With the holiday movie season come movie tie-in books galore, from The Art of The Adventures of Tin-Tin to the truly impressive Harry Potter Stage to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey by Bob McCabe (both from Harper Design). I prefer to focus on books that may not have as high a profile but warrant your attention. I haven’t had time to read these through, so these aren’t reviews, but rather an overview of the current crop.
I’m not sure I have sufficient superlatives to express my feelings about James Curtis’ latest biography, which consumed six years of his life (and about a month of mine—time well spent in both cases). It represents a high-water mark in this field: a scrupulously researched life story that is also well-written and completely absorbing, through 878 pages of text and the endnotes that follow.
Curtis has chosen not only to chronicle one of the 20th century’s finest actors, but to tell the interrelated story of his wife Louise, a talented actress who was his biggest booster. She gave up her career to have children and doggedly remained Mrs. Spencer Tracy even after he stopped living in the same house, long before Katharine Hepburn entered his life. Her saga, and her determination to give her deaf son Johnny the best possible life he could have is as compelling as her husband’s. (The history of the John Tracy Clinic, which she conceived and developed from scratch, is quite amazing and involves the Tracy’s family friend Walt Disney at several junctures.)
Moreover, Curtis has chosen to incorporate a mini-history of each
MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares by John Landis (DK Publishing)
If you’re wondering, “Who needs another survey of horror movies?” I urge you to reconsider and check out this terrific book. No one is as knowledgeable or passionate about horror films and their offshoots than Landis, who’s made some pretty fair genre pieces himself (An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood, the Thriller video). His enthusiasm permeates every page of this oversized book, which is bursting with great photos and poster reproductions. His essays on various facets of the genre (Vampires, Werewolves, Monstrous Apes, Atomic Mutations, The Devil’s Work, Wicked Witches, Scary Children, Human Monsters, etc.) are lively and provocative. His book cites everything from Frankenstein to the sight of Humphrey Bogart covered with—
Despite her sometimes-appalling ignorance of movie history, Susan Orlean has written a thoughtful and compulsively readable book called Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. (Simon & Schuster). It is more than a biography of the famous canine star; it’s a meditation on fame, success, loneliness and obsession. It’s also a highly personal book that traces Orlean’s longtime fascination with Rinty, fueled by the popular TV show that bore his name. It follows her journey as she pieces together the story of the man who discovered him and the odd assortment of people who have been part of his orbit ever since. She also follows the birth and development of the German shepherd breed in America, which was influenced—
As always, there are more books being published than I can keep up with. While I haven’t had time to read most of these cover-to-cover, I’d like to call attention to some that clearly stand out.
Once you pick up the handsome, oversized hardcover volume Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke (Running Press) you’ll find it difficult to put down. No one knows more about Garland than Fricke, who provides an eye-popping selection of rarely-seen photos (as well as posters, sheet music, and other ephemera) to accompany his film-by-film survey, along with an overview of Judy’s radio, TV, and concert work. Additional chapters deal with unrealized and rumored projects over the years. What a beautiful bouquet to a great performer.
Since moving to Los Angeles almost thirty years ago, I’ve developed a keen interest in locations and early—
by Sam Wasson; foreword by Mel Brooks (Wesleyan University Press)
A filmmaker with Paul Mazursky’s résumé deserves a great book about his career—and now he has one, thanks to Sam Wasson, who is not only a gifted writer but (like his subject) a keen student of human nature. This is no dry dissertation, nor is it a conventional interview volume. Wasson takes us inside Mazursky’s world and makes us feel a part of it—not only by painting vivid word pictures of the daily doings surrounding each of their conversations, but by talking to many of the filmmaker’s closest collaborators, from casting director Juliet Taylor to the late actress Jill Clayburgh. He also adds his own incisive comments about each movie, even when his opinion clashes with the director’s.
The interviews with Mazursky—the ultimate mensch—are incredibly thoughtful and detailed, often interrupted by—
I’ve run out of shelf space for books relating to the life, career, and films of Walt Disney, but it seems there are always more coming along—and a surprising number of them have worthwhile new material to share. But the one even I didn’t know about was published some months ago by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. When you visit the Museum—which you absolutely should—you’ll find that photographs are not allowed inside the exhibit rooms. That’s why there’s a handsome book called Picturing The Walt Disney Family Museum with photography by Jim Smith, text by Richard Benefield, and an introduction by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. It’s the next best thing to actually walking through the galleries that trace—
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