Mother and Her World (2006).[11]

With Roy Moseley (b. 1938), in addition to the book on Cary Grant, he wrote biographies of Merle Oberon, and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Elizabeth and Philip: The Untold Story 1991).[3] The co-authors later had a serious falling out. In the first edition of Moseley's memoir of Bette Davis, Higham is called "my great friend", but in the second revised edition he is a "doubtful author" and his name is omitted from the acknowledgements.

Charles Higham published In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer's Memoir, his autobiography, in 2009.

Errol Flynn controversy[edit]

In 1980, Higham's "most sensational work",[1] Errol Flynn: The Untold Story appeared. In this work he alleged that Errol Flynn was a bisexual fascist sympathizer who spied for the Nazis before and during World War II[12] and had affairs with Tyrone Power, Howard Hughes, and Truman Capote among others.[8]

Tony Thomas, in Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was (Citadel, 1990) and Buster Wiles in My Days With Errol Flynn: The Autobiography of a Stuntman (Roundtable, 1988) identified Higham's claims as fabrications, an assertion substantiated by viewing the FBI documents, which were altered – rather than quoted verbatim – by Higham.

According to Thomas and Wiles, Flynn was notorious in Hollywood as a womanizer and was a left-wing supporter of the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War and of the Cuban Revolution, even narrating a documentary entitled The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution[13] shortly before his death.

Personal life[edit]

In his autobiography Higham wrote of his molestation by his stepmother and reveals he entered into his 1952 marriage, despite his growing awareness of his homosexuality. He and his wife Norine Lillian Cecil separated in 1956,[4] but stayed great friends; she later adopted a lesbian lifestyle. Higham lived with his partner Richard V. Palafox, a nurse, until Palafox's death in 2010,[1] in Los Angeles.[3] Higham died on 21 April 2012 in Los Angeles.


Theatre and Film[edit]

  • The Films of Orson Welles (1970)
  • Hollywood in the Forties (co-written with Joel Greenberg) (1970)
  • Ziegfeld (1972)
  • Cecil B. DeMille: A Biography of the Most Successful Film Maker of Them All (1973)
  • The Art of the American film, 1900-1971 (1973)
  • Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn (1976)
  • Charles Laughton: An Intimate Biography (1976)
  • Marlene: The Life of Marlene Dietrich (1977)
  • Celebrity Circus (1979)
  • Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (1980)
  • Bette, the Life of Bette Davis (1981)
  • Princess Merle: The Romantic Life of Merle Oberon (1983) with Roy Moseley, ISBN 0-698-11231-8
  • Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Haviland and Joan Fontaine (1984)
  • Audrey: a Biography of Audrey Hepburn (1985)
  • Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of An American Genius (1985)
  • Brando: The Unauthorized Biography (1987)
  • Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart (1989)
  • Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M., and the Secret Hollywood (1993)
  • Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (1993)
  • Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery (2004)


  • The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life (1988), (2005)
  • Elizabeth and Phillip: The Untold Story of the Queen of England and Her Prince (1991)


  • The Midnight Tree: A Fairy Tale of Terror (2007)


  • The Adventures of Conan Doyle: The Life of the Creator of Sherlock Holmes (1976)
  • Rose: The Life and Times of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1 Apr 1995)
  • Murdering Mr. Lincoln: A New Detection of the 19th Century's Most Famous Crime (2004)
  • Dark Lady: Winston Churchill's Mother and Her World (2006)


  • A Distant Star
  • Spring And Death
  • The Earthbound
  • Noonday Country
  • The Voyage To Brindisi
  • The War Museum at Nagasaki


  • They Came To Australia
  • Australians Abroad
  • Penguin Australian Writing Today


  • Trading With The Enemy: The Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949 (1983)[14]
  • American Swastika (1985)[15]


  1. ^ a b c Elaine Woo "Charles Higham dies at 81; controversial celebrity biographer", Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2012
  2. ^ Todd McCarthy "Charles Higham, Noted Film and Political Biographer, Dies at 81", Hollywood Reporter, 5 May 2012
  3. ^ a b c d e f Charles Higham In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer's Memoir
  4. ^ a b c Philippe Mora "A scourge of Hollywood and Nazis", Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 2012
  5. ^ a b Todd McCarthy "Charles Higham, Noted Film and Political Biographer, Dies at 81", The Hollywood Reporter, 2 May 2012
  6. ^ Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery, University of Wisconsin Press page
  7. ^ Anna Quindlen "The Magnificent Orsons", New York Times, 15 September 1985
  8. ^ a b c "Charles Higham", Daily Telegraph, 7 May 2012
  9. ^ Garry Abrams "Shadows on a Legend : Cary Grant's Image as the Perfect Hollywood Heartthrob Is Sullied in Two Competing New Books Portraying a Darker Side to the Star", Los Angeles Times, 24 March 1989
  10. ^ Margalit Fox "Charles Higham, Celebrity Biographer, Dies at 81", New York Times, 3 May 2012
  11. ^ a b c Charles Higham In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer's Memoir, pp. ??
  12. ^ Charles Higham "The missing Errol Flynn file", New Statesman, 17 April 2000
  13. ^ The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution at the Internet Movie Database (aka Cuban Story)
  14. ^ Charles Higham "Trading with the enemy: an expose of the Nazi-American money plot 1933-1949", Online text
  15. ^ [1] Online text

External links[edit]