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Road to the Emmys: Showbiz Bio Writers Survived a Minefield

Showbiz biopics are alluring, but scribes must dodge hidden pitfalls

If you’re an aspiring writer or director, tread cautiously in the tempting terrain of showbiz fables, populated with colorful, oversized characters from the annals of pop culture history. This year’s Emmy race in these categories are rife with examples of well-executed and lavishly praised biopics.

These sometimes necessarily garish but also strangely touching tales chronicle the genius and foibles of such tabloid-ready figures as:

» Writer-director David Mamet’s titular terror, Phil Spector, who rose from Fairfax High School wimp to teen titan of girl-group pop sounds in the ’60s to convicted murderer in his 60s;

» Alfred Hitchcock, who terrified the world with his cinematic genius but — if director Julian Jarrold’s biopic “The Girl” is to be believed — also terrified his leading ladies with his oversized lust and creepy penchant for all kinds of sinister games of control;

» Country music figure June Carter Cash, who gained new followers via the Oscar-winning film “Walk the Line,” which positioned her as supporting act to husband Johnny Cash. Now, director Allison Anders has put her squarely center stage in “Ring of Fire.”

» Liberace and his young lover Scott Thorson. When writer Richard LaGravenese and director Steven Soderbergh promised to take viewers “Behind the Candelabra” to inhabit their strange, glitzy universe, the bizarre world of capes, sequins, poppers and cheek implants came to life. Its biggest shock? In their hands, prurience gives way to genuine pathos.

The point? These Emmy-nommed pros might make it look easy, but every one of these true stories is also a true minefield where one false step could have exploded their plot lines.

Luckily for the nominees and their audiences, the steps were breathtaking, masterful and revelatory.

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