When an author knows whereof they write, it's a genuine treat to get swept up in their passion for their chosen subject. Case in point; "Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen", a biography by David Grove (one of whose previous works I reviewed here). Let me preface this review proper by stating that I always find biographies of people who are still alive and productive a bit odd in principle. Jamie Lee Curtis is certainly alive and well, and still churns out movies with no end in sight in the near future, I'm guessing, so a full-scale "biography" would be impossible in the most literal sense of the word. That said, David Grove understands...and helps the reader understand...that this is not a biography covering Jamie Lee Curtis' complete life; rather, it covers the actress' early life and carries through her career in her role as reigning Scream Queen. Though it pays lip service to Curtis' career post-1980's, the focus is squarely on her involvment in genre films during the span of the late 1970's through the mid 1980's. I include this information to clarify, so that those people who want great detail about, say, Freaky Friday or Christmas with the Kranks are going to be disappointed. This book is not about that Jamie Lee Curtis. Just fyi...
Grove opens "Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen" with a lengthy set of acknowledgements and introduction, explaining in greater detail the caveats I mentioned previously. The acknowledgements section is actually impressive unto itself, as Grove clearly had to work hard to gain access to the enormous number of figures that featured in Curtis' days as the reigning Scream Queen. But, more on that later. Right out of the gate, the Grove's near-obsessive interest in and/or passion for his subject is evident; when covering Curtis' early years as the gawky, under-confident daughter of Hollywood's "it" couple of the time (Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis), Grove almost apologetically recognizes and stresses that, while it would take years for others to see it, Jamie Lee was a beautiful young woman, if in a quite unconventional way (unlike her mother, who basically oozed traditional Hollywood leading lady sex appeal and relatability). This unconventional, slowly developing beauty, it seems, might have been something of a stumbling block for Jamie Lee and her budding acting career at first, but it suddenly became an unprecedented boon. Naturally, most people became familiar with Jamie Lee Curtis, the actress, in her self- and archetype-defining role as Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's Halloween. Curtis' girl-next-door charm and innate shyness made her a believable and relatable damsel in distress, but her ability to convey a certain toughness and presence of mind in the midst of all that terror and carnage took Strode over the top as the definitive "final girl". It also pushed Curtis squarely into the limelight for the first time in her life, at least independently of her status as "daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis".
Systematically...passionately, and with exhaustive detail fueled by cooperation with damned-near everyone even peripherally involved with Curtis during this time in her life, Grove then leads the reader on the whirlwind that ensued in the wake of Curtis' performance in Halloween. He covers the sometimes rocky relationship Curtis had with the archetype she pretty much single-handedly created, but focuses on Curtis' ability to recognize a good thing and her willingness to keep that Scream Queen status going as long as it was bankable and interesting to her. By the time the first wave of stalk 'n' slash films had run their course in the early '80's, Curtis took the opportunity to bow out, and as we all know, she went on to a highly diverse and generally memorable career, which is still going pretty strong.
The best thing about "Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen" is the intimacy factor. Whether recounting anecdotes of former costars and filmmakers, or sharing details in lovely prose-like passages, Grove ups the ante for the highly-specialized biography millieu, while providing a lot of good information for genre fans and casual readers alike. And that's the rub; Grove has produced a book that straddles the line between standard A&E Biography territory, and highly niche elements, thus keeping everyone pleased. Moving from one chapter to the next; this film production, that chunck of down-time, this film production, that section dedictated to Curtis' uncanny and unconventional beauty; Grove's boook is as hugely readable as it is informative. Like all good specialized biographies, it delivers the goods without being stuffy or confining. You never feel, while the book is most certainly (and slavishly) devoted to Jamie Lee Curtis, that you're ever confined to a given point of view. And that's just good writing.
Will people with no particular interest in Jamie Lee Curtis, late '70's - early '80's slasher movies, or the careers and lives of those involved have any impetus to read "Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen"? Maybe, maybe not, but to avoid this book for those reasons would be missing an opportunity to read about a fascinating and endlessly important figure in film (not just genre film) history, and to get a taste of what it's like "on the inside". David Grove's book is an outstanding, lovingly written, exhaustively-researched book that has great value beyond its title and presumed genre trappings, and it deserves a place on the shelf of any cineaste. Highly recommended.