More on Higham, from Contemporary Authors, Gale 2002:
Place of Birth: London, England
Genre(s): Poetry; Film; Biography
Poetry prizes from Poetry Society of London, 1949, and Sydney Morning Herald, 1956; Prix des createurs for biography, Academie Francaise, 1977.
Personal Information: Family: Born February 18, 1931, in London, England; emigrated to Australia in 1954; came to the United States in 1969; son of Sir Charles Frederick (a publicist and author) and Josephine (Webb) Higham; married Norine Lillian Cecil (deceased). Education: Studied privately. Avocational Interests: Rare old movies, health foods, physical fitness, Nautilus weightlifting, literary detection, old English murder cases. Addresses: Home: Hollywood, CA Agent: Barbara Lowenstein, 250 W. 57th St, New York, NY 10107.
Career: Literary and film critic in London, England, and then in Sydney, Australia, 1954-63;
Bulletin (weekly), Sydney, literary editor, 1963-68; University of California, Santa Cruz, Regents Professor, 1969; KPFK Radio, Los Angeles, CA, film critic, 1969-71; Hollywood correspondent for New York Times, 1970-80, and Us (magazine), 1977--. Official historian for audio history of the movies presented to the American Film Institute in 1973, Time-Life Books.
A Distant Star (poems), Hand & Flower Press, 1951.
Spring and Death (poems), Hand & Flower Press, 1953.
(Translator of poems of Marc Chagall) H. F. S. Bauman, editor, Eight European Artists, Heinemann, 1954.
The Earthbound and Other Poems, Angus & Robertson, 1960.
(Editor with Alan Brissenden) They Came to Australia: An Anthology, F. W. Cheshire, 1961.
Noonday Country: Poems, 1954-1965, Angus & Robertson, 1966.
(Editor with Michael Wilding) Australians Abroad: An Anthology, F. W. Cheshire, 1967.
(Editor) Australian Writing Today, Penguin, 1968.
(With Joel Greenberg) Hollywood in the Forties, A. S. Barnes, 1968.
(With Greenberg) The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak, Angus & Robertson, 1969, Regnery, 1971.
The Films of Orson Welles, University of California Press, 1970.
Hollywood Cameramen: Sources of Light, Indiana University Press, 1970.
The Voyage to Brindisi and Other Poems, 1966-1969, Angus & Robertson, 1970.
Hollywood at Sunset, Saturday Review Press, 1972.
Ziegfeld, Regnery, 1972.
The Art of the American Film, Doubleday, 1973.
Cecil B. De Mille: A Biography, Scribner, 1973.
Ava: A Life Story, Delacorte, 1974.
Warner Brothers, Scribner, 1975.
Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn, Norton, 1975.
Charles Laughton: An Intimate Biography, Doubleday, 1975.
The Adventures of Conan Doyle, Norton, 1976.
Marlene: The Life of Marlene Dietrich, Norton, 1977.
The Changeling: A Fairy Tale of Terror (novel), Simon & Schuster, 1978.
Celebrity Circus, Delacorte Press, 1979.
(With Hal Wallis) Star Maker: The Autobiography of Hal Wallis, Macmillan, 1980.
Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, Doubleday, 1980.
Bette: The Life of Bette Davis, Macmillan, 1981.
Trading with the Enemy, Delacorte, 1983.
Princess Merle: The Romantic Life of Merle Oberon, Coward, 1983 (published in England as Merle: A Biography of Merle Oberon, New English Library, 1983).
Audrey: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, Macmillan, 1984.
Sisters: The Lives of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, Coward, 1984.
American Swastika, Doubleday, 1985.
Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius, St. Martin's, 1985.
Lucy: The Life of Lucille Ball, St. Martin's Press, 1986.
(Co-author) Palace: My Life in the Royal Family of Monaco, Atheneum Publishers, 1986.
The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life, McGraw-Hill, 1988.
(Co-author) Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.
(Co-author) Elizabeth and Philip: The Untold Story of the Queen of England and Her Prince, Berkley Books, 1993.
Howard Hughes: The Secret Life, Putnam's, 1993.
Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M., and the Secret Hollywood, D. I. Fine, 1993.
Rose: The Life and Times of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Pocket Books, 1995.
"Charles Higham told CA that his first love is verse. Higham is best known, however, for his biographies of Hollywood celebrities. Praised by some reviewers, these books have roused indignation in others because of their sensational nature. For example, New York Times Book Review contributor Foster Hirsch takes exception to Higham's Sisters, which chronicles the feud between movie star siblings Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. Hirsch declares that Sisters "implies that people who made it big in movies are of course unsavory." Yet he allows that "Mr. Higham can be droll; he knows how to keep his story moving, and he works up some tension, even if it's only wondering what petty monarch will take the next pratfall." Bette, Higham's book on actress Bette Davis, is a "cheesy, tattletale excuse for a biography," according to Washington Post Book World reviewer Elliott Ivan Sirkin, but the same book is described as "tightly focused" by a Chicago Times Book World writer, who adds that "from start to finish [Higham] writes a detailed, fascinating book."
Higham's most controversial work is certainly his biography entitled Errol Flynn: The Untold Story. The dashing Australian actor played the noble hero in many adventure films of the 1930s and 1940s, including "Captain Blood," "Robin Hood," and "The Sea Hawk." Offscreen, Flynn built a formidable reputation as a hard-drinking libertine. But Higham contends that Flynn was not only an alcoholic womanizer; he claims to have evidence proving that the actor was a Nazi spy and a homosexual. His case is built upon Flynn's connections with Dr. Hermann Friedrich Erben, an admitted member of a Nazi spy ring in Asia. Upon uncovering this friendship, Higham traced Erben to a leper colony in the Philippines and hired a Filipino associate to tape record an interview with Dr. Erben. The Untold Story is based on this interview and on 12,000 pages of declassified federal documents detailing government surveillance of Flynn.
The accusations of Nazism enraged many of Flynn's former companions. Nora Eddington Black, Flynn's wife during World War II, stated in Maggy Daly's Chicago Tribune column: "I resent Higham's book because it is a fraud. He hasn't come up with a single document about Errol's supposed tie-in with the Gestapo, but continues to go around the country saying he has." "I don't have a document that says A, B, C, D, E, Errol Flynn was a Nazi agent," Higham explained to Robert Lindsey in the New York Times. "But I have pieced together a mosaic that proves that he is."
Some reviewers are critical of the methods of reportage used in compiling The Untold Story, including Lawrence S. Dietz, who in a New York Times Book Review article calls the book "a standard job of celebrity scandal-mongering, in which Mr. Higham, with a certain moral fervor, details Flynn's obsessive sexual behavior and drug habits. Unfortunately, no one seems to have bothered to tell Mr. Higham that the rules for serious investigative reporting are far different from those for uncovering ancient Hollywood peccadillos." Chicago Tribune contributor Richard Phillips states that "documentation, . . . the litmus test of any credible scandal, is about as tangible as a hole in a doughnut. Alleged bribes are completely unsupported, an assertion of flagrant antisemitism by Flynn is backed up by only one quote in the entire book (the quote itself is of questionable harm), and the author's case for espionage is--in its most favorable light--circumstantial. Aside from that, the untold story of Errol Flynn is a `good read."' Higham told Phillips that he was surprised by the outcry over his book. "[Flynn's] reputation was dirt, anyway," he noted.
In a letter to CA, Higham described himself as "a poet, of the Romantic school, out of sympathy with most American and British verse of my period, but very much in sympathy with the poetry of Australia, where I lived for fifteen years. I deeply admire Patrick White (a poet-novelist), A. D. Hope, W. Hart-Smith, James McAuley, and other Australian poets; American poets I do warm to are Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Moss, James Dickey, and W. S. Merwin. I write biographies for a professional occupation, much as some poets might teach or practise law or medicine, but my biography of Conan Doyle provided a rare opportunity to provide a book of literary content and (I hope) quality. I like writing, and am restless and unhappy only when not busy on a new project. I have never had writer's block; writing is my holiday. Now I have found a way to blend my poetic and more commercial talents; I have discovered, rather in the middle of life, a gift for fiction. This has been the greatest joy of my life.
"My view of literary criticism is that like so much cultural activity today it is fighting a rearguard action against the force of mass culture. . . . The result is that literary critics are increasingly nervous, tense and mistrustful; they tend to prefer fragmented, collapsed narrative structures and books which deal in mental breakdown and disorder because, in American culture, they can identify with plights rather than triumphs, with disease rather than health. I have preferred the Victorian solution: prose is made to earn the right to the luxury of verse; all work is valuable, if seriously and sincerely intended; life and humanity are to be encouraged and nurtured; progress is a reality, though man has preferred that progress to be toward his general medical and social welfare rather than that of an intellectual elite; humankind is fundamentally a species to be optimistic about; let us write solid, worthwhile, straight-forward stories about people; let us not be cynical, disruptive, destructive, elliptical, abstruse, obscure, or inverted, when we embark on the voyage of literature. I admire the novelists of security and substance: the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Balzac, Flaubert, Svevo, rather than those of breakdown and despair, Kafka, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Celine, Sartre.
"In 1983, I returned to writing poetry after a brief interval; poems based on Rilkean and Leopardian themes, all of which are reflective and contemplative in mode."