I first read Foxy Lady: The Authorized Biography of Lynn Bari by Jeff Gordon in June of 2013. I remember the month because it was summer and my memories of the book are forever linked to being outdoors when reading it. I lived about a 20 minute walk from a coffee shop and I would take the book with me on my trek through the quiet neighborhoods shaded by trees (like Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, one of my oddball “talents” is the ability to read and walk simultaneously without issue). If I was lucky enough to get an outdoor seat at the coffee shop, I read and sipped my iced espresso as the sun warmed my skin, then began the trek home when I felt on the verge of a sunburn. I read many books that summer. This was one of the best.
I had never heard of Lynn Bari before. This was a huge reason why I bought the book. As stated in my previous review of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story, I typically find it much more fascinating and rewarding to read about someone I know nothing or little of.
Lynn Bari was an actress in the 1930s and 1940s who bounced back and forth between A and B-movies (lower budget films given little to no publicity that would typically be paired with an A-movie in a double feature) for 20th Century Fox.
What sets the book apart from other biographies is that it includes quite a lot of Bari’s own words, taken from interviews with author Jeff Gordon, inserted in bold text quite frequently throughout the book. I am often wary of old Hollywood autobiographies. I have found too often that an arrogant tone has its way of creeping into the text, to the point where I have been put off by the stars themselves as a result. This is not the case with the interviews Gordon did with Bari. She is refreshingly self-deprecating while also displaying a distinct, biting wit. Quotes from family, friends, and co-workers also pop up to give extra insight into Bari’s experiences.
The wonderful (and numerous) photos in the book show a woman who could look interchangeably cute and sultry while interviews with co-workers speak to her talent and dedication as an actress. She worked alongside Hollywood greats like Vincent Price and Gene Tierney and was not afraid to share her sometimes loving, sometimes snarky, but always candid opinions about any of them.
20th Century Fox, Bari’s home studio (the Foxy in the title works two ways, you see), is almost a secondary character in the book. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a biography that gives such a detailed glimpse into what it was like working for one of the “Big Five” studios in Hollywood’s “Golden Age.”
The book goes into great detail about Bari’s rise (and plateau) through the ranks at Fox, her turbulent relationship with her alcoholic mother, and her three marriages (including one to Sid Luft, who also took a trip down the aisle with Judy Garland). Bari’s extensive filmography, spanning about 20 years and over 150 titles, speaks to a successful career in the industry. However, a frequent topic of the book is the confusion and frustration (of the actress and ultimately the reader) at how someone like Lynn Bari could be so talented, reliable, and well-liked by her studio and co-workers, yet could not seem to break free from her “Queen of the Bs” (B-movies) moniker while other actresses who were her contemporaries and co-stars went on to be solid A-listers. It’s a fascinating character study of Bari and the Hollywood studio system itself.
This book, which I have read several times since that first summer in 2013, has become one of my favorites, I daresay in my Top 10 of best Hollywood biographies. If you love an outspoken, hardworking Hollywood dame like I do, I think you’ll enjoy it, too.