Charles Higham (biographer)
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Charles Higham (pronounced HYE-um), (18 February 1931 – 21 April 2012) was an English author, editor and poet. In his obituary, The Daily Telegraph called him "a much-feared and notoriously bitchy celebrity biographer whose works fell squarely in the “unauthorised” category." and "In his unashamedly self-promoting memoir, In and Out of Hollywood (2009), Higham presented himself as a sort of Chandleresque figure, dedicated to sniffing out other people’s darkest secrets. Yet as he admitted, he hated interviewing people for his books, and critics remarked on how much of his work was based on the testimony of anonymous witnesses."
Early life and career
Born in London, Higham was the son of MP and advertising mogul Sir Charles Higham and his fourth wife, Josephine Janet Keuchenius Webb. Higham's parents divorced when he was three, and thereafter Charles lived with his mother. His father died four years later. After Sir Charles' death the family lived in modest circumstances during and after World War II. Higham published two books of verse in England, before moving to Sydney, Australia in 1954. There he became a journalist and critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and, later, the Sydney Daily Mirror. Higham became literary editor of The Bulletin, the country's leading weekly, in 1964, and published three more collections of verse.
In the 1960s Higham compiled a number of horror anthologies for the Australian publisher Horwitz. The majority of stories in the anthologies were by writers from the US and UK, with many being reprinted from Montague Summers's 1936 anthology The Grimoire and Other Supernatural Stories. Australian writer Terry Dowling acknowledged the influence of Higham's horror anthologies on his own writing in an essay published in Stephen Jones Horror: Another 100 Best Books.
Higham was a regents' professor for a short time in 1969 at UC Santa Cruz. While there he claimed to have found lost footage of It's All True, Orson Welles's uncompleted Latin American triptych of more than a quarter century before. The footage was already known to the studio archivists.
Higham was criticized severely for his biographies. The London Daily Telegraph commented that one critic had said "There are two ways to write a Hollywood biography. Either you take eight years, as A Scott Berg did with Goldwyn, or you take a few minutes, the way Charles Higham seems to do with everything he writes."
In The Films of Orson Welles (1970) and in Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius (1985), he said that Welles suffered from a "fear of completion" that led him to abandon projects when they were nearly finished because others could then be blamed for their flaws. Friends of Welles, in particular Peter Bogdanovich, criticised this thesis. Newsweek devoted a full-page spread to Higham as a film detective. The New York Times said "In the 1970s he contributed freelance articles on film to The New York Times; he was later a frequent guest on talk shows."
Higham's first best seller was Kate (1975), the first authorized biography of Katharine Hepburn. 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.
According to Higham and Roy Moseley, in their biography of Cary Grant (1989), the actor was on the grounds of the home of actress Sharon Tate on the night in 1969 she was murdered. Higham admitted in an interview that the incident was "poorly documented".
After the publication of Higham's book Howard Hughes, according to Margalit Fox of The New York Times, "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." The work became the basis of Martin Scorsese's film The Aviator (2004). Higham's Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi American Money Plot 1933-1949 presented his claims about 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. 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).
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).
Charles Higham published In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer's Memoir, his autobiography, in 2009, which was very strongly criticized by The Telegraph as an "unashamedly self-promoting memoir.
Errol Flynn controversy
In 1980, Higham's "most sensational work", Errol Flynn: The Untold Story appeared. In this work he alleged that Errol Flynn was bisexual and a fascist sympathizer, who spied for the Nazis before and during World War II and had affairs with many men.
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.
The Daily Telegraph, in their obituary of Higham, commented: "The themes of fascism, closet homosexuality and sexual perversion that had proved so productive in the case of Flynn were themes that Higham would mine again and again. That his motives were probably financial is suggested by his admission in an interview that there was 'certainly a difference of an enormous number of sales' between his poetry books and his biographies."
In his autobiography Higham claimed he was molested by his stepmother and says he entered into his 1952 marriage even though he was homosexual. He and his wife Norine Lillian Cecil separated in 1956, 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, in Los Angeles. Higham died on 21 April 2012 in Los Angeles.
- Elaine Woo "Charles Higham dies at 81; controversial celebrity biographer", Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2012
- Charles Higham, Celebrity Biographer, Dies at 81 By MARGALIT FOX, The New York Times MAY 3, 2012; “A cloying vulgarity and coarseness suffuse this book,” Carolyn See wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 1986, reviewing his “Lucy: The Life of Lucille Ball.” “But the author is either so cunning — or so closely allied in emotional terms with the subject of this biography — that the reader can’t tell if the vulgarity comes from Charles Higham or from Lucille Ball herself.”
- Charles Higham The Daily Telegraph, 22 April 2012; "Higham claimed she (Duchess of Windsor) was the mistress not only of Count Ciano, but also of Ribbentrop. He maintained that the Duchess’s attractions included exotic sexual techniques that she had picked up on visits to the brothels of Peking, which allowed the Prince of Wales to make the best of his supposedly modest endowments. He set a tone for vilification later explored by other biographers. "
- Le Bulletin du livre page 51
- Todd McCarthy "Charles Higham, Noted Film and Political Biographer, Dies at 81", Hollywood Reporter, 5 May 2012
- Charles Higham In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer's Memoir
- Philippe Mora "A scourge of Hollywood and Nazis", Sydney Morning Herald, 7 May 2012
- SELECTED NON-FICTION: A selection of Terry Dowling's non-fiction writing Terry Dowling website
- It’s All True: Orson Welles’s Pan-American Odyssey by Catherine L. Benamou; University of California Press, page 360; "(Higham's book) has become questionable in that he claims to have rediscovered the definitive, forgotten cache of footage" while he found footage the studio archivists already knew about
- Anna Quindlen "The Magnificent Orsons", New York Times, 15 September 1985
- "Charles Higham", Daily Telegraph, 7 May 2012
- 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
- Charles Higham In and Out of Hollywood: A Biographer's Memoir, pp. ??
- Charles Higham "The missing Errol Flynn file", New Statesman, 17 April 2000
- Gary Cooper: American Hero Jeffrey Meyers; Rowman & Littlefield, 2001 - page 346, "Flynn's FBI file does not substantiate Higham's claim which was thoroughly refuted...", pp. 204-205 on Higham, "Charles Higham, the most unreliable writer on Hollywood politics"