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Lookin' for books - Hollywood history


BenHere
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It's tough trying to go through all the Amazon capsule descriptions just to find exactly what I'm looking for, so I prevail upon the aggregate knowledge massed in these forums.

 

Two subjects that I'm trying to track down -

 

1) A general history of Hollywood and the film industry (at least through the 40's or 50's). The couple that I've glanced through at libraries and book stores seemed rather dry and textbookish. I'd like to find something that gives a sense of the passion and brilliance that went into creating an art form.

 

2) A survey of the great directors (from early silents through the 40's). I know I love Lubitsch, Hawks, McCarey, Cukor, Ford (and on and on), but I really want some insight as to what they did, how and why they did it, and what made their work rise above the hundreds of other directors toiling at the same craft. Of course, I can pick up biographies and autobiographies on any of these artists but I would prefer to start with a book that addresses the art of direction and what made the first and second generation of Hollywood directors stand out. Does such a book exist?

 

This long-time lurker and first-time poster says grazie in advance.

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Hi rbfrys,

 

If you can get a hold of a copy of Peter Bogdanovich's Who The Devil Made It,

which I'm sure your local library would have, it's a terrifc insight into several pioneering

directors such as Allan Dwan, George Cukor and several others. Here is a link

to Amazon's review page:

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0517414376/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books

 

Besides being insightful, Bogdanovich is a very engaging writer.

 

Robert Parrish also wrote a couple of good ones, including Hollywood Doesn't

Live Here Anymore.

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Thanks MissGoddess! A couple of great suggestions - I've already googled them. The Bogdanovich book appeals to me particularly as I've already read (most of) _Who The Hell's In It?_. The overview on Google Books really whets my appetite:

 

"While there are plenty of revealing anecdotes and thorough discussions of movies and stars, the level of detail here can be daunting. Elaborate dissections of how shots were set up and theories of lighting will delight cinephiles but may be a little too much for the average moviegoer."

 

I don't know if I can be considered a cinephile (yet), but I'm certainly no average moviegoer.

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Rbfrys,

 

If you are looking for insight into filmmakers and the films they made, the troubles they had making the films and a good look at behind the scenes in their own words, you will like "Who the Devil Made It"

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I think that you might like "The Genius of the System" by Thomas Schatz.

 

From Publishers Weekly

In this original, monumental survey of Hollywood's film studios during their most glorious period, Schatz, professor at the University of Texas and author of Hollywood Genres , in contrast with the directorial theories of Andrew Sarris and other film historians, describes the creative give-and-take, the symbiotic accord between creators and front offices, in which the styles of writers, directors and stars fused with studio management structures, production operations, talent pools, narrative traditions and market strategies. Analytically and with anecdote examining the financial as well as creative workings of MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal and RKO in the era of Thalberg, Selznick, Zanuck and Hitchcock, Schatz demonstrates that at the heart of each studio's house style were the star-genre formulations (Bette Davis melodramas, Humphrey Bogart thrillers, Boris Karloff horror films, Gene Kelly musicals) that nowadays, as they are recirculated and rediscovered by young viewers, are all that remain of the great studios and of the vigorous, dynamic men and women who sustained them. Photos.

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A second vote for _Who the Devil Made It_, I'd say that's a sure bet. And _The Genius of the System_ looks exactly right. I've probably scanned past these titles somewhere before, but a good word from some real cinephiles seals the deal. I knew I came to the right place!

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> {quote:title=rbfrys wrote:}{quote}

> Thanks MissGoddess! A couple of great suggestions - I've already googled them. The Bogdanovich book appeals to me particularly as I've already read (most of) _Who The Hell's In It?_. The overview on Google Books really whets my appetite:

>

> "While there are plenty of revealing anecdotes and thorough discussions of movies and stars, the level of detail here can be daunting. Elaborate dissections of how shots were set up and theories of lighting will delight cinephiles but may be a little too much for the average moviegoer."

>

> I don't know if I can be considered a cinephile (yet), but I'm certainly no average moviegoer.

 

 

Hi RB! I was just a kid when I read Who The Devil Made It? and I didn't have any

trouble, despite not knowing a gaff from a gaffer. Bogdanovich knows how

to keep the reader engaged and most of those directors he interviews are not of the stripe to

try and talk over anyone's head or impress with their technical know how. But they did know

how to tell a good yarn.

 

You might also want to check out Richard Schickel's companion book to his series

of documentaries, The Men Who Made the Movies.

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Here's more fodder for the brain:

 

"Searching for John Ford" by Joseph McBride...Almost more then you wanted to know about Ford, but an outstanding book.

 

"Howard Hawks' The Grey Fox of Hollywood" by Todd McCarthy... An excellent bio of the Master.

 

"On Sunset Blvd. The Life and Times of Billy Wilder" by Ed Sikoy Terrific bio of the one and only..

 

"If They Move Kill Them. The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah" by David Weddle. A Wild Ride on this Rebel Filmmaker

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Let me give a third approval for "Who the Devil Made it?" In fact, my copy is six feet away from me right now as I used it for some info on Lang after watching his Ida Lupino film the other day.

 

The Schatz book really impressed me as he does his research well. As i could recall, there was only one minor error that i found within the text, minor enough that I've forgotten it. Too often I'll find some blatant mistakes - erroneous credits or citing the wrong year of release - and as that stuff is too readily verifiable, it makes me question just how much of the tome could be in error.

 

It's probably just me though, I've spent too many years in the TV industry as a researcher/marketer and know only too well that one disputable "fact" can undermine a whole presentation.

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>>You might also want to check out Richard Schickel's companion book to his series of documentaries, The Men Who Made the Movies.

 

 

Yes, another very good book. I found a copy of it minus the jacket a few years ago in a thrift shop. Cost me only 50 cents!

 

Another good one is "The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak" which is a lot like the Bogdanovich collection of interviews. Don't let Charles Higham's co-authorship deter you, it's from his earlier period.

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>

> It's probably just me though, I've spent too many years in the TV industry as a researcher/marketer and know only too well that one disputable "fact" can undermine a whole presentation.

 

It's not just you. Though there are always exceptions, I too find myself questioning

the whole book when I come across one too many inexcusable errors.

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>>I too find myself questioning the whole book when I come across one too many inexcusable errors.

 

 

I have a bio of Gary Cooper - well, several of them - but one of them in referring to NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE cited co-stars Robert Preston and Preston as being real-life brothers. As if that wasn't bad enough, it went on to claim that this was the first time that real-life brothers were cast in the same film. Guess the author never saw GRAND HOTEL, RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS or THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER.

 

Now that I think of it, I probably don't have the book anymore. I may have chucked it after that. I know that I didn't finish it.

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You might look at the books written by Jeanine Basinger, who has a very approachable style and writes about topics that are sometimes hard to find elsewhere. She's the head of the Wesleyan University Film Studies program, one of the best in the country, so she really knows her stuff.

 

Her most recent book was The Star Machine , about the way studios modeled and promoted stars in the Golden Age. Also terrific, Silent Stars (obviously about the silent era) and A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 .

 

She has real insight --- these aren't skim-the-surface rehashes --- but the books are very readable (and her tone is light and fun).

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanine_Basinger

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Also, although I haven't re-read it since it came out originally, I was very impressed with Ronald Haver's A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration (and I'm pretty hard to impress in terms of books about Judy Garland, I have literally read them all).

 

In fact, I think I'll pull it off the shelf and read it again.

 

Here it is at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Star-Born-Making-Movie-Restoration/dp/1557835632

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This is an awesome list and a great response - more than I expected. _The Celluloid Muse_ and _The Star Machine_ look particularly appealing, as does Schickel's book.

 

 

>Another good one is "The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak" which is a lot like the Bogdanovich collection of interviews. Don't let Charles Higham's co-authorship deter you, it's from his earlier period.

 

Clore, you raise an interesting point. I've just finished reading _Cary Grant - A Class Apart_ by Graham McCann. He draws on a tremendous number of sources and resources, including _Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart_ by Higham and Moseley. McCann is quite skeptical of the story they tell, implying that some of their assertions and narrative are based on unfounded rumors and sloppy research.

 

You seem to confirm that Charles Higham's reputation as an accurate biographer is somewhat suspect. How reputable was Higham's work in his "earlier" and later periods?

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>>You seem to confirm that Charles Higham's reputation as an accurate biographer is somewhat suspect. How reputable was Higham's work in his "earlier" and later periods?

 

I've read some of his earlier reviews and "The Celluloid Muse" and from there Higham strikes me a a guy who loves films and filmmakers. The good thing about "Muse" is that the format is more one of an oral history dissertation by each director. So, when reading the one on Jacques Tourneur, he's not asked about whether Merle Oberon slept with Robert Ryan. Lewis Milestone mentions having Errol Flynn as a guest in his home and that his manners were impeccable. He's not asked whether Flynn was peddling government secrets or bedding starlets.

 

I've only read his Flynn bio, I didn't purchase it and as I recall, I didn't even finish it because there were so many claims about his speculation on Flynn's activities.

 

Besides which, even if one is to quote FBI documents, who is to say that what is contained there in those documents is accurate?

 

For all I know, the FBI could have a file on me because years ago I fixed telephones in Little Italy and had to enter the premises of known mob members. Does this mean I was consorting with them? Of course not, but there were places that i visited multiple times, such as Umberto's Clam House where Joey Gallo was killed. The spray of bullets damaged the phone on the wall and I had to replace it and that was not my first time there nor the last.

 

But as much as Higham may love film, I gather that he also loves selling books and if his publisher insists on digging up dirt, I'm sure that Higham complied. I wouldn't have, but that's why I've never gotten a book contract. :)

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>>clore, too bad you didn't save the Umberto's phone. In the days of eBay, you'd have done a nice bit of business.

 

Unfortunately it was a pay phone and we had to turn those in since the money was in the box. When they called it in for being out of order, the complaint was "phone all shot up." :) True story.

 

it was fun working Little Italy then. Once i had to fix a phone on a block closed off to pedestrians as they were shooting THE GODFATHER. I was standing there watching them shoot the scene where Brando falls into the street in front of the fruit stand.

 

Once the take was done, I was allowed out of the social club where i was fixing the phone. The phone had a paper taped to it saying "don't discuss business on this phone." I was one of the few repairmen allowed in Little Italy at the time as they swore by my hair and coloring that I was a paisan. They feared lines being tapped and few times I was tipped nicely to check for such things on the premises. But I was always honest and told them that there could be taps in the central office and that I had no way of knowing that.

 

Anyway, I digress. Once I exited the club, I walked right up to Coppola and congratulated him on winning the Oscar two nights earlier - it was for co-writing PATTON. We talked a few minutes, which astounded me as here he was with this big-budget movie and all of its responsibilities and he's talking with me about DEMENTIA 13 and YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW.

 

Not long after, I got to watch Sophia Loren shooting a scene for LADY LIBERTY and also Richard Widmark in an episode of his short-lived MADIGAN series.

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>>That little area around Mulberry Street/Elizabeth Street is used a LOT in films, especially Old St. Patrick's.

 

The MEAN STREETS crew was shooting while I was working in the area, but all I got to see that time were the "street closed" signs. It didn't have the official security of the other productions, but there were some "guards" keeping the block secure. I wasn't about to argue with them. :)

 

I only found out a day or two later about what was being filmed there, I doubt that they had gotten the proper permits and thus no official security.

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As an aside, the eternal Julia Child could tell us that Robert Osborne's book _80 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards_ plus one pound of butter is equal to the weight of the actual Oscar statuette, eight and a half pounds, which shows the divine order of our universe. Lots of great quotes throughout the book may provide leads for source material.

 

Also, John Bengston wrote two superb books on early Hollywood:

 

http://www.amazon.com/John-Bengtson/e/B001JPC1HU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

 

And all of Kevin Brownlow's books:

 

 

 

Message was edited by: Kate

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