Thursday 3 June 2010

New Arrival: Elizabeth Taylor by John B. Allan (A Biography by Donald E. Westlake)

Here's something a bit different; this turned up yesterday, a late birthday present from my friend Adam:

A 1961 US Monarch paperback biography of Elizabeth Taylor by one John B. Allan – "first publication anywhere", as it helpfully states on the cover, with the alluring tag line, "The fascinating story of America's most talented actress and the world's most beautiful woman" – which makes it sound slightly as if the book's an expose of a lesbian romance between Liz and another (unnamed, but apparently beautiful) woman.

So the obvious question here is: why on earth would I be interested in this book? And indeed I was similarly perplexed when Adam told me he'd got it for me, standing, as we were, in a queue for the toilet at a London pub over the weekend. Probably not the strangest conversation I've ever had in a pub loo queue, but certainly right up there. Thankfully, Adam later explained why he'd got it for me: John B. Allan was one of Donald Westlake's many pseudonyms, alongside the likes of Tucker Coe, Alan Marshall, and, of course, Richard Stark. And actually, reading the first line of the book, you can really feel that Westlake/Stark touch:

"When Richard Burton walked in the room, Liz threw the whiskey bottle at him."

OK, I made that up; the Taylor aficionados out there would of course know that Liz didn't meet Burton until the filming of Cleopatra, which happened after this book was written. (In fact, this brief volume begins with an account of Liz's brush with death in a Dorchester hotel suite in 1961, which in its own way is a very Westlake starting point.) Anyway, it's a splendid curio, and not readily available this side of the pond, so thank you very much, Adam!


  1. Wow. Impressively obscure find! How did your friend find out about the pseudonym?

    Shows Westlake wasn't all guns and hammers. Also once again demonstrates that that guy was a writer to the bone.

  2. I guess he must've done a bit of online research, although I checked out Wikipedia after I got it and it's listed on Westlake's page. I've dipped into it and I think you can tell it's Westlake. Then again, I'm not sure you'd realise that if you didn't already know...

  3. And what exquisite timing her going to the celeb party in the sky and all; Happy Birthday by the way!

  4. Thank you! Although it's not actually my birthday today...