Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hollywood, old and new

The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be on Tuesday, March 29th at 6:30pm in the library’s conference room.  The topic up for discussion is southern authors & novels.  Grab one and join us!
Emmet O’Neal Library is please to again partner with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center for the Holocaust In Film movie series.  Visit our website for times, dates, and titles at

This week, GRG met to talk about all things Hollywood.  From the seedy underbelly to some of the most recognizable landmarks in the country to the stars and other celebrities who captivate millions around the world, Tinseltown shined in our discussion.

(amazon) The Golden Age of Hollywood, dating to the hazy depths of the early 20th Century, was an era of movie stars worshipped by the masses and despotic studio moguls issuing decrees from poolside divans… but despite the world-wide reach of the movie industry, little more than memories of that era linger amidst the freeways and apartment complexes of today’s Los Angeles. Noted archaeologist Paul G. Bahn digs into the material traces of that Tinseltown in an effort to document and save the treasures that remain.

Bahn leads readers on a tour of this singular culture, from the industrial zones of film studios to the landmarks where the glamorous lived, partied, and played, from where they died and were buried to how they’ve been memorialized for posterity. The result is part history, part archaeology—enlivened with pop culture, reminiscence, and whimsy—and throughout, it feeds and deepens our fascination with an iconic place and time, not to mention the personalities who brought it to life.

(amazon) True tales of celebrity hijinks are served up with an equal measure of Hollywood history, movie-star mayhem, and a frothy mix of forty cocktail recipes.

Humphrey Bogart got himself arrested for protecting his drinking buddies, who happened to be a pair of stuffed pandas. Ava Gardner would water-ski to the set of Night of the Iguana holding a towline in one hand and a cocktail in the other. Barely legal Natalie Wood would let Dennis Hopper seduce her if he provided a bathtub full of champagne. Bing Crosby’s ill-mannered antics earned him the nickname “Binge Crosby.” And sweet Mary Pickford stashed liquor in hydrogen peroxide bottles during Prohibition. From the frontier days of silent film up to the wild auteur period of the 1970s, Mark Bailey has pillaged the vaults of Hollywood history and lore to dig up the true―and often surprising―stories of seventy of our most beloved actors, directors, and screenwriters at their most soused.

Bite-size biographies are followed by ribald anecdotes and memorable quotes. If a star had a favorite cocktail, the recipe is included. Films with the most outrageous booze-soaked stories, like Apocalypse Now, From Here to Eternity, and The Misfits, are featured, along with the legendary watering holes of the day (and the recipes for their signature drinks). Edward Hemingway’s portraits complete this spirited look at America’s most iconic silver-screen legends.

“This book is like being at the best dinner party in the world. And I thought I was the first person to put a bar in my closet. I was clearly born during the wrong era.” ―Chelsea Handler

Hollywood Babylon II by Kenneth Anger
(amazon) Originally published in Paris, this is a collection of Hollywood's darkest and best kept secrets from the pen of Kenneth Anger, a former child movie actor who grew up to become one of America's leading underground film-makers.

Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg
(amazon) Few American icons provoke more enduring fascination than Charles Lindbergh—renowned for his one-man transatlantic flight in 1927, remembered for the sorrow surrounding the kidnapping and death of his firstborn son in 1932, and reviled by many for his opposition to America's entry into World War II. Lindbergh's is "a dramatic and disturbing American story," says the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and this biography—the first to be written with unrestricted access to the Lindbergh archives and extensive interviews of his friends, colleagues, and close family members—is "the definitive account."

You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again by Robin, Liza, Linda, and Tiffany As Told To Jennie Frankel
(amazon) This all-true tell-all follows the lives of three women living in the "cesspool" called Hollywood. From Jack Nicholson to Heidi Fleiss to Sylvester Stallone, this scintillating book exposes a seedy side of the movie making industry, equally as insidious as the business truths exposed in You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again--and twice as intriguing.

(amazon) Mesmerizing, revelatory text combines with more than two hundred photographs -- most of them taken by the author -- in a startling illustrated memoir that will both astonish and move you.

When Dominick Dunne lived and worked in Hollywood, he had it all: a beautiful family, a glamorous career, and the friendship of the talented and powerful. He also had a camera and loved to take pictures. These photographs, which Dunne carefully preserved in more than a dozen leatherbound scrapbooks -- along with invitations, telegrams, personal notes, and other memorabilia -- record the parties, the glittering receptions, the society weddings, and scenes from the everyday lives of the Dunnes and those they knew, including Jane Fonda, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Roddy McDowall, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Brooke Hayward, Jennifer Jones, and David Selznick.

You'll meet them all in this fascinating book -- captured in snapshots as these celebrities relax at poolside barbecues, gossip at cozy get-togethers and dance at the Dunnes' dazzling black-and-white ball. And you will meet Dominick Dunne's beautiful wife, Lenny, and his children, Griffin, Alex, and Dominique, as they celebrate Christmases, birthdays, and graduations.  But, most of all, you will meet Dominick Dunne and learn about the peaks and valleys of his years in Hollywood, the disastrous turn his life took, and the long road back that led to his triumphant career as a writer. With its engaging photographs and candid text, The Way We Lived Then is a riveting and unvarnished account of a life among the stars and a life almost lost.

(amazon) Hollywood's famous sign, constructed of massive white block letters set into a steep hillside, is an emblem of the movie capital it looms over. Mixing social history, urban studies, literature, and film, this book offers an account of how a temporary structure has become a permanent icon of American culture.

Hollywood: Then and Now by Rosemary Lord
(amazon) Moorish and Spanish revival architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright homes still stand alongside modern structures such as Frank Gehry's breathtaking Disney Concert Hall. This book features early photographs matched with specially commissioned contemporary images of the same locations, including Graumann's Chinese Theatre and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and show what has changed and what has remained after 100 years of Hollywood. Sites include Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood and Vine, Immaculate Heart High School, Beachwood Village, Hollywoodland, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood High School, Gower Street, Lasky Studios, Fox Studios, Chaplin Field, MGM Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, Paramount, Hollywood Forever Cemetry, Chateau Marmont, Whitley Heights, Roosevelt Hotel, and the Garden of Allah.

Alas, not in the public libraries of Jefferson County. (amazon) An irreverent look at how a fertile imagination and 21st century technology can turn the most unlikely business into an exciting--and profitable--undertaking. The Young and The Dead tells the story of how the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery became Hollywood Forever: a metamorphosis from decrepit burial ground to a modern, interactive, state-of-the-art facility, with touch-screen kiosks and a gift shop complete with souvenirs. And how a cemetery became, according to LA magazine, one of the sexiest places in LA.

Take a tour of the cemetery in the attached video!

(amazon) In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann's story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which would be adapted into one of Hollywood's most legendary films, The Searchers, "The Biggest, Roughest, Toughest... and Most Beautiful Picture Ever Made!" directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Glenn Frankel, beginning in Hollywood and then returning to the origins of the story, creates a rich and nuanced anatomy of a timeless film and a quintessentially American myth. The dominant story that has emerged departs dramatically from documented history: it is of the inevitable triumph of white civilization, underpinned by anxiety about the sullying of white women by "savages." What makes John Ford's film so powerful, and so important, Frankel argues, is that it both upholds that myth and undermines it, baring the ambiguities surrounding race, sexuality, and violence in the settling of the West and the making of America.

Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog by James Grissom
(amazon) An extraordinary book; one that almost magically makes clear how Tennessee Williams wrote; how he came to his visions of Amanda Wingfield, his Blanche DuBois, Stella Kowalski, Alma Winemiller, Lady Torrance, and the other characters of his plays that transformed the American theater of the mid-twentieth century; a book that does, from the inside, the almost impossible—revealing the heart and soul of artistic inspiration and the unwitting collaboration between playwright and actress, playwright and director.

At a moment in the life of Tennessee Williams when he felt he had been relegated to a “lower artery of the theatrical heart,” when critics were proclaiming that his work had been overrated, he summoned to New Orleans a hopeful twenty-year-old writer, James Grissom, who had written an unsolicited letter to the great playwright asking for advice. After a long, intense conversation, Williams sent Grissom on a journey on the playwright’s behalf to find out if he, Tennessee Williams, or his work, had mattered to those who had so deeply mattered to him, those who had led him to what he called the blank page, “the pale judgment.”

Among the more than seventy giants of American theater and film Grissom sought out, chief among them the women who came to Williams out of the fog: Lillian Gish, tiny and alabaster white, with enormous, lovely, empty eyes (“When I first imagined a woman at the center of my fantasia, I . . . saw the pure and buoyant face of Lillian Gish. . . . [She] was the escort who brought me to Blanche”) . . . Maureen Stapleton, his Serafina of The Rose Tattoo, a shy, fat little girl from Troy, New York, who grew up with abandoned women and sad hopes and whose job it was to cheer everyone up, goad them into going to the movies, urge them to bake a cake and have a party.  (“Tennessee and I truly loved each other,” said Stapleton, “we were bound by our love of the theater and movies and movie stars and comedy. And we were bound to each other particularly by our mothers: the way they raised us; the things they could never say . . . The dreaming nature, most of all”) . . . Jessica Tandy (“The moment I read [Portrait of a Madonna],” said Tandy, “my life began. I was, for the first time . . . unafraid to be ruthless in order to get something I wanted”) . . . Kim Stanley . . . Bette Davis . . . Katharine Hepburn . . . Jo Van Fleet . . . Rosemary Harris . . . Eva Le Gallienne (“She was a stone against which I could rub my talent and feel that it became sharper”) . . . Julie Harris . . . Geraldine Page (“A titanic talent”) . . . And the men who mattered and helped with his creations, including Elia Kazan, José Quintero, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud . . .James Grissom’s Follies of God is a revelation, a book that moves and inspires and uncannily catches that illusive “dreaming nature.”

(amazon) Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen is an unprecedented look at the bond between two of the most iconic artists of the 20th century. Utter opposites ... nothing in common. The cowboy and the suburbanite. The conservative and the liberal. And yet these two artists (a word both men scoffed at) were the best of friends, right up to their deaths a mere seven weeks apart in 1961. But is the friendship of these two men really so surprising? A study of these two men is a study of the 20th century. Their internationally renowned careers (Gary Cooper, two Best Actor Academy Awards; Ernest Hemingway, Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes) were played out over the same turbulent decades: the hedonistic 20s, the grim Depression 30s, the war-ravaged 40s, and the deceptively slumbering 50s; throughout, their public and private lives connected, parted, re-connected, intertwined, over-lapped, and collided. It is no small irony that the lives of these two men should suffer untimely ends at the dawn of the erupting sixties. Their final, poignant chapter closed at the beginning of a decade which would challenge many of the very ideals and precepts which both men so prominently represented.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Looking ahead to next month’s discussion of southern authors and novels, one member remarked on an excellent episode of the Diane Rehm show during which she interviewed William Faulkner’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells.

Visit The Diane Rehm Show website to listen to the interview.

What are YOU reading, watching, and/or listening to?


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