I recently counted my books and realized my collection numbers over 1,000. My new series is focusing on reviewing these books, and new ones that come out, once a week.
One of my research interests is the Latin American female experience in Hollywood from 1920-1960. Seeing a new Maria Montez biography last year, I knew I had to preorder. It arrived a few days before the official release date, and it’s taken me nearly a month to finish it (an extraordinary long time being I am a relatively fast reader). Let’s dive into why I found this book to be a slog:
The first thing readers will notice is Tom Zimmerman’s extreme focus on Montez’s breasts. Comprising roughly 5% of the 360 page book, Zimmerman focuses A LOT on Montez’s breasts. In one section, we get five pages devoted exclusively to talking about her breasts and how they aided her publicity (Zimmerman considers her breasts one of the five pillars of her stardom). Other mentions of her breasts pepper the book, leading to me feeling like they could’ve deserved their own study. Considering Zimmerman works as a photographer, I get why he focuses on talking about Montez’s breasts and how they were photographed, but it really would’ve been fine to have the 5 page section talking about them and leave it at that. Instead, we get an assortment of one-liners and tidbits about her breasts (I’m not including comments about her figure as a whole here either) and how they were photographed or displayed.
Look, I get it. Maria Montez was proud of her figure and used it to her full advantage, but I don’t need constant reminding about her magnificent breasts. This leads me to my next point…
The book is incredibly uneven. Of 360 pages, roughly 240 are devoted to about a five year period in her life. Her birth and childhood are rushed through as is her first marriage. Her last five years are given about 60 pages (give or take a few), meaning we get an incredibly lopsided view of Montez’s life. I can see where Zimmerman was trying to go with the book (e.g., focusing on Montez’s career when biographical details are missing), but I don’t really need a synopsis and battles with the Motion Picture Production Code over a scantily clad star for every film.
Repetitiveness is a common theme throughout this book as well, including telling us that Jean-Pierre Aumont was a national hero in France three times in one paragraph.
Zimmerman also has a habit of leaving certain ideas half-baked. For example, the purge of Latin American actresses in Hollywood after the end of WWII is given a single paragraph. This purge likely explains Universal’s unwillingness to continue employing Montez rather than Zimmerman’s fuzzy ideas of “She was deemed difficult (which she was) so Universal put her on the chopping block.” Plenty of difficult actresses continued working in Hollywood. Betty Grable, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland, and a host of other actresses were all considered “difficult.” Montez was obviously not strictly fired for difficult on-set behavior, asking for dramatic roles or getting involved in lawsuits. It’s evident there was a driving factor to get her out, and I would say the writing on the wall points to the Latin American purge happening when her career started to flounder. This doesn’t mean other factors didn’t contribute to her firing, but Zimmerman spends so much time focusing on the other while giving a major motivating factor a paragraph.
I do appreciate the research that went into the book. It’s evident Zimmerman spent a great deal of time trying to find what he could about Montez and consulted various archives to find his information. However, his book follows a trend I’ve been noticing with University of Kentucky Press. A lot of their authors include newspaper and magazine work (which I do love), but they’re so filled with the author’s opinion or observations that it becomes tiring quickly. I’m taking the time to reconsider whether or not I want to make another purchase from them, and I would argue the last good book from them was Christina Rice’s Jane Russell book.
Overall, this isn’t the definitive book on Maria Montez, and I doubt we’re going to get one any time soon. If you want a book to kill a few hours with (or in my case, nearly a month), this may be the right one for you. For me, I’m going to enjoy Maria Montez: Su Vida.