Leonard Maltin's memoir, Starstruck: My Unlikely Road to Hollywood, is at its core a passionate love story between a man and the movies.
Maltin, outside of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, is perhaps the most widely known and popular film critic, thanks in large part to his three-decades stint in that role on
Generations of armchair cinephiles are indebted to his annual
Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and '70s B.C. (Before cable, let alone the internet), I kept my increasingly dog-eared copy at the ready to note which movies shown on "Family Classics," "Creature Features" or "When Movies were Movies" I should be sure to see.
ceased publication in 2015 after 45 years. The prolific Maltin, also wrote definitive books devoted to
Movie Comedy Teams
The Little Rascals
The Disney Films
, the history of animation (
Of Mice and Magic
), and others.
Bearded and bespectacled, Maltin has a professorial demeanor, but, also like Ebert and Siskel, he makes film and film history accessible. He is one of the movies' most important goodwill ambassadors.
, Maltin refers to himself as "one lucky guy," but his story suggests otherwise. He had a strong work ethic that found him publishing a movie fanzine when he was 13 and scoring interviews with the likes of character actor Hans Conreid.
While he grew up far from Hollywood in Teaneck, N.J., he made the most of nearby New York's movie palaces, where he discovered silent comedy, a lifelong obsession. Television further fueled his love of cinema in an era when there were only three major networks and they filled out their programming day with old movies.
is less a traditional memoir than a collection of wonderful stories about his encounters with Hollywood legends. Looking for dirt, scandal, and score-settling? Then go read Katie Couric's recent memoir.
Here, Maltin's infectious enthusiasm for his subjects inspires his subjects to drop their guards and go off script. Morgan Freeman, for example, shared with Maltin how he scored his screen debut as an extra in Sidney Lumet's
(he caught the director's eye when, as a passerby, he paused in his walk to light a cigarette).
Emma Thompson confides that she prefers Buster Keaton to her own countryman, Charlie Chaplin. Katharine Hepburn insists that Maltin have soup and crumpets with her while they talk. Jerry Lewis shares how much it stung that people thought his Buddy Love character in
The Nutty Professor
was based on Dean Martin.
The closest Maltin gets to dishing dirt is in writing about his fraught relationship with Burt Reynolds, who once greeted him in the
greenroom with, "I'd love to slug ya, but there are ladies present." "I have never said an unkind word about you," Maltin tells him. "About some of your films, yes, but never about you."
Starstruck is characteristically upbeat, even when Maltin addresses living with Parkinson's, a diagnosis he revealed in 2018. He admits he kept it secret for years because he feared it might cost him work, especially on television. "Overall, I'm functioning pretty well," he writes, despite that he is "slower and clumsier than I used to be."
But Maltin has not let it slow him down. He has a blog, "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy" (
). He co-hosts the weekly
Maltin on Movies
podcast with his daughter, Jessie (over 300 episodes thus far). They also talk film and answer questions in a livestream every Sunday on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
His positive outlook extends even to the bad movies he sees. "I console myself with the knowledge that at least I never have to see it again," he writes.
That's classic Maltin.
Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes for
, and other outlets.