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Movie Books


pandorainmay
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A young friend asked me to name my favorite books about movies. After thinking about it a bit, I realized that my somewhat inchoate ideas will take a bit of time to coalesce in my brainpan, though the batch below is my first crack at a beginning list. What 10 favorite books, not films, can you name as among your favorites? As far as I'm concerned they can be bios, autobios, overviews, histories, picture books or whatever appeals most to you. Thanks in advance for your ideas.

 

The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

Goldwyn: A Biography by A. Scott Berg

Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride

City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s by Otto Friedrich

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Usually the movie never stands up to the book. Examples are "Coma" and "The Philadelphia Experiment". The books were so much better than the movies that I felt cheated when the lights came on in the theatre at the end of the movies. I felt like asking for my money back.

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Searching For John Ford by Joseph McBride.

Only Victims by Robert Vaughn ( about blacklisting published circa 1970 )

Tis Herself by Maureen O' Hara autobiography)

The Name above the Title by Frank Capra ( autobiography)3

The RKO Gals by Robert Parrish ( circa 1970 - I have it somewhere)

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Moira,

 

Excellent list. I would add:

 

The Men Who Made the Movies by Richard Schickel (out of print but available from Abebooks)

 

Print the Legend: The Life of John Ford by Scott Eyman

 

Get Happy by Gerald Clarke

 

Conversations with Billy Wilder by Cameron Crowe

 

The Movies by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer

 

The RKO Story by Richard Jewell

 

Sin in Soft Focus by Mark Viera

 

Naming Names by Victor Navasky

 

An Open Book by John Huston

 

Picture by Lillian Ross (about the making of Red Badge of Courage)

 

The Studio by John Gregory Dunne

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Baby, I Don't Care - Biography of Robert Mitchum by Lee Server

 

Goodnight, Sweet Prince - The Life and Times of John Barrymore by Gene Fowler

 

An Open Book - John Huston

 

Company of Heroes - Harry Carey, Jr.

 

John Wayne - American by Randy Roberts and James Olson

 

Gary Cooper: Off Camera - by Maria Cooper Janis

 

Sinatra! The Song is You by Will Friedwald (one of the best biographies about a singer's art EVER written)

 

The Moon's A Ballon & Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven

 

Print the Legend - Scott Eyman

 

Who the Devil Made It? - Peter Bogdanovich

 

There are so many picture books I could name, but besides Maria Cooper's, my favorites include:

 

Yul Brynner: Photographer by Victoria Brynner

 

Stars! - I can't recall the photographer's name, but it's a compilation of photos taken during the 50s & 60s of famous Hollywood stars at the Cannes Film Festival. Gorgeous pictures.

 

Jean Howard's Hollywood - Good thing this starlet was handy with a camera: she took candid pictures of the biggest stars of the golden age while rubbing elbows with them.

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Hmmm, I hadn't considered fiction that had been re-interpreted onto film, but those are interesting choices. Perhaps one should recommend Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust and Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? in the fiction categories? Both are searing and entertaining works. I'm not crazy about F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, but...his prose is always worthwhile, even when that gift was on the wane.

 

Miss Goddess,

I'll have to track down the Maria Cooper Janis book. I loved her piece on TCM regarding her father, Gary Cooper, that's begun to run on the network promoting the Star of the Month.

 

Ken,

I'm shocked, shocked, to see that Maureen O'Hara's autobiography made your list! Are you a fan, she asked, disingenuously?? I liked it and love her on film, but frankly, it could've used more about the actual making of the movies and less about John Ford's schoolboy crush on the beautiful lady and other, relatively--to me--uninteresting stuff. What about making movies with the such divergent figures as Jean Renoir and John Garfield? I had the feeling that it was heavily edited. I very much like the parts about her rapport with John Wayne

 

Lynn,

Scott Eyman's book on John Ford is another fave, as are his books on Ernst Lubitsch, (Laughter in Paradise) and The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930. I tried to narrow it down to his most current great read. Btw, he's currently working on a massive bio of Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille's estate has allowed him access to thousands of previously unexamined documents from C.B.'s long life, and, given the fact that the author writes in an unusually amusing and scholarly way, it should make for a good book in the future.

 

A couple of other movie nonfiction books that I've enjoyed and thought of since yesterday are:

 

People Will Talk: Conversations with Hollywood Legends by John Kobal (out of print but I'd try the library and worth every penny for a used copy, since the author speaks with many hapless, delightful, self-serving and interesting people ranging from folks like Hermes Pan, Evelyn Brent, Loretta Young to a thoroughly wonderful Ann Sheridan).

 

Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich and Who the Hell's In It: Portraits and Conversations by the same. You may not like listening or watching this guy speak on film or as the host of The Essentials, but on the page the guy has a way of drawing out many fascinating individual filmmakers and performers as few others have been able to do. He's also quite self-deprecating in his asides, which won me over. For instance, he chides himself for his callowness as a youngster apprenticing in the theatre in the '50s as Edward Everett Horton's dresser one summer. He did not have the knowledge or gumption--given Mr. Horton's formidable manner--to inquire about the great character actor's film experience, alas.

 

Wish List:

George Sanders: An Exhausted Life by Richard Vanderbeets. Sounds fascinating and, since I've already devoured Memoirs of a Professional Cad by The Man himself and Brian Aherne's A Dreadful Man: A Personal Intimate Book About George Sanders, I'd still like to know more about the rou? who was found to be mad, bad, and dangerous to know...

 

I think that there should be a sub-list of entertaining, satisfying books about people one is fond of , such as character actors, minor leading types, etc. Keep 'em coming, please. It's very much appreciated by me.

 

*Sniff* *Sniff* What's that smell? Must be the wood burning in my head, thinking of more movie books to add...

 

Message was edited by:

moirafinnie6 because it's never too late to correct my spelling and grammar.

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Thought I should add a caveat to Frank Capra's Name Above the Title. I enjoyed reading this book so long ago; but since reading it have seen many reports of the inaccuracies of the book. Many of Capra's tales are apocryphal, if not downright fabrications. It's an enjoyable read, but should be taken with a boulder of salt.

 

A. Scott Berg's biography of Samuel Goldwyn is excellent. I also enjoyed Irene Mayer Selznick's book; and Arthur Laurents' autobiography is a good companion to Ms. Selznick's tome. The Laurents is somewhat of a mixed bag, there there are gems to be found in the rough.

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Jack,

I take all biographies and autobiographies with that proverbial salt--and some, I take with a shot of tequila as well--metaphorically speaking, of course. I read them if they're well written and/or have halfway decent documentation. That eliminates, oooh, about 89% of all Hollywood bios, wouldn't you say?

 

Funny that you should've had a similar reaction to the talented Arthur Laurents' autobiography Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. He made his life as an international writer of Broadway and Hollywood seem deadly dull most of time. Surely, it was more interesting than this to be in the company of diverse minds such as Leonard Bernstein, Stanley Kramer and Yul Brynner? The best parts were about West Side Story and Home of the Brave, at least for me. Mr. Laurents was much more engaging as one of the interviewees in the documentary The Celluloid Closet and as one of the commentators on the dvd of Anastasia, for which he wrote the intelligent screenplay.

 

It's been a long time since I read Irene Selznick's memoir A Private View. I think that it might be worthwhile revisiting her book. Thanks for the reminder. Have you read A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered? It was fair as a memoir of Katharine Hepburn, and was really pretty touching and lively when the author wrote about his encounters with Ms. Hepburn's formidable friend and sometime producer, Irene, at the end of her complicated life.

 

I wouldn't put any of these books among my purely subjective top ten, though they would be good for background color, rather than overviews and I appreciate any suggestions.

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Moira---many thanks for mentioning that Scott Eyman did a book on Lubitsch---who happens to be one of my "top 3" directors. I will look out for it.

 

I'd also like to mention: PICTURES WILL TALK: The LIfe and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz by Kenneth Geist. Mr. Geist also contributes to the commentary track for PEOPLE WILL TALK and, I believe, ALL ABOUT EVE.

 

And Peter Bogdanovich's biography of Orson Welles was a very touching portrait of the man---I hope TCM will air the latest documentary on him, "Searching for Orson," narrated by Peter.

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Moira,

 

I would second and champion MissGoddess inclusion of "Company of Heroes" by Harry Carey, Jr.

 

Also, I would recommend A Short Time for Insanity by William Wellman and Allan Dwan: A Pioneer by Bogdanovich.

 

King Vidor's "Just a Tree" was a tough read for me.

 

And somewhere I have a copy of Raoul Walsh's autobiography "Each Man in His Own Time" was a good one.

 

Robert Birchard's book Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood is good as is Sally Dumaux's bio on King Baggot

 

Message was edited by:

lzcutter

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Memo from David O. Selznick was interesting, but I gave it away years ago, the same with Capra's Bio.

 

As I remember the Capra book Mr. Capra tries to give the impression that he is a liberal. In actuality he was a conservative Republican and FBI informant.

 

Many Amazon reviewers felt that Maureen O' Hara, in her Bio ( Tis Herself ) was a tad bit too egotistical. I didn't think so and I was surprised that Hubby # 2 Will Price was allowed to get away with so much. Beating and robbing her blind. I didn't that she would let the former go on for such a long period of time she gives the image of being a much " tougher babe ". John Ford does not come out well in this book.A great artist ( my favorite Director ) but with a cruel and vindictive personality.

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I just read that Mankiewicz book this year! It was swell, though I wonder if the author felt hampered by the fact that it was written while the subject was still living and in control of his papers. Perhaps Mr. Geist will revisit his talented subject. There's a good bio of Joe's brother/competitor Herman Mankiewicz, called Mank: The wit, world, and life of Herman Mankiewicz by Richard Meryman that paints a lively, ultimately tragic portrait of the screenwriter and his time in the antic, roller coaster period of the '20s through the '40s of Hollywood. It's out of print, but very good.

 

Miss G., I think that you'll like Laughter in Paradise alot. Lubitsch was, unlike most Hollywood types, a pretty likable fellow. I heard Mr. Eyman speak once about his books when he'd just published the Ford book and was completing the Mayer one. He said that of all the individuals whom he'd written about, the one he missed and liked the most when he was done with his story, was Ernst Lubitsch. The only trouble with the book is that it makes me want to track down all of Lubitsch's films--not an easy task.

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Interesting thread!

Here's a couple of overviews that are informative and entertaining, especially when detailing the lives of the more obscure figures from the era. Both are written by James Robert Parish. They seem to be out of print, but there are used copies available inexpensively on Amazon, ebay, etc.:

 

Hollywood Players: The Thirties

Hollywood Players: The Forties

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I would love to have met both Mankie men---they were so intelligent and witty, and I find a man so interested in what makes women tick, as Joe was, to be a rare bird indeed. Plus, it helps that I am a big fan of "talky" movies, that is, when the talk is so clever as it is in his scripts. Thanks for the mention of the bio of Herman, which I will definitely add to my list as I only know what I know about him through reading bios of other writers.

 

Did anyone ever plough through A CHILD OF THE CENTURY, Ben Hecht's autobiography? Good grief, he completely lost me when he went on and on and on about middle eastern politics. If you just read up until that turning point (which comes all too early in the big fat book), it's very perceptive at times. The man was one of the best screenwriters ever, but he needed a tougher editor for his memoir.

 

I have been longing to read Capra's NAME ABOVE THE TITLE for the longest time---I think he was an incredible director.

 

I should not neglect to mention the book I am reading now: PAPPY, Dan Ford's book on his Grandfather, John Ford. After that, I will be taking up Lindsay Anderson's work on the same subject to round out my "study" of this great director and fascinating personality. I did read 'Tis Herself and enjoyed it, but I don't think it was a great book. What I learned to appreciate about Maureen is what she said about her family and the hard work ethic and belief in herself they instilled in her.

 

Miss G

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"Dreams and Dead Ends" by Jack Shadoian is a great guide to the gangster film. He focuses on several key movies and discusses them very closely.

 

"Searching for John Ford" by Joseph McBride is perhaps the best biography of Ford that I have read. It gives us Ford warts and all, and while I wish some films had received more discussion, the book made me aware of how vast Ford's career was.

 

"This is Orson Welles" by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich. An interview book, but what fascinating conversation. Also, the book has a Welles chronology at the end that covers everything he did, radio, movies and TV. Wow.

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"Have you read A. Scott Berg's Kate Remembered? It was fair as a memoir of Katharine Hepburn, and was really pretty touching and lively when the author wrote about his encounters with Ms. Hepburn's formidable friend and sometime producer, Irene, at the end of her complicated life."

 

No I haven't, Ms Finnie. Thanks for the tip.

 

I'd add David O. Selznick's Hollywood to the list; and I keep the Selznick Memos handy as a reference. All About All About Eve was detailed to a ridiculous extreme (when Mr. Staggs analyzed the coffee stains on Ms. Davis' script, for instance), but I found myself fascinated with Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard and I'd like to see more of this series. I have an entire shelf of books on Fellini and treasure the Editalia edition of La Dolce Vita that I picked up while visiting Italy. It included shot-by-shot photos of the film. I have a similar book on Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete that I picked up in Paris (yes, my suitcases tend to be heavy), and keep Cocteau's diary of the making of this enchanting movie as its companion. John Kobal's History of the Movie Musical is a better ride than any Bentley or Lear would afford.

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