Monday, December 17, 2012

LGBT Book Review: Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies



When I first started reading Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies, I wasn't sure where it was going. From the image on the book cover I expected biographical stories about Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. I soon found out the book is more of a combination autobiography/biography, with personal accounts of the fascinating life Michael Menzies has led...mixed in with tidbits about both Dietrich and Coward. Weaving different stories into a book is not an easy thing to do, but it's done well in this book. And Menzies makes it real without sounding too over the top like a few other bios I've read this year. He uses an endearing brand of self-deprecation devoid of all pretense, and you will find yourself cheering him on as he travels through life trying to figure "it" all out.

It's clear from the beginning of the book Menzies was fascinated with Dietrich and Coward at a very young age. He grew up in an average home in New Zealand, longing for more excitement, glamour, and sophistication. At one point, he became convinced he was adopted and his real parents were, indeed, Dietrich and Coward. He does this in a clever, tongue-in-cheek way, and returns to this adoption reference throughout the book as his own life seems to be constantly mingled with Dietrich and Coward, usually through no fault of his own. (As a side note, I've been a fan of a book titled "The Magic of Believing" for many years. And when I read about the deep appreciation Menzies had for Dietrich and Coward I thought it was a good example of how the things we love and appreciate the most often come to us if we think about them hard enough...in a positive way.) In spite of his devotion to these two stars, never once did I think of Menzies as a celebrity stalker. He had too much respect for Dietrich and Coward for that. And he always spoke of his real parents (Clive and Mary) with great respect.


Dietrich understood. Professional commitments always came before personal wishes. This was a law by which she lived her life.

I also like bios where I learn things I didn't know. And the Dietrich and Coward stories Menzies discusses in the book are abundant, from funny to painful. Especially the one part where Dietrich is leaving on a train. No spoilers. But I never knew that happened. I also didn't know that Coward was often tormented with demons all his life. And none of this was done in a dishy way. It was all done with respect and I only came away more interested in the lives of Dietrich and Coward, not to mention gaining a new sense of respect for how hard they worked to achieve the things they did in life.

Coward knew the affair was so one-sided that it would inevitably collapse. He knew, too, that Traylor was not attracted to him (or any man for that matter).

Michael Menzies has led a fascinating life in his own right, too. From the time he ran away from home, to the experiences he had with someone dying of AIDS. For a gay man with a limited background and education, living during the closeted time period in which he had to survive, he worked hard and did well in various creative professions. From writing magazine articles to working in production for some of Hollywood's biggest studios, he managed to finally attain a lot of the excitement and glamour he craved so much growing up. And he did it all on his own.

Eduardo was twenty-seven when I met him, and it was rare to find a man of his age who even knew who Dietrich was. He knew and loved Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Stevie Nicks, and surprise of surprises, he knew and loved Marlene Dietrich, too. He was a prize. I had to add him to my life, where he remains to this day, still a prize.

I've been lucky enough in my own life to have known several very successful gay men like Menzies who often acted as mentors when I didn't know what being gay was all about. It's a generation of gay men who make dinner an event that never begins a moment earlier than nine at night, with stories of fascinating people they've known, stories of exotic places they've traveled, and stories of interesting things they've done. And while I was reading Deeply Superficial, I felt as if I were listening to a couple of old friends of mine who once lived on Sutton Place in NY and designed homes for people who owned fleets of ships and famous NY restaurants. It's a generation of gay men who don't seem to get the appreciation (or respect) they deserve in this new less sophisticated world now where people don't seem to mind wearing sweat pants in public and driving cars shaped like toy boxes.

But I digress. It was nice to read a book like this, written from such an honest, genuine POV. Menzies also talks about his long term relationship with several funny tips on how to make a relationship last for a long time, one of which is separate bedrooms and bathrooms. (As another side note, those of you writing m/m romance might find it interesting to know that a lot of gay men in long term relationships...especially the gay men I've known...don't share the same bedroom.) The book is also extremely well written (and edited) and I did NOT find one single offensive word, sentence, or paragraph that made me cringe...from a writer's POV. The story flows with an even pace, moves fast, and I found myself reading much later into the night than I'd planned. In fact, I read this in two sittings mainly because I wanted to see how it ended.

 When people ask me the secret of a long and happy relationship, I always tell them separate bedrooms, and more importantly, separate bathrooms are the answer.

I would recommend this book to anyone without thinking twice. And I think that if there are any younger gay men who are interested in reading about gay men from this generation, it's the perfect book to grasp what things were like for the gay men who've paved the way...without even knowing it in most cases...for the rest of us.

You can purchased the book here.

And here's a combo author bio and blurb as per Amazon:

In this dazzling memoir that also serves as a dual biography of stage and film legends Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich, producer Michael Menzies chronicles in hilarious detail his life-long obsession with the theater in general and these two international superstars in particular.

Born in New Zealand, and physically a doppelganger of his father, Menzies was convinced at an early age that he did not belong in the outdoorsy, sports-mad country of his birth, but on the glittering stages of the world's most glamorous theaters. And a twelfth birthday present from his mother confirmed this,

Allowed to purchase any gift, as long as it was a book, Menzies was drawn immediately to the autobiography of actor/writer/composer Noël Coward, and was soon consumed by it. He identified hugely with Coward, so much so that he came to believe that he must be his love child. But with whom? Menzies worked out that his mother must be Marlene Dietrich, who happened to be among Coward's inner circle. As Menzies writes, "the dates didn't really fit but were close enough if one fudged a little".

The book follows Menzies's decision to leave New Zealand and takes him on a voyage around the world to confront Coward and Dietrich and announce himself as their son. It's not long before he realizes that this could not be so, but he continues his search for them - and their pasts, nonetheless. He finds echoes of their lives in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Switzerland, Jamaica, all of which he recounts in this book.

Deeply Superficial is a tribute to Menzies's four parents: Clive and Mary Menzies, who guided his early years and allowed him the freedom to indulge his imagination ,and Coward and Dietrich who gave him the inspiration to "above all, behave exquisitely", which remains potent in him to this day.





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