Carol Easton, whose curiosity for creativity inspired her to write the 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, California. She was 87 years old.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter Liz Kinnon on Saturday.
“She has always been fascinated by people, especially creative people in the arts,” said Ms. Kinnon. “After years of working as a freelance writer, she decided to write her first biography.”
Her first subject was the jazz composer and orchestra leader Stan Kenton, whose popularity spanned four decades. In 1973 her “Straight Ahead: The Story of Stan Kenton” appeared.
This was followed by “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 fell ill with cerebral palsy that ended her career in her late twenties; and No Intermissions: The Life of Agnes de Mille (1996), which immersed itself in the life of the choreographer who gave dance an unmistakable American energy.
“No Intermissions” was named Notable Book of the Year in 1996 by the New York Times. It was reviewed by Jennifer Dunning, the Times dance critic, as an “extensively researched” look at the worlds of ballet and Broadway (including Ms. de Milles groundbreaking choreography for “Oklahoma”); her passionate advocacy for the National Endowment for the Arts; and their openness. (When she received the National Medal of Arts in 1986, Ms. Easton wrote that she was telling President Ronald Reagan, “You are a much better actor now than you were in the films.”)
“No Breaks,” the review concluded, “is engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking read, and that is quite an accomplishment for a book about such a prickly and self-made icon.”
In the New York Times Book Review, Joan Acocella said of Ms. Easton’s book: “For those of you who, like me, are still wondering how dance is done, she describes de Mille’s choreographic method in detail: how she imagined a dance, what came? first in her head how many and which notes she made before going to the studio. “
Ms. Easton’s biography of Jacqueline du Pré was described in the Times Book Review by Peggy Constantine as “brimming with wonderful quotes” (including this one by violinist Hugh Maguire: “She was like champagne, fresh entcorked, all time”).
In a 1999 letter to the Times, Ms. Easton contrasted her account of the life of Ms. du Pré with the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie, based on a book by Jacqueline’s sister, flautist Hilary du Pré an affair between Jacqueline and Hilary’s husband.
“As a friend of Jacqueline du Pré and, at her request, a biographer, I know she was neither the saint as portrayed by the British media nor the selfish monstrosity of her sister’s selfish book,” Ms. Easton wrote. “Rather, she was painfully human.”
Carol Evelyn Herzenberg was born on September 27, 1933 in San Francisco as the daughter of the entrepreneur and journalist Jean Miller and the businessman Herbert Herzenberg. Their marriage ended in divorce. Carol was legally adopted by her mother’s second husband, Jack Easton, a Hollywood agent, and took his last name.
She grew up in Hollywood, where, as her son Kelly said, she sneaked onto the Samuel Goldwyn Studios property as a child and was cast as an extra in the anti-war film “The North Star” in 1943.
She studied theater studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1956 she married Jerry Kinnon. They divorced in 1968.
In addition to her daughter and son Kelly, she is survived by another son, Andy; five grandchildren; and a brother, Jack Easton.