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Remembering “Hollywood And The Stars”

by Leonard Maltin
December 30, 2010 5:00 AM
11 Comments
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It’s that time when we look back and remember the people who’ve pass on during 2010. (If you haven’t seen Turner Classic Movies’ always-incredible memorial segment, you should: www.tcm.com) One of those who left our midst was producer David L. Wolper. When I read his obituary in August, I knew it would focus on his early success with television documentaries like The Making of the President, his epic miniseries Roots, his well-loved feature Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and his spectacular opening ceremonies for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

But I didn’t see any mention of a show that held great meaning for me as I was growing up: Hollywood and the Stars.

It aired on NBC in prime time on Monday nights, and I lapped up every episode, then watched them over and over again in reruns.

The show had its origins in an hour-long documentary Wolper produced called—

Hollywood: The Golden Years (1961), about the silent-film era, and two followups, Hollywood: The Fabulous Era (1962) and Hollywood: The Great Stars (1963). These were meticulously crafted shows that chronicled film history for the masses, yet didn’t talk down to its audience in any way. The people who worked on these shows included Jack Haley, Jr., Mel Stuart, Nicholas Noxon, and others whose names would be associated with top-flight documentaries for years to come. (In fact, you can hear Noxon talk about the laborious physical production of the shows in that pre-video era in his oral history for the Archive of American Television, available in chunks on YouTube and also at the Archive’s own site.

It was the success of those hour-long shows that led to a year-long commitment from NBC for thirty-one episodes of Hollywood and the Stars, hosted and narrated by Joseph Cotten. Because they were distributed by United Artists Television, which had inherited the pre-1949 Warner Bros. library, there was a heavy reliance on Warners movies in such episodes as The Immortal Jolson, The Man Called Bogart, and the amusing How to Succeed as a Gangster. But they also pulled off some pretty neat tricks, none more ingenious than creating an entire show called Monsters We’ve Known and Loved without having a single frame from a Universal horror movie!

Perhaps my favorite aspect of these shows was the music, composed by Elmer Bernstein. He wrote most of the cues, including the majestic title theme, for Hollywood: The Golden Years, and a music editor reused them throughout the series…but they never grew tired to my ears. I’d give anything to have a soundtrack CD, and since both Wolper’s papers and Bernstein’s are housed at USC I hope someday that may come about.

But because the underlying rights to clips used in the show are a tangled web, the series has not been rerun in recent times or released on video. There is only one lone episode available on YouTube, and while it’s an unusual one, The Angry Screen, you can see how well-written and produced it is.

I will forever be indebted to David Wolper and the talented team he gathered around him for those specials and that unforgettable series. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

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11 Comments

  • Bill Wind | January 9, 2011 7:25 AMReply

    Several abridged episodes of HATS werw released on 8mm back in the 1970s. I remember having the Bogart episode, the Bette Davis episode and the Gangster episode.

  • Tim Lynch | January 8, 2011 5:18 AMReply

    I saw syndicated episodes of this series around 1968, when I was 10, and it opened up a whole history of movies to me. I remember the Monster and Gangster episodes, and I especially remember the silent comedy episode, partly because it introduced me to Buster Keaton, and because of the intro: the elegant and dignified Joseph Cotton pontificated about the philosphy of humor, but was stopped in mid-sentence by a pie in the face!

  • Thomas Watson | January 1, 2011 6:17 AMReply

    I loved HOLLYWOOD AND THE STARS. It was the only thing that could pry me away from CBS' Monday-night comedy line-up! And the two hour-long specials that aired the year before were great. I have always been sad that these things cannot be "cleared" for release on home video. One would think that the owners of the original materials would appreciate the fact that these compilations expose new viewers to the material in a very positive way -- only making the value of those films go up.

  • Roy Atkinson | January 1, 2011 2:25 AMReply

    Thanks for bringing back my memories of David Wolper's "Hollywood And The Stars" in those days before cable and the internet.I had forgotten about the involvement of both the great Elmer Bernstein and Joseph Cotten. I have Cotten's first-rate autobiography "Vanity Will Get You Somewhere",but can find no mention of the series in the index.Love one reader's idea of maybe TCM doing something with the old series.But I guess you would need a good Robert Osborne intro and explanation to put the show into proper context.

  • Geoff Gardner | December 31, 2010 2:40 AMReply

    Thanks for the link to the TCM site Leonard. You are right - their memorial segment was very well done.

  • mike schlesinger | December 30, 2010 8:58 AMReply

    I, too, was riveted to the screen every Monday night when it was on, and it was a key part of my becoming a genuine movie lover. I can't even begin to imagine NBC or any network giving up a half-hour of prime time every week to a series of old B&W movie clips today.

    Incidentally, the Wolper library is now owned by Warners, so I've suggested to TCM (also a WB arm) that they look into trying to air the series. A few more folks doing likewise couldn't hurt.

  • JAKE JACOBSON | December 30, 2010 8:27 AMReply

    I was first introduced to this great series in the early 1970's as it was a syndication fill-in on WPIX in NY on weekends and as a regular "Rainout Theater" extra. I was fortunate enough to interview the legendary maestro and Mr. Bernstein told me that the score "wrote itself, the marriage of my love for film and the unshakable sense of its decline inspired me more than all of my other television work". The combination of the haunting power of Joseph Cotten's impeccable narration, Bernstein's melodies and a sense of eulogy made these programs viscerally timeless...the same quality Wolper's Biography series will ever hold.

  • DBenson | December 30, 2010 7:55 AMReply

    I'm pretty sure Hollywood and the Stars was in syndication when I caught up with it.If memory serves they had a few making-of episodes, including What a Way to Go (with rehearsal shots, outttakes, and a lot of attention to the "painting robots" and the giant champagne glass).

    Did they do some episodes on silent comedy, or am I conflating this with another series? I mainly remember Ben Turpin clips, including the one where he's tied to a post in a rapidly flooding movie set as the crew runs off to film a real fire. A swimming dog chases a swimming cat through the scene.

  • Alonso Duralde | December 30, 2010 7:45 AMReply

    Wow, I've never heard of this show, but while watching TCM's recent MOGULS AND MOVIE STARS miniseries (incidentally, Leonard, great interviews, as always), I reflected on how getting to see docs like LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES and AMERICA AT THE MOVIES on TV as a kid helped to form my own nascent film scholarship. Hope someone makes Mr. Wolper's series available on DVD soon. (Warner Archive, perhaps?)

  • Fábio Scrivano | December 30, 2010 4:23 AMReply

    Hello Mr. Maltin.
    You can find the beautiful main theme on the "Elmer Bernstein By Elmer Bernstein" CD (http://www.amazon.com/Bernstein-Elmer/dp/B0000034ST).

  • Dave Kirwan | December 30, 2010 3:58 AMReply

    Boy, I couldn't agree more! I'm about the same age as you, and those three initial specials changed my life! Sat transfixed watching those silent movie clips, and became a life long fan of "Old" Hollywood right then and there. Had the opportunity just this summer to revisit the series or the first time in decades: I saw a couple of beat up 16mm prints of HOLLYWOOD AND THE STARS episodes including that 'How to Succeed as a Gangster' show you mentioned. Just wonderful!

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