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Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond

Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond

by Michael Lindsay-Hogg

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From acclaimed director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (The Normal Heart, The Beatles’ Let It Be, Brideshead Revisited, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, etc.), son of glamorous Warner’s movie star Geraldine Fitzgerald: a magical dreamscape memoir of his boyhood, coming-of-age, and making his way in the worlds of theater,


From acclaimed director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (The Normal Heart, The Beatles’ Let It Be, Brideshead Revisited, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, etc.), son of glamorous Warner’s movie star Geraldine Fitzgerald: a magical dreamscape memoir of his boyhood, coming-of-age, and making his way in the worlds of theater, film, and television.
Lindsay-Hogg’s father, an English baronet from a family whose money came from the China trade, lived in Ireland and was rarely seen by his son. The author’s stepfather was the scion of the Isidor Straus fortune, co-owner of R. H. Macy’s; Straus went down with the Titanic, and the author’s stepfather was, alas, fortune-less. 
The author's mother, Geraldine Fitzgerald, the redheaded Irish seductress who won instant acclaim as Bette Davis’s best friend in Dark Victory and in William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights, spent time with Hollywood’s elite—Laurence Olivier, Charles Chaplin, and Orson Welles, with whom she worked in New York at the Mercury Theater and in other productions.
Lindsay-Hogg writes of how he wented his way into this exotic, mysterious, and seductive world, encountering as a small boy the likes of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst, playing hide-and-seek with Olivia de Havilland, serving drinks to Humphrey Bogart, discussing life with Henry Miller.   
At the book’s center, an offhand comment made to Lindsay-Hogg by his mother, when he was sixteen, about talk circulating (false, she claimed) that she had had a romantic relationship with Orson Welles (Fitzgerald and Welles had lived together at his home in Beverly Hills) and that Welles, rumor had it, was Michael’s father (“It’s not true,” she said. “You know how people put two and two together and get three . . .”).  
That was the end of the conversation. (“It’s time for bed . . . You have school in the morning . . .” she said.) For Lindsay-Hogg, it opened up a whole new realm of his life. He was forever changed by the knowing—of not knowing.
Interwoven throughout his narrative is the element of questioning who his father was. Was he the patron saint of American pictures, the legendary genius of the twentieth century, Orson Welles, a consistently inconsistent person in Michael’s life . . . or was he the man who considered himself Michael’s real father? What did his “father” know? What did Welles know? And what did his mother know to be true (she had brought the author up to believe that she always told the truth)? And when would she tell her son what the truth was . . . 
As Lindsay-Hogg struggled to make sense of it all, questions of missed chances, conversations never had, questions of what is withheld and what is true took root, dogging him, shaping his life . . . questions still, that haunt and inform this moving, deft, and illuminating memoir.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lindsay-Hogg , whose mother was actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, delivers an entertaining view of his film and theatrical experiences, as he tells his childhood as a search for truth and answers, “with twists and feints and clues” against familial “lies and deception.” His mother, who appeared in both film (Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory) and on stage (notably at Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre) was, as Lindsay-Hogg describes, a seductress who had affairs with Robert Capa and Henry Miller, and married Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg and Stuart “Boy” Scheftel. Driven by ambition, Lindsay-Hogg at age 24 directed 1960’s England’s music program Ready, Steady, Go, and later recorded videos for rock and roll bands like the Beatles (“Let it Be”) and the Rolling Stones. He offers clever accounts of directing TV’s Brideshead Revisited (casting, locations, script work, and working with such actors as Jeremy Irons) and on Broadway (Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Agnes of God with Tom Conti and Geraldine Page). Questions of rumored paternity haunt him—the possibility that Orson Welles was more than a mentor is lastly revealed by socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, once his mother’s confidante. The book is both a story of a boy’s pursuit for honesty and a talent finding his own way to fame (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“Beautifully written . . .  a mysterious mix of memory and insight . . . the book’s charm is Lindsay-Hogg’s ability to convey the texture of his unusual life.”
—Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY  

“Irresistible….[Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s] incisive writing and ability to deftly transcribe every dramatic moment that shaped his life makes Luck and Circumstance stand out…[a] marvelous coming-of-age story.”
—Lizzie Crocker, The Daily Beast
“[Luck and Circumstance] is a candid, chatty and enlivened by wonderfully detailed mini-portraits of the famous supporting players in his life.”
—David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle

“Sad, funny and intelligent . . . Show-business memoirs are often long on gossip and short on introspection. This one has plenty of entertaining anecdotes about the famous characters who pass through Lindsay-Hogg’s life . . . But Lindsay-Hogg is at his most compelling when trying to make sense of his ambiguous feelings about his parents and his obsession with Welles.”
Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal
Number 3 on Entertainment Weekly’s Must List: The Top Ten Things We Love This Week: “Fascinating. . . Unconcealed flashes of pride mixed with resentment . . . imbue this memoir with its power.”
“Generous, funny, and often poignant. . .”
Megan O’Grady, Vogue.com
“Lindsay-Hogg makes every effort to parse the practically Shakespearean drama that shaped his life. Epic love, mistaken identities, letters revealing secrets—they’re all here.”
—Alex Witchel, The New York Times Book Review

“An unusual story of a life lived among a galaxy of stars, told with enough insight and intelligence that even those who dismiss celebrity memoirs should enjoy this jaunt through the glitz.”
“A really good read. It’s interesting, and funny, with a poignancy to it also, and the mystery surrounding the elusive big bear, Orson Welles, is fascinating.”
—Mick Jagger
“A perfect memoir. Filled with exquisite, fascinating portraits of legendary artists at work in the theatre and the movies and rock and roll. The mystery of Orson is a chorus reprised in various corner booths through the years. A sheer pleasure to get to know these people and their vanished worlds, and heartbreaking to lose them one by one.”
—Wes Anderson 
"This explains a lot."

—Lorne Michaels

“The ambiguity Michael Lindsay-Hogg has been dealing with all his life would have broken many a lesser man and artist. With truth shifting, and objects of love being uncertain, one feels the pain and sadness and confusion he must have felt. But he shows a touching generosity I don't think I could have shown to the culprits in his life.”
 —Larry Kramer 
 “Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s memoir, honest and witty, is also a mystery story with all the surprises of a detective story. Along with intimate and humorous stories of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, as well as Hollywood in the ‘40s, there is a courageous revelation of the deepest fears and desires of family life and individual identity.”
—Susanna Moore
“When—if ever—should a secret be revealed? I’ve puzzled over this for years . . . In this brilliant, compelling memoir of haunting questions you will find the answer.”
—Gloria Vanderbilt

Library Journal
Son of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald (e.g., Dark Victory), surrounded by Hollywood's elite from an early age, and then introduced to theater when his mother worked on Broadway, famed director Lindsay-Hogg (Brideshead Revisited) should have a fascinating memoir to offer. At its heart is the sneaking suspicion, set off by an offhand comment about his mother's affair with Orson Welles, that he is actually Welles's son. For all your movie-mad (especially old-movie-mad) readers.
Alex Witchel
…as a memoirist [Lindsay-Hogg] makes every effort to parse the practically Shakespearean drama that shaped his life. Epic love, mistaken identities, letters revealing secrets—they're all here.
—The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.66(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

Anxious, I sat on the sofa for about twenty minutes and then the door opened and a tall, husky, shaggy man wearing glasses smiled and said, “They won’t be long.” This was Mal Evans, who was one of the original few who’d come from Liverpool and was now their head roadie and because of his size an impediment should anyone try to get too close. (His heft masked a friendly, gentle, and humble nature, and so it was a shock to learn that he’d been shot and killed in 1975 in Los Angeles by the police. They’d gone to his apartment to check on a dispute. Mal was holding a rifle that he refused to put down.)

He smiled again and closed the door and I sat back to wait and get more nervous when, almost immediately, the door opened again and in came six people, Mal, and Neil Aspinall, who had the hard shiny face of someone who could be an unwelcome foe. He’d started by driving their van in Liverpool, Beatles and instruments crammed in the back. He went on to run their company, Apple Corps, for almost forty years.

And the four of them who looked like the four of them. Their faces had become so famous that it was like being in a room with iconic characters, as from the comics, say— Mickey and Donald, Archie and Jughead.

I had gotten to my feet as they’d all entered, out of politeness I like to think. They took random places around the table as prawn cocktails were served by a maid, with white, rosé, and red wine on offer and Coca-Cola with or without scotch. Everyone started to eat, pour drinks, and continue to talk about whatever they’d been talking about when they’d come in. I stood there wondering what was going to happen next.

Paul was beside Neil, facing my way, and was the first to speak to me.

“Michael, right? Come over and give us your ideas.”

Those with their backs to me did not turn around. I did not think he meant for me, as I gave my ideas, to stand while they sat. But the problem was there was nowhere to sit at the table. The chairs were all taken. The sofa and armchairs were too big to move. So it was to be the hassock. I looked at the hassock. The hassock looked at me, dark leather and fat. I gauged it was too large in circumference and bulk to lift. I put my foot at its base and applied pressure, hoping to seem, until I tested its weight, that I wasn’t doing anything other than just standing there. It did not budge.

Paul and Neil had gone back to eating. The others were talking, backs to me, unconcerned.

I’d have to shove this malignant object, and so I leaned down and initiated a pushing-like activity, ungracefully angled, ass out. The hassock started to move but not as though willing, with the carpet being no friend, fibrous and resistant. It was harder than I’d thought.

Maybe wondering what had become of me, in relation to his invitation to “come over,” Paul lifted his eyes from his prawn cocktail and took in the sight in front of him.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Sensing something was going on, the others, Mal, John,

George, and Ringo at the head of the table, previously obscured, turned in their chairs toward me.

“I’m fine,” I grunted, in a manner which I hoped conveyed no sense of strain.

Mal started to rise to give me a hand.

“No, don’t get up!” I heard myself shout. “It’s no problem.”

With a final muscle-tensing effort, I maneuvered the hassock the last half dozen feet and slammed it into a space between Mal and George.

“There, I’ve done it.”

Those at the table, including the four most famous people in the world, had stopped eating and were staring at me.

I stood back and smiled as though what had just occurred had been, for me anyway, a pleasant, familiar experience.

I started to sit down and it was at this point that I realized a hassock’s original purpose was to rest weary legs after a long day and consequently it was lower in height than a regular chair and so I’d be sitting somewhat lower than the four most famous people in the world.

My chin was at table level as I wiped the sweat offmy forehead, looked up at The Beatles, and said, “I really like the record.”

What they saw was some white tablecloth and a disembodied, flushed, moist head which had just spoken to them.

I waited for the discussion to begin.

There was silence until George, courteous by nature, asked, in a slightly concerned voice, “Would you like some water?”

Meet the Author

Michael Lindsay-Hogg studied at Oxford before becoming a director of the 1960s British television rock series Ready, Steady, Go! On Broadway, he has directed Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Agnes of God, and The Boys of Winter. His films include Nasty Habits, Frankie Starlight, The Object of Beauty, and Waiting for Godot. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Lisa.

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