PEOPLE WILL TALK by John Kobal; Knopf; 752 pages; $25

Sometimes oral history is an art; sometimes it is merely mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It depends as much on the interviewee as the interviewer. In this exhaustive grilling of showfolk past, Film Historian John Kobal has chosen his subjects artfully, and he has edited ruthlessly. Conversations with Bette Davis, whose dramatic biography has been overexposed, are omitted. June Duprez (The Thief of Bagdad) is included precisely be cause of her failure to ascend in Holly wood. With the British actress's help, and some probing questions, Kobal traces "what happened to her career after the film premiered in America and she became the outsider...

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