Best Classic Hollywood Books of 2019

Best Old Hollywood Books of 2019

Best Biography:

This is a tough one being there have been some great biographies released this year. I’m excluding the 50s blondes from this category being I already know I’m going to have a bias towards them. My vote is for Dutch Girl.

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Dutch Girl (which I received an advance copy of but was unable to review in a timely manner due to a personal emergency) is by esteemed author Robert Matzen. Matzen expertly traces and tells the story of Audrey Hepburn’s young life with a major focus on the WWII years. Hepburn’s life has been done to death, but this book provides new insights on the making of an icon.

Best Monroe Biography:

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Private Life of a Public Icon’s title basically says it all. Casillo attempts to shed the light on Monroe as a person, not an actress. While I don’t always agree with Casillo’s conclusions, the book is a must have for any Monroe book collector.

Best Blondes Biography:

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When a Girl’s Beautiful by Richard Koper examines the life of a woman who has sadly been forgotten with time. Lansing never quite made it but she sure as hell tried. One thing I really enjoy about Koper’s work is how he continuously focuses on women who were always on the brink of stardom but continuously watched it slip out of their hands.

Best Picture Book:

This one is a tie being the books are so different from one another, I couldn’t pick just one.

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John O’ Dowd is still attempting to give Barbara Payton the recognition she deserves, and this book is one for the ages. Containing over 1,000 photos, we see Payton’s rise and fall from superstardom. I recommend reading this book after his first Payton venture, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story. You’ll need both to fully understand Payton both as a person and a performer.

5

Vieira has partnered with TCM to give us this lovely coffee table book focusing on the Pre-Code Era. Full of pictures, tidbits, and a keen selection of films to showcase when sin ruled the movies, Vieira gives the reader an illustrated film history in a large, lovely package.

Best Film Retrospective:

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Jean Harlow’s films have not been properly evaluated in book-form since The Films of Jean Harlow in 1969. As much as I appreciate the Films of series, they have nothing on what Neibaur has presented us. Harlow’s tempestuous personal life frequently overshadows her professional accomplishments but Neibaur has righted this wrong in his excellent retrospective of the original Blonde Bombshell’s work.

What We Want for Christmas

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From Picture Week, December 20, 1955.

What We Want for Christmas… by 20 Celebrities

With the visit from the cherubic old gent at the left only two weeks away, Picture Week decided to pay a holiday call on 20 of the celebrities who have graced its pages during the past year. Each of the 20 was asked one question: “What would you like for Christmas?” The answers follow, with a prefatory note to anxious fan clubs: the suggested sources for these particular Christmas gifts are : local retail stores, hospitals, banks, and any diplomatic table in the world.

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Steve Allen: 48 hours on uninterrupted sleep.

Milton Caniff: A Rube-Goldberg-like couch, with a cybernetic brain machine that does all the work needed to turn out Steve Canyon. When it is finished, you kick a pedal and the money rolls out.

Walter Slezak: I want a new boat. I lost my old one in a storm.

Al Capp: I’d like my little friend, the Bald Iggle (who makes people tell the truth), to be by my side and yours this Christmas and the year ahead. I expect we’ll be needing him.

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Ed Sullivan: It’s not very original, but the only thing I’d like is world peace.

Margaret Truman: I’d like a gadget to wake me gently, open the Venetian blinds, close the window, and have a cup of steaming hot coffee at my bedside.

Bess Myerson: I’d like things to remain the same as they are for me and my family. And I hope for Peace on earth, good will toward men, because it was never needed more than today.

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Nejla Ates: I don’t know what Christmas is; they don’t have it in Turkey. I can have anything I want? A million dollars and I’ll use it to buy the Majestic Theatre.

Hal March: . . . three and half acres of bamboo fields in Calcutta. But seriously, I’d like peace in this world; and for myself, I’d like my life to continue as it’s been for as long as it can.

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Harry Belafonte: I would like to see a definite and appreciable gain in the lot not only of the Negro professional but the Negro laborer in this country as well.

Henry Morgan: I will not tell you in a hundred words what I want for Christmas, I will tell you in three words: Surcease from travail.

Raymond Loewy: A non-fattening turkey, ten pounds of dietetic marons glace, and the address of a nearby drugstore that would not send iced coffee and cream when I order tea and lemon.

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Mr. Magoo: Mae West under the mistletoe.

Charles Atlas: My wish for Christmas is that every man in this country be healthy and strong. A strong America is a peaceful America.

Dave Garroway: I want most for Christmas a 1932 PII Rolls Royce, just because I like cars.

Robert Harrison: A good, Juicy scandal [Harrison was the publisher of Confidential].

G. David Schine: Customers at the Roney Plaza, the McAllister, the Gulf Stream, the Ambassador. I want plenty of customers for Christmas.

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Ernie Kovaks: The gift I want most for Christmas I already have, and it comes gift-wrapped all year: The greatest wife and two daughters that Santa ever handed out.

Dick Shawn: My Christmas package arrived last Tuesday – a 7-lb baby girl. But I could use a spare 2,000 dispensable diapers. I’m getting dishpan hands.

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Gwen Verdon: I’d like a miniphone – a little portable recorder that you can attach to the body. It would be invaluable for practicing accent, intonation, dialect and so forth.

When a Girl’s Beautiful

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When A Girl’s Beautiful: The Life and Career of Joi Lansing

 

Koper is at it again with his biography of 1950s starlet, Joi Lansing. Koper has previously written on the likes of Jayne Mansfield, Barbara Nichols, and an encyclopedia of 1950s blondes. Joi has had one book written about her previously, written by her rumored lover, Alexis Hunter. Koper hits the mark on the 1950s bombshell, showcasing a life and career that leaves one constantly thinking “What If?”

 

Koper begins with the usual biographic fare. We learn Joi had a rather difficult childhood with an overbearing mother and an absentee father. He traces her marriages, career, and personal life on a subject who is relatively difficult to find information on. As always, his book is full of photographs and little tidbits on her life that bring “Joi Lansing” to life. Her struggles are relatable (she always seemed to be two steps away from hitting it big, her eventual issues with botched plastic surgery). Her highs are notable, if not always memorable to audiences of today. One of the biggest bombshells (no pun intended) is Joi’s affair with Sinatra, with her agent, Bill Corcoran telling Koper, “Joi was very smart and very sweet. She was not a playgirl and I was surprised she started dating and even moved in with Frank Sinatra. She told me she couldn’t stand Sinatra drinking all night, although she said he was wonderful to her and his best attribute was that he wanted to please any girl he was having sex with, and that included just about every starlet in Hollywood.”

 

This shouldn’t be taken as another sleaze ball biography. Koper, as always, remains respectful of his subject. We learn Joi was not the Mormon-girl-next-door she claimed to be but liked the stories circulating so she could be perceived as a “good girl.” Koper has interviewed everyone under the sun who had even the slightest interaction with Joi, including Mamie Van Doren, Gloria Pall, Hunter, John Shupe (Joi’s cousin), Beverly Watkins (another cousin), and a host of other players in Joi’s life.

 

My only real issue is a story given to Koper by Hunter which details Marilyn Monroe propositioning Joi for an affair. There has never been anything that has come to light from Monroe’s estate or any other star’s to support the rumors of Marilyn dallying in lesbianism. This should not be taken as anything homophobic by me (if she was, she was) but I always prefer some sort of documentation to avoid Scotty Bowers/Darwin Porter vibes. There have also been whispers about Hunter exaggerating her relationship with Joi. Again, I am not able to comment on these besides saying Hunter has provided a handful of documents and a photo that solidifies some sort of relationship (I touched upon this in my review of Hunter’s book).

 

Overall, I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a sneak-peak on the girl who was almost always close to stardom but never quite there. Koper’s work is some of the best in the field and I will always recommend his books to anyone who wants to find out more on 1950s blondes. Buy by clicking here.

 

Final Rating: 9/10

 

Zsa Zsa’s Never Found in New Book

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs promises to finally uncover the truth about the mysterious, glamorous Gabors from Hungary. Claiming to have exclusive interviews and never before seen information, one is promised the removal of the iron curtain the Gabor women hid themselves behind.

Sam Staggs has written several books before tackling the bombshells from Budapest. I am familiar with his previous work, and have long held  All About “All About Eve” in high regard.  Eve is (for the most part) properly sourced and an excellent volume for behind-the-scenes gossip most movie fans enjoy reveling in. Let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re historical voyeurs. We take delight in finding out the nitty-gritty on our favorite movies and stars. I would put the Gabors (as a unit) in my top two favorite stars. I love reading about all four of them and have lapped up the few books released here and there, including their own tomes. Knowing Staggs from his previous work, I looked forward to seeing him delve deep into the most mysterious family in Hollywood.

Staggs opens his book with major events affecting the Gabors through the 1950s. They’re pretty well-known for Gabor aficionados but I understand that very few people who will read Staggs’ book are going to be deep in the fandom. The next two chapters deal primarily with Jolie and her recollections of raising three of the most famous women of the Golden Era. The rest of the book simply traces the family until their deaths, with a timeline concocted via their scandals. The book is basic, but, again, I wasn’t expecting a scholarly study on the family. As the title alludes, Zsa Zsa is the primary focus – the rest of the Gabors are more like footnotes in Zsa Zsa’s life. Unfortunately, we’re not really getting anything new. One of the biggest “mysteries” presented in the book is the Gabors’ real ages. Fact checks on the Gabors’ ages were accomplished years ago, with Zsa Zsa’s real age being paraded around once she was diagnosed with dementia. It was (again) confirmed when her estate auction transpired in April of 2018.

Staggs’ viewpoint is rather confounding. Does he like them? Does he dislike them? I believe he actually does hold some affection for the marvelous Hungarians, and I will be the first person to admit an author does need to remain as unbiased as possible, but the bitchery throughout the book is jarring. Look – I get it… Staggs wants this book to come across like the reader is having a proper dish-fest with the author but comparing Zsa Zsa to an old drunk or claiming that she was menopausal by 38 tends to become grating. These slight digs pepper the book like the Gabor’s paprika-d their chicken: they’re overabundant; but, unlike the satisfying ending you receive from the Gabors’ paprika-caked anything, you’re likely to just feel a burn all the way through.

I’m going to be blunt. The sourcing isn’t here for this book. There are no end notes or footnotes because the author apparently felt they were unnecessary even though he read “thousands” of papers and printed memorabilia related to the family. He also claims to have hours of interviews with Francesca Hilton (Zsa Zsa’s daughter and the only direct descendant of the sisters), and access to her unpublished memoir, but nothing is sourced besides a one sentence mention about contacting her in 2010 and (apparently?) having contact with her until her passing in 2015. When did these interviews take place? How? Is there any documentation? We don’t know. None of this is sourced. Anthony Turtu, author of  Gaborabilia, is mentioned throughout the book as well. Again, when did these interviews take place? Again, we don’t know. Staggs seems to have gleamed some of his documented evidence from Turtu. Most of the information in this book stems directly from the Gabors’ various memoirs. Staggs admits as much in his “notes” section (which also has a painfully self-serving review of every previously printed book on the Gabors and why this material sucks – yet is used throughout the book). The book also houses a fair amount of tittle-tattle with no supporting evidence such as Eric Drimmer (Eva’s first husband) being a spy (huh?) or the author’s convoluted thought process about why Zsa Zsa went to the ’59 Khrushchev luncheon when his answer was painfully obvious for anyone with a remote knowledge of mid-20th-century world history. Eva is also plagued by rumors regarding her sexuality, which have never been supported (if she was a lesbian, great, but there has to be some evidence – not hearsay from undocumented Francesca interviews).

There are a couple rare gems in the book, such as a photo of Zsa Zsa after placing in the Miss Hungary contest, but the supposed footage of the contest (which has never been seen by previous authors) is written off as “in a Hungarian library.” Most researchers attempt to help their colleagues by properly sourcing their finds. We want people to use our work as a stepping stone to further the narrative. Staggs has set the narrative back. I know of at least one book in the works on Zsa Zsa as well as eternally hoping Turtu releases a book as well. Hold out for the confirmed project. If you need a Gabor fix now, buy their memoirs (Zsa Zsa: 3, Eva: 1, and Jolie: 2 (one is a cookbook), double check their ages on Wikipedia, and have fun.

Final Rating: 1/5

Three Really Quick Tips for Grauman’s (and a map)

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Map and legend from 1992’s Hollywood At Your Feet

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As usual, I visited Grauman’s when I went out to Los Angeles this week. While I wish that TCL (it’ll always be Grauman’s to me) Chinese Theatre sold an updated map, this one will do. Here’s a quick guide to the world famous theatre.

First off, Grauman’s is always packed unless you’re going at 10 pm.

Second, Grauman’s does not move or remove their prints. The map above lines up exactly with what is seen there today. Some prints have been cut down, such as Cantiflas’, in order to make more room. If a print is removed it is for one of two reasons: it needs to be restored or it was temporary *side-eyes Herbie*.

Third, people are rude and will not get out of your way. People tend to flock around the prints of modern people (Michael Jackson is a big one right now). Because of this, certain areas are less congested (especially the center right and left).

P.S. Some stars are in really poor condition. I am hoping that they are fixed: