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Book Report: True 'Queen of the Nile' much different from silver screen's portrayal

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First it was Claudette Colbert playing Cleopatra back in the '30s. Then came Liz Taylor as the star-crossed Egyptian empress.

Last night I was watching TV and there was a Subway sandwich commercial featuring Cleo. Apparently she kept her hourglass figure by eating foot-long meatball subs and it all, sadly, led to her downfall.

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When will this nonsense end? Not too soon for a retired Ohio State professor named Roller.

"Cleopatra: A Biography," by Duane W. Roller (Oxford University Press, $24.95), attempts to debunk the legends that have grown up around Cleopatra and Julius Caesar and Mark Antony (played variously by guys like Warren William and Marlon Brando.)

"Bushwa," says Roller: "Some of the most familiar episodes of her career simply did not happen. She did not approach Caesar wrapped in a carpet; she was not a seductress; she did not use her charm to persuade the men in her life to lose their judgment; and she did not die by the bite of an asp."

And she didn't look like Elizabeth Taylor.

If that's the case, what did she do?

Roller calls her a skilled naval commander; a published medical authority; an expert royal administrator; and an able stateswoman, admired throughout the eastern Mediterranean as it hoped to free itself from Roman domination.

*****

It all started when Lisa Tracy and her sister Jeanne were confronted with getting rid of several households of possessions, furniture, memorabilia gathered by their family during years in military bases beginning with America's frontier and ending in World War II. They decided to research the items to boost the estate's resale value at auction.

What Lisa Tracy ended up with is a charming book, "The Objects of My Affection" (Bantam, $25), a discussion of the research buttressed by photos of family members gussied up in their military uniforms, an elaborate chest an ancestor picked up when he was stationed n the Philippines, monogrammed silverware and a West Point napkin ring.

This book could act as an inspiration for anyone possessed of an attic full of a family's accumulation from the past.

*****

On the regional front we have two new books, both of them dealing with labor; one non-fiction, one fiction.

The first is "Sawdusted," by Raymond Goodwin (Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press, $22.95). Goodwin wasn't always an administrator at Central Michigan University. Back in the '70s he was a college dropout who took his sawyer brother Randy's advice and got a job in a sawmill in the Upper Peninsula, long after the heyday of lumbering as remembered in Edna Ferber's "Come and Get It!"

Goodwin's is a charming, bittersweet reminiscence of the workers he met, the pranks they played, the loves they lost and the miserable salaries they received.

"Hot Metal Boys," by Nick Garafola (Cold Piece Books/P. O. Box 40481/St. Paul, MN 55104, $12.95 paper), tells the story of a car club in a town very much like St. Paul. The members work at Nero, a steel mill whose owners would like to get rid of the factory's union.

Buck, the hero, is more interested in his weekend auto escapades than labor management issues until push comes to shove and he gets involved with an activist who teaches him about the history of the labor movement.

With unions under the gun everywhere, this is an instructive, if often too didactic, fictional account of labor versus management.

Poor David's Almanac: On this day in 1952, dramatist Lillian Hellman ("The Little Foxes") informed the House Committee on Un-American Activities that she will refuse to testify against her associates.

"I cannot," she said, "and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions."

Dave would like to hear from you. Call him at 426-9554.

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