cover image What Have We Here?: Portraits of a Life

What Have We Here?: Portraits of a Life

Billy Dee Williams. Knopf, $32 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-31860-7

Eighty-six-year-old Star Wars actor Williams provides a candid look back at his life and career in this genial debut memoir. Williams grew up in New York City in the 1940s and landed his first role, at seven years old, via his mother, who worked as a secretary for a Broadway producer. Bigger stage roles soon followed, and he eventually succeeded James Earl Jones as the lead in the original Broadway production of August Wilson’s Fences in 1988. Williams’s breakout film role was opposite Diana Ross in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues, in which his charm and good looks led the press to dub him “the Black Clark Gable.” Following that success, he turned down several roles in Blacksploitation films, fearing they’d “put [him] in a box,” and his career stalled until George Lucas’s desire to racially diversify the Star Wars series led to Williams being cast as Lando Calrissian in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. Williams ruminates on his professional triumphs, disappointments (including being passed over for the role of Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman), and friendships (he counted Laurence Olivier and James Baldwin among his peers), as well as his three failed marriages and his love of painting. Even as he catalogs losses and missteps, Williams writes with the panache and suavity that characterize his screen presence. The result is a heartfelt Hollywood self-portrait. Agent: Dan Strone, Trident Media Group. (Feb.)