Title: "The Ultimate Test of TV Trivia"Author: Jaime...

BOOK BRIEFS

March 06, 1994|By STEVE MCKERROW Title: "Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend" Author: David Shipman Publisher: Hyperion Length, price: 540 pages, $24.95 | STEVE MCKERROW Title: "Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend" Author: David Shipman Publisher: Hyperion Length, price: 540 pages, $24.95,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Title: "The Ultimate Test of TV Trivia"

Author: Jaime O'Neill

Publisher: Harper

Length, price: 343 pages, $9.95 (paperback) The author of this irresistible collection of miscellany counsels readers not to worry if they have a good memory for the medium. He had the same misgivings.

While compiling and categorizing these 1,700 questions -- they range from sitcom casts to hucksters for commercials -- Mr. O'Neill confesses in his introduction: "I became increasingly uncomfortable about how much I knew about so many silly, inconsequential and even stupid things."

The author's blurb on the last page even identifies the California teacher and writer by saying, "he might have taught better and written more if he hadn't watched so much television."

But that is the key to the book's appeal. Open it anywhere and you are taking a psychological free-association test. Most readers likely will be surprised to find how much they remember.

Example: "Name the place the Beverly Hillbillies moved away from."

You knew it was Bug Tussle, didn't you?

There is no index, though. It would be nice, if you wanted to know the name of Hopalong Cassidy's horse, to look up the cowboy and find a page reference to reveal that answer: Topper.

Entertainer Judy Garland was as famous for her excesses as for her significant talent. If you have cherished old-time movies such as "The Wizard of Oz," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Easter Parade," David Shipman's book will make you cringe; Garland's temperamental outbursts are legendary and her addiction to alcohol and drugs, her abortions and multiple marriages and her suicide have received extensive coverage.

But now this talented and personable singer/actress is laid bone-bare as an ultra-dependent, malicious and explosive woman who slept with many men and women. Mr. Shipman has done his homework and then some. While Garland was not guiltless, many of her problems were caused by her pushy stage mother, with whom she had a stormy relationship, and by the studio system. It was here that a very young Garland was given uppers and downers that would become a pattern and end in an early death.

Garland died in 1969 at the age of 47, $4 million dollars in debt. Yet she had the quality that moves people, even at her worst, Mr. Shipman writes: "Honesty, not phonyness, moves people. Judy Garland was to singing what Gershwin was to music. They brought a quality and vitality that was typically and uniquely American."

To the student of Garland and the Hollywood scene, this book is a gold mine; to the average fan, this is likely to be a very long book.

BARBARA SAMSON MILLS

Title: "Not Where I Started From: Stories"

Author: Kate Wheeler

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Length, price: 239 pages, $19.95

The trick to the short story is to grab you all at once. Kate Wheeler, still young, is a master. A sampling: "A week into our affair, Severo Marquez told me that he had shot his own dog." "It's been two years since I left Pinyan Monastery, but every time my head itches I still think it's that ringworm." "When Mayland Thompson dies he wants to be buried with the body of a 12-year-old girl. 'A fresh one,' he says." Ms. Wheeler nails you every time out, and she never lets go.

Ms. Wheeler's sets, reflecting her own peripatetic life, range from Burma to Buenos Aires, Kansas to Colombia, but she never drifts. Hers are solid stories, stories that tangle the emotions, tweak the perspective. Who else can see trees illuminated from beneath and sense a violation of privacy, "as if the lights were being shone up their skirts"?

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