As screenwriter Raymond Chandler once said, “Anyone who doesn’t like Hollywood is either crazy or sober.” The history of Tinseltown as it is known, with all its worship of youth and beauty, is linked to the nation’s history. In some ways, not much has changed since the first silent motion picture was put up on the silver screen at the dawn of the 20th century.
Now come four star-studded books, all connected by the glitzy thread we know as Hollywood. Different in theme and tone, each will add some glamour and pizzazz to your reading.
In Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood (Harper, October 2014), William J. Mann brings one of the most infamous Hollywood homicide cases back to life. This is a true suspense mystery based on real stories of a young and powerful Hollywood.
Modern readers might be surprised to learn it, but the Roaring ’20s were exciting and daring, especially in the City of Angels. For example, silent screen legend Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, known for his heroin addiction later in life, went on trial for rape and manslaughter. Though found innocent, his career was ruined.
There was also Mabel Normand, the darling comedy queen of silent films. Her muse was the ever-controlling director, Mack Sennett, best known for creating the Keystone Cops and Sennett Bathing Beauties. Yet, with all of her success, including owning her own movie studio, Normand became addicted to cocaine. She died of Tuberculosis at age 37. Drugs and sex were the norm back then, though, which may have contributed to the death of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Picture Directors Association and Normand’s lover.
It is his murder that lies at the center of Mann’s narrative—Mann, who has authored biographies of Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand, weaves a storyline that keeps a reader fascinated with how these brilliant stars, much like today, ruined their once glamourous careers by walking into the dark shadows of drugs, crime, and alcohol.
Best of all, Mann gets inside the investigation into the death of Taylor, and if you pay close attention, you may just solve what was then known as the murder of the century.
Far away from drugs, sex and murder is Young Hollywood (Assouline Publishing, September 2014), which features 60 portraits of up-and-coming young Hollywood women, including actresses, directors, producers, stylists and more.
The photos by Claiborne Swanson Frank, a Vogue alum, fuse the vintage elegance of classic Hollywood inspirations with the vivacious spirits of contemporary personality. A portrait photographer and stylist, she attempts to capture the glamour, essence and allure of what it means to be a starlet in the Hollywood of today.
Among the starlets and star-makers profiled, each short texts in their own voices, are Isabel Lucas, Elisabeth Moss, Mickey Sumner and Amber Heard, and many others.
Speaking of young Hollywood, actor/writer/producer Helenna Santos and producer/writer/actor Alexandra Boylan—perhaps in an attempt to protect any future Hollywood transplants getting of the bus from Ohio with stars in their eyes—have compiled a “how-to” guide for surviving in the big, bad entertainment industry.
Thriving in Hollywood! Tenacious Tales and Tactics from Ms. In The Biz (Ms. In The Biz, LLC December 2014), takes 21 tales from the first year of MsInTheBiz.com and presents them as both success stories and, perhaps, cautionary tales.
“You can’t drown yourself in drink. I’ve tried; you float,” said screen legend John Barrymore, and if you’ve been searching for a book with lots of celebrity gossip, the book host Chelsea Handler said “is like being at the best dinner party in the world,” might be worth a read.
Throughout Mark Bailey’s Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, which goes from the frontier days of silent film to the psychedelic ’70s, the author offers up celebrities at their most soused.
The biographies, anecdotes and memorable quotes from actors, screenwriters, directors and producers make this book an entertaining cocktail but the included recipes kick it up a notch.
I’ll have another (to give to a friend). Cheers!