cover image The Mighty Franks: A Memoir

The Mighty Franks: A Memoir

Michael Frank. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-21012-0

In this complex and fascinating memoir, journalist Frank describes the spell cast over his childhood by his screenwriter aunt and her fury at his attempts to break away from her. Even by Hollywood standards, the Franks were unusual: Frank’s mother’s brother, Irving Ravetch, married his father’s sister, Harriet “Hank” Frank Jr., and both families lived in close proximity in Laurel Canyon. His childless aunt and uncle settled on Frank as a substitute son, dazzling him with gifts and praise. Yet as Frank became conscious of the damage that Hank’s imperious nature inflicted on family and friends, he realized how necessary, and painful, separating himself from her would be. For over three decades, Ravetch and Hank were an extremely successful screenwriting team (Norma Rae, Hud, The Long Hot Summer, etc.). In thoughtful, fluid prose, their nephew evokes the magic and sophistication of a vanished Hollywood intelligentsia schooled in the language of cinema. Readers will be enthralled by the affecting portraits of the two central figures: the aunt whose drive and charming idiosyncrasies concealed an impulsive cruelty, and the child struggling to make sense of the complex, damaged woman trying to control him. Frank doesn’t fully investigate the reasons behind his aunt’s behavior, but the women he describes is as iconic and memorable as the characters she created for the screen. (May)