Let me explain, once again, that with the exception of the first book in this survey, I have not had time to read these recent releases, so my remarks are based on browsing. (I always begin with the Acknowledgements, to check the author’s credibility.) In addition to the titles below, I’d like to acknowledge the paperback reissues of two out-of-print books by the University Press of Kentucky: Michael Sragow’s Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master and Joe McBride’s Hawks on Hawks. I would also call your attention to The Rhino Records Story: Revenge of the Music Nerds by the company’s co-founder Harold Bronson and published by Select Books. While it mainly deals with the music industry, It also covers Rhino’s occasional forays into the film world with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Why Do Fools Fall in Love.
Who would have thought that someone who has never written a book before could bring an unsung actress of the past to life so vividly? Through diligent research and serendipitous access to Dvorak’s journals and letters, Rice does just that. We follow Dvorak’s career from its inception, when she got hired as a chorus girl at MGM, through her breakthrough roles in Scarface and Three on a Match (both 1932). She then married actor Leslie Fenton and made the impetuous decision to walk out on her Warner Bros. contract and travel the world on an extended eight-month honeymoon. This lively portrait of a talented woman makes for good reading, and fills us in on the life of a contract player at a time when studios truly owned their talent. Librarian Rice can truly be proud of what she has accomplished here. She also maintains an interesting website, www.anndvorak.com.
I haven’t seen the other Oz book this season, The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, but I can vouch for this handsome hardcover. First, it is written by noted Oz/Judy Garland expert Fricke, and traces the history of L. Frank Baum’s creation from the printed page through the 1939 film and beyond, up to and including the Broadway smash Wicked. What’s more, it is illustrated not just with photos but with all manner of collectibles from the world-class collection of Willard Carroll and Tom Wilhite. You’ll marvel at pictures of vintage Oz board games, paper dolls and cut-outs, an original Baum letterhead, and props and costumes from the MGM movie. What a treat to see so much dazzling memorabilia gathered in one place.
Here is an exquisite volume about an exquisite woman, the first such project to have drawn on the Laurence Olivier Archives. Olivier’s son Tarquin provides an impressive endorsement: “Vivien Leigh, and the story of her romance with my father, Laurence Olivier, is a wide-ranging and complex subject that has fascinated people through her career and ever since her death, nearly half a century ago. Kendra Bean’s scholarly research has been tremendous… the compelling narrative she presents in [this book] has been coupled with the finest array of photographs ever assembled on Vivien Leigh.” He isn’t exaggerating. The book is overflowing with breathtaking pictures, many never published before. The author has certainly done her homework, and if you’re curious, you can check out her website, www.vivandlarry.com.
Bona fide film buffs don’t associate Taurog with Elvis Presley so much as they do the many stars he directed over the years, from Jackie Cooper (in Skippy) to Bing Crosby, Spencer Tracy, W.C. Fields, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. A veteran of silent-film comedy, Taurog had a light touch that sustained his career from the 1920s to the late 1960s. Author Hoey worked alongside Taurog on his last eight pictures and brings a personal touch to the chronicle of this exceptional career. He also consulted production files at USC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I’m only sorry he didn’t run across my 1975 interview with Taurog, which finally saw the light in an issue of my newsletter.
Douglas Kirkland has shot everything from hairstyling ads to the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and he’s still going strong: Baz Luhrmann insisted he be hired as set photographer for this year’s The Great Gatsby. He is perhaps best known for his celebrity portraits, in black & white and color, of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Tilda Swinton. This lavish, oversized coffee table book traces the photographer’s long career from his days on the staff of Look magazine to his most recent assignments and commissions. Prepare to get lost in these pages: once you start browsing, it’s hard to stop. What an elegant collection of photos.
Through interviews with hundreds of collaborators, contemporaries, and lovers (including longtime mistress Ann Reinking), and access to Bob Fosse’s papers at the Library of Congress, Sam Wasson has produced a hefty biography of the influential dancer/choreographer/director who left his mark on cinema as well as the stage. If you’ve read Wasson’s previous books on Blake Edwards, Paul Mazursky, and the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you know that he’s a colorful writer as well as a diligent researcher. Only someone that dedicated and talented could present a book at 723 pages that doesn’t seem daunting in the least. I can’t wait to read this over the holidays.
It’s no secret that film buffs regard 1939 as the pinnacle of the golden age of Hollywood, but no one has ever examined the movies that made it so. Vieira provides background details about the filming of everything from Rose of Washington Square to Five Came Back, along with the expected Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, and Dark Victory. Each essay is accompanied by quotes from newspaper reviews and beautifully reproduced stills, including some nice behind-the-scenes shots. It’s fun to thumb through this oversized paperback and linger over a favorite film.
ROOM 1219: THE LIFE OF FATTY ARBUCKLE, THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF VIRGINIA RAPPE, AND THE SCANDAL THAT CHANGED HOLLYWOOD by Gret Merritt (Chicago Review Press)
For years I have relied on David Yallop’s groundbreaking book The Day the Laughter Stopped as the ultimate source on Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s notorious San Francisco party—held in Room 1219 of the St. Francis Hotel—and its woeful aftermath. Author Merritt has attempted to outdo Yallop by doing his own investigation of the 1921 scandal and citing his sources, which run the gamut from San Francisco court records to fingerprint experts. He debunks some of Yallop’s conclusions and collapses a number of myths and half-truths surrounding the case. This seems like imperative reading for silent film aficionados and Arbuckle fans, as well as readers who dote on true-crime sagas.
I would be remiss if I didn’t insert a plug for my own current paperbacks, LEONARD MALTIN’S 2014 MOVIE GUIDE (Penguin/Plume) and LEONARD MALTIN’S CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE (Plume). The 2014 annual runs 1,643 pages and covers movies up through the beginning of this past summer, while the Classic Guide is intended for people who spend a lot of time watching vintage DVDs and Turner Classic Movies. It contains more than 1,200 titles we never had a chance to cover in the annual directory. If you’re still searching for stocking stuffers, I hope you’ll keep them in mind.