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Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart
Eileen Heckart Biography
Book Review by Steven LaVigne
© October 18, 2006, Steven LaVigne

I’ve loved show-biz biographies since I was young. For years, Howard Teichmann’s book on George S. Kaufman was my bible. I later added Peter Brooks’ “An Empty Space” and Vincente Minnelli’s “I Remember It Well” to my collection. I’ve always enjoyed the books written by children of actors, even when they’re on the negative side, Christina Crawford’s “Mommie Dearest” being the most famous of them.

Heckart was never a big star and she preferred to stay just outside the spotlight. She remained a working actress throughout her career. While she focused on the stage, her performances in films such as “The Bad Seed” and “Butterflies are Free” (for which she won an Oscar) are especially memorable. Mary Tyler Moore, whom Yankee presents as one of the nicest people in the business, wrote the introduction and discussed the pleasures she had working with Heckart.

Since he was a child, Yankee, a gay actor, writer and director sat quietly during the cocktail parties hosted by Heckart and her husband, Jack Yankee in their Connecticut home. He learned to make martinis from Ethel Merman, held Marlene Dietrich’s hand, was good friends with Vivian Vance, and learned acting techniques from Paul Newman. At the age of 12, he had to turn down a role on Broadway. He had to face up to the school bully after his mother won her Oscar, and worked closely with the renowned Eva Le Gallienne. “Just Outside the Spotlight” shares these and many other anecdotes as Luke Yankee brings his mother vividly back to life.

“Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart” works on so many levels, it’s sometimes overwhelming. Seldom do we read about actors and learn so much about their techniques. Not only does Yankee share them with us, but they’re useful advice to anyone with a desire to tread the boards.

Finally, the book also serves as a means for Yankee to come to terms with his life and the reader learns just how much we need to appreciate those around us. Now residing with his partner in Long Beach, Yankee based his book on his solo show, “Diva Dish,” from which the inspiration for this book arose.

One of my goals is to be inside every Broadway theater, but whenever I’ve been in New York, the Music Box, which Heckart regarded as her hit house, has always been dark. The next time I’m there, I’m going to pay tribute to Heckart, whose ashes are spread around that theater. Like the glorious Judy Holliday, Eileen Heckart was a gift for us, an actress from whom we can all learn. Her son has paid the ultimate compliment to her by writing one of the most pleasurable biographies ever published.

Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart
by Luke Yankee
Back Stage Books, 314 pages, $24.95, ISBN: 0823078884

© 2006, Steven LaVigne

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