On October 19th, 1978 police found the bodies of Gig Young and his newlywed wife of three weeks Kim, dead in their New York apartment. Theories of suicide pacts, Triad murderers, and other shady underworld assassinations abounded. Although the police that investigated the double shooting have speculated that Young first shot his new wife and then himself, some people have never bought this scenario.
Author George Eells sets out to tell Gig Young’s less than idyll life story. From his beginnings as the youngest of three children (a “mistake” but apparently not a happy one) called Byron, whose successful father was hard pressed to give him the time of day.To the days leading up to the double shooting. Eells tries to leave no stone unturned and no relationship untold.
Gig Young made a career out of being the second lead in films. He was always the guy who “lost” the girl. He had a beautiful speaking voice and was always impeccably turned out in his films. The only real exception was the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They?‘ in which he played the seedy and unpleasant owner/announcer of a dance hall who is overseeing a “Dance-a-thon.” This role landed him the only Oscar of his career.
Eells has been pretty thorough in his chronicling of Young’s life, paying special attention to his relationships with women. He reveals what each of Gig’s marriages were like and the reasons for their failures. It appears that he did not have a very good self-image and that he suffered from several types of mental “illnesses” that he was able to cover up for quite a long time with drink and pills. Later in his life he used both to excess and then tried to stop, most likely, too quickly.
Like most successful “stars” Young’s life reads more like a tragedy than a triumph. He was very adept at appearing to be the suave, sophisticated, amusing man about town, both on-screen and off. Reality was much different, here was a man haunted by demons and a feeling of not belonging or being wanted. These demons, in all likelihood, had been with Gig since childhood and his success as an actor could not save him from himself.
I only found out about this book while reading the meandering “tribute” to the late Elizabeth Montgomery. It is referenced at least twice. I decided to track the book down and read about this man who had fascinated me when he was alive and whose death confused me.
One of my favourite films when I was growing up was the Doris Day, Clark Gable film Teacher’s Pet. Gig Young played his usual second-lead role as Day’s boyfriend (or fiancé I don’t remember which) who loses her to Gable’s hard-nosed newspaper man. As much as I loved the film’s two “main” leads, it was Young who fired my imagination, especially after my mother explained that he, “Never gets the girl, even though he’s so handsome.”
I broke my usual iron-clad rule about Jane Fonda films (I never forgave her for being “Hanoi-Jane” during the Vietnam War) and watched They Shoot Horses Don’t They? just for Gig Young’s performance. It was easy to see why he won the Oscar. The last thing I saw him do was his small but important role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. He play the mysterious Quill; one half of a “hit man” double act who hire Warren Oates‘ character to find Alfredo Garcia. After securing his (Oates’) services for a very large amount of money, Oates’ character asks for their names. His slurred, sad, and weary response is, “Dobbs. Fred C. Dobbs.”
He still had the ability to breathe life into whatever role he played. Sadly, he would do only one more film before the incident in 1978. Eells tries very hard to figure out what went wrong both in Young’s life and the week leading up to the double shooting. The end result is a tragic retelling of a star’s life. A story that will leave you shaking your head and feeling, if truth be told, a little sad and depressed.
On the amount of detail that Eells has put into his book, I’d have to give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’ve deducted a half a star for the overall sadness of the book and the conjecture raised about what happened the afternoon of the 19th of October, 1978. The only people who really know what transpired and lead up to the shooting are gone. They’ve taken their secrets with them and perhaps that is better for everyone involved.
- Twitch Upon a Star by Herbie J Pilato: Meandering Memories (mikesfilmtalk.com)