Books

Carol Easton, Biographer of Arts Figures, Dies at 87

Carol Easton, whose curiosity about creativity inspired her to write biographies of four prominent figures in the arts — Stan Kenton, Samuel Goldwyn, Jacqueline du Pré and Agnes de Mille — died on June 17 at her home in Venice, Calif. She was 87.

Her death was confirmed on Saturday by her daughter, Liz Kinnon.

“She was always fascinated with people, especially creative people in the arts,” Ms. Kinnon said. “After working as a freelance writer for years, she decided she wanted to write her first biography.”

Her first subject was the jazz composer and orchestra leader Stan Kenton, whose popularity spanned four decades. Her “Straight Ahead: The Story of Stan Kenton” was published in 1973.

She followed that with “The Search for Sam Goldwyn” (1976), a profile of the pioneering Hollywood producer; “Jacqueline du Pré: A Biography” (1989), about the child prodigy cellist who developed career-ending multiple sclerosis in her late 20s; and “No Intermissions: The Life of Agnes de Mille” (1996), which delved into the life of the choreographer who endowed dance with a distinctive American energy.

“No Intermissions” was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1996. It was described by Jennifer Dunning, The Times’s dance critic, in a review as an “extensively researched” look at the worlds of ballet and Broadway (including Ms. de Mille’s groundbreaking choreography for “Oklahoma”); her impassioned advocacy for the National Endowment for the Arts; and her outspokenness. (When she received the National Medal of Arts in 1986, Ms. Easton wrote, she told President Ronald Reagan, “You’re a much better actor now than you were in the movies.”)

“No Intermissions,” the review concluded, “is an absorbing, enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and that is quite an accomplishment for a book about so prickly and self-made an icon.”

In The New York Times Book Review, Joan Acocella said of Ms. Easton’s book, “For those who still wonder, as I do, how dance is made, she describes in detail de Mille’s choreographic method: how she imagined a dance, what came into her mind first, how many notes and what kind she made before going into the studio.”

Ms. Easton’s biography of Jacqueline du Pré was described in the Times Book Review by Peggy Constantine as “brimming with wonderful quotations” (including this one, from the violinist Hugh Maguire: “She was like champagne, freshly uncorked, all the time”).

In a letter to The Times in 1999, Ms. Easton also contrasted her account of Ms. du Pré’s life with the film “Hilary and Jackie” (1998), adapted from a book by Jacqueline’s sister, the flutist Hilary du Pré, who recounted an affair between Jacqueline and Hilary’s husband.

“As Jacqueline du Pré’s friend and, at her request, her biographer, I know that she was neither the saint that the British media made her out to be nor the self-absorbed monstre sacre of her sister’s self-serving book,” Ms. Easton wrote. “Rather, she was achingly human.”

Carol Evelyn Herzenberg was born on Sept. 27, 1933, in San Francisco to Jean Miller, an entrepreneur and journalist, and Herbert Herzenberg, a businessman. Their marriage ended in divorce. Carol was legally adopted by her mother’s second husband, Jack Easton, a Hollywood agent, and took his surname.

She was raised in Hollywood, where, her son Kelly said, she used to sneak onto the Samuel Goldwyn Studios lot as a child and managed to be cast as an extra in the 1943 antiwar film “The North Star.”

She studied theater arts at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1956, she married Jerry Kinnon. They divorced in 1968.

In addition to their daughter and their son Kelly, she is survived by another son, Andy; five grandchildren; and a brother, Jack Easton.

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