Memoriam to Marion Meade

We have just learned of the passing of author/biographer Marion Meade (1934-2022). Such was the scope of Meade’s interests that I was (and remain) attracted to virtually all of her books. They weren’t all been slam dunks with the critics, but I simply loved the topics she chose to write about.

I’ll go by subject and order of my familiarity —

Buster Keaton: Her 1995 book Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase is the one I’ve pored over the most for obvious reasons. Still an enjoyable read and solid resource, though it’s been eclipsed in recent years by lots of new books and documentaries featuring new scholarship and insights. Even so, if you’re building a “Buster library” it would be incomplete without this book. It is supposedly being made into a bio-pic by James Mangold.

Dorothy Parker: Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? (1988) is the first of Meade’s books I ever read and it certainly formed the foundation for my appreciation for Parker’s writing and fascinating life. She also wrote the related Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties (2004) and The Last Days of Dorothy Parker (2014), as well as the forward to my friend Kevin Fitzpatrick’s A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York (2005) and things like The Portable Dorothy Parker (2006), which she also edited and Parker’s Complete Poems (2010), among other things.

Woody Allen: The Unruly Woody Allen (2000), written in the wake of the multiple scandals that rocked Allen’s life and career, and updated in 2013, may well be her most controversial and divisive book. Meade’s feminist street cred is detailed below. It would be an interesting exercise to read this “unauthorized” one alongside Allen’s recent autobiography.

Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney: I’m very much looking forward to reading Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney (2010)!

Madame Blavatsky: Oh man! I have always been fascinated with anything to do with Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky, and similar spiritual movements so I can’t wait to get my hands on Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth (1980). (I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve already read it, but many decades ago.)

Early work: The earliest phase of her writing had a definite feminist bent, identifiable in their titles Bitching (1973) and Free Woman: The Life and Times of Victoria Woodhull (1976). Then she had a bit of a Medieval phase, during which she wrote Eleanor of Aquitaine (1977) and the novel Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard (1979) which was made into a film by Clive Donner.

Meade got her Masters in Journalism from Columbia, and early in her career worked as an assistant to gossip columnist Earl Wilson. As a free-lancer she wrote for publications such as The New York TimesThe Nation, and The New Republic.


My friend Kevin Fitzpatrick of The Dorothy Parker Society is quoted in the New York Times obit here.