My Top 5 Favorite Autobiographies About Actors and Actresses

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AutobiographiesIf you enjoy reading autobiographies (written by the actual person), and you like an engaging read, you'll love these 5 autobiographies about some of Hollywood's most fascinating actors and actresses.

All of them have had interesting careers, and you'll enjoy the chance to get a first-hand look at their lives and careers.

Unlike many of today's scandal-driven, sensation-focused biographies and autobiographies, these autobiographies are real stories about seasoned, professional actors who are true craftsmen.

As an in-depth look at the craft and profession of acting, combined with great stories of the real life behind Hollywood careers, you can't miss with these fabulous books. You've got to add them to your "best books to read" list right away.

What I Love Most About Reading Autobiographies

Ever since I picked up my first autobiography over 25 years ago, I've been hooked.

And autobiographies — the good ones — are never short. Most of them weigh in (and these were the days of hardback biographies only) at over a pound in the hand and 400 to 500 pages long. So this was no quick read.

I started out reading autobiographies of authors. I particularly enjoyed the author's discussion of their journey of discovery towards a career in writing and how they found their passion.

By the time I was in my twenties, I was even further fascinated by the autobiographies of actors and actresses. The creative process in general appealed to me, and I found great stories and personal inspiration reading about many of the significant actors of my childhood as they came into their own as critical actors, often facing challenges in their early life or early career that helped define them as craftsmen (and women).

Even when my print library is overflowing with books, and I've resorted to ebooks to keep my library in check, autobiography works continue to make the shelves of my physical library when so many others do not.

I've returned to my collection many times over the years, sometimes for a short dip into a section, sometimes for a whole new pass, and always adding to the richness of the story told. I'm hooked, and I hope some of you find the same enjoyment that I have from these books.

Michael Caine - What's It All About?

This is my recommendation for an early look at his life and career.

What's It All About

Knighted by Her Majesty in 2000, Sir Michael Caine has had a long and impressive acting career.

This is the first of several autobiographies and biographies written about Michael Caine. It covers his childhood, his early manhood, and his ascent to the early heights of his acting career.

It's an engaging look at his early years as a Cockney lad in England, through his time in the National Service (Britain's armed services), which he and others more commonly referred to as "Hell," and into his extensive career as a versatile actor in both comedic and serious roles.

His discussion of the craft of acting is excellent, and although it is a VERY long book at over 500 pages, it is really worth the read.

You gain a deep appreciation for his life and the challenges he overcame, the development of his acting craft, and the depth of his personal journey through these times. And there's some great stories and a few wry nuggets of humor along the way.

This book was originally published in 1992 — that's the copy I have — but has been recently republished as of 2010. I've read this book easily a dozen times over the last 22 years, and I find new insights and inspiration every time.

Betty White - If you ask me (and of course you won't)

If You Ask Me (and of course you wont)

With an astounding career covering over 70 years from its start in 1939, Betty White is one of Hollywood's funniest — and most beloved — actresses. She has written several books covering various parts of her career. This is the latest one, and I think quite the most engaging.

She combines thoughtful observations from her many years of riding the waves in Hollywood, including humorous stories, and plenty of her usual candid takes on the world.

She has a whole chapter just on "Name Dropping" with some great little stories about people she has worked with (and that's a LOT of people!)

Another section discusses stagecraft from an actress who really has done it all, from comedy, to soap operas, to variety shows, game shows, hit television series, radio shows, host and commentator of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and everything in between.

In May of 2010, she became the oldest person to ever guest-host a Saturday Night Live episode at 88 years old. How many of us would still be going strong at over 90 now, as she is?

Her hit television roles run the gamut from the Mary Tyler Moore Show to Golden Girls, which still comes on strong with audiences of all ages in reruns after 20 years. She's had a career through nearly 4 generations of her fans, and she's still creating, inventing, and rolling with the times. Her acting awards are legion, and she has Emmy awards and nominations that span a record-breaking 60 year period of time.

If you'd like to get to know Betty White better, this book is a great way to do it.

Leonard Nimoy - I Am Spock

A follow-up to his earlier autobiography, this book focuses much more on his Star Trek alter-ego.

I am Spock

Leonard Nimoy is one of the most versatile actors, writers, and directors of his time, and remains so, even now as he has officially declared his retirement during the last few years.

While so many people remember him and typecast him as Spock, he handled many different roles during the 60s and 70s which show his talents so much better than even Mr. Spock. In the 70s, he wrote "I Am Not Spock," which is an excellent look at his life and career outside of the role of Mr. Spock.

For years, he tried to pull himself from the stereotype of the logical Vulcan, but with this book ("I Am Spock"), he moves back to the middle with the acknowledgment of the positive role that Mr. Spock played in his life and career.

It is primarily a Star Trek memoir, and he sprinkles these nifty (and I found quite witty and wry) discussions between himself and Spock in the book.

He doesn't get into a lot of personal details like other Star Trek actors, preferring to discuss his professional life as an actor and director. Although you may not know, he directed "Three Men and a Baby" and "The Good Mother" in addition to his turn as director of some of the Star Trek movies.

I have to say that his ego has never been the problem that William Shatner's has been. He takes a much more reasoned approach to his autobiography (dare I say "logical"?). There are quite a few Star Trek stories to please fans, and if you want a more in-depth look at his wider career, "I Am Not Spock" is also good.

James Earl Jones - Voices and Silences

Voices and Silences

This autobiography is a candid look at the challenges he has faced in his career, from an impoverished childhood in the 1930s of Mississippi to his struggles to overcome a terrible stuttering problem (as a young child) and a period as a mute (from ages 10 to 14).

From Star Wars to Field of Dreams, on Broadway, television, and in the movies, James Earl Jones' incredible acting talent and unsurpassed resonant voice has held audiences captivated for many decades.

He says near the end of the book, "An actor is blessed if once in a lifetime lightning strikes him with a thunderbolt of a role. He is extraordinarily blessed if he gets struck twice, and that has happened to me."

Personally I think he's being modest in claiming only two roles of a lifetime. Even now, as he ages so much, he still brings a compelling voice to the narrative works he does on a regular basis. While there are many "faces" in Hollywood that hold our eyes over the years, there are few voices as immediately recognizable as his.

I'm terrible at Name That Tune, for example, but 2 words into anything he's ever done, I can instantly hear the tones of his voice, in some cases as they send a ripple down my spine from sheer awe.

The writing in this book, even where he discusses the struggles and trials he has conquered, literally resonates with the deep rich voice that James Earl Jones has developed from his early struggles to recover his voice. His story is awe-inspiring. There's no other way to put it.

Part discussion of craft, part sharing of his trials and triumphs, this book will resonate with you for years to come.

Sean Astin - There and Back Again, An Actor's Tale

Okay, he's not iconic, but it's a well-written look at a professional modern actor.

Sean Astin There and Back Again an Actors Tale

Sean Astin's journey through his life from his early years as a successful child actor, to his transition to a successful adult actor is an interesting read.

Admittedly, he's closer to my generation than the actors I mention above, but he's had a long career as a child and adult actor, as well as being the child of actors. You get a sneak peek into some of the issues that surround growing up in a family of actors, which is pretty interesting even though it is an aside in most cases.

Add in his discussions about his regular struggles between his "actor's life" and his aspirations as a director of films and how that affects his acting career and you get an engaging tale.

Then, in comes the Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR) and its life-changing effect on his life and career. He takes a candid look at how such a monumental role can change an actor's life as well as the effects on his home life.

This is an excellent look at Sean Astin's early acting career and the maturation of his acting craft through seemingly-endless filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There are lots of looks at the inner workings of how the trilogy is made from one of the principal actors, including neat behind-the-scenes interactions with other primary actors during casting and through the post-filming promotional tours. If you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings and Sean Astin's performance as Samwise Gamgee, you'll enjoy this book.

Who Is Your Favorite?