Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"WHERE'S YOUR FILM SECTION?" A Movie Lover's Bookshelf

My family moved around a lot when I was young, so new cities and new schools were a commonplace part of my upbringing. But commonplace doesn't mean easy. Having to always adapt to new people and new surroundings contributed to my being a very quiet and shy young man who kept to himself and didn't make friends easily. 

At home, I retreated into watching movies on TV. But during lunch hours, after school, and on weekends (when I wasn't sitting for hours in a darkened movie house) I haunted the bookstalls at the local library. For as long as I can remember I've loved reading books about Hollywood, filmmaking, and the movie industry. So much so that in every public library in each new city and at every used and new bookstore in each town, my first question of inquiry was always: "Where's your film section?" - and there I'd literally spend hours engrossed in a world which seemed as distant and fantastic as any sci-fi adventure or futuristic fantasy.
My love of reading about film continues to this day, my home bookcases bulging with so many volumes it looks like the film reference section of a research library (I can't really get into e-books - I still like the heft and feel of hardcover books). 
At the request of a reader of this blog, I thought I'd list a few of my favorite Hollywood/film-related books. Not a comprehensive list by a longshot, and not a list to be taken as "recommended reading." Merely a few of the titles that come fondly to mind when asked about books I've enjoyed over the years. (The one restriction I've applied is that I've limited my list exclusively to books I own.)

Since my partner shares my love of exploring the few used bookstores still in existence in the LA area, I'm hoping some of you might perhaps share the names of some of your favorite film-related books. One never can tell what gems will be unearthed!

The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman’s Masterpiece by Jan Stuart / 2000 — Since it looks like the once-proposed 10-hour miniseries version of Nashville ABC-TV was at one time interested in will never see the light of day (made up of all the unused footage from Robert Altman's 1975 opus), this impressively comprehensive behind-the-scenes account of the making of one of my favorite films is an invaluable substitute. A vision of personal filmmaking I can only imagine is long gone in this day of the corporate franchise.

Hitchcock -Truffaut  by François Truffaut Francois Truffaut / 1966  —  I have yet to see the 2015 documentary based on the legendary eight-day interview French director François Truffaut had with Alfred Hitchcock in 1962, but when I read this book in 1970, it was my very first in-depth glimpse into what had heretofore been something we regular folks could only guess at: the job of the director. I know I said none of the books on my list could be called "recommended reading," but if you love film at all, I'd call this book mandatory reading.

Ever, Dirk: The Bogarde Letters Edited by John Coldstream / 2008 —  Academic film study is all well and good for understanding the nuts-and-bolts side of filmmaking; but nothing beats a book where a celebrity lets their hair down and exposes the mundanity behind the art. This massive collection of letters written by actor Dirk Bogarde between 1969 and 1999 (a period when he eased into becoming an author of six novels and eight guarded autobiographies) is enjoyable in direct proportion to your fondness for the actor (I adore him) and love of casual bitchery ( I plead the Fifth). Bogarde refers to Glenda Jackson as "Tits Jackson," thinks Michael Caine has "the ugliest voice in the business," and had this to say about the stars of 1976s Logan's Run: "...even (Tyrone) Power was better than the homogenized sexlessness of (Michael) York or Fawcett Major...she sounds like a Public School or some village in green Wilshire. Is she?"

For Keeps by Pauline Kael / 1994  — Perhaps because there were so many films I wanted to see that I wasn't allowed to, when I was young I developed a passion for reading film criticism. I pored over collections of the writings of Stanley Kauffmann and John Simon, but I credit Pauline Kael exclusively with really teaching me how to look at movies and for introducing me to the still-revolutionary notion that we don't love a film because it's "good"; we love a film because it speaks to us. Happily, I've been able to find her earlier books on eBay, but this career collection of more than 275 of her reviews and essays is pure bliss. Even when she goes off in directions I don't agree with, I always related to her passion and way with words.

Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger by William J. Mann  / 2005 — The life and career of the magnificent director of Darling, Midnight Cowboy, and The Day of the Locust are examined in this thorough and thoroughly engaging biography written with the participation and co-operation of Schlesinger himself. Outrageously informative and insightful in its conveyance of artistic genius in a modest man who rarely saw himself as a trailblazer and creator of some of the most enduring works in cinema.

The Busby Berkeley Book by Tony Thomas / 1973 — The occasion of my getting this book is a particularly happy memory, as it was an early 16th birthday present from one of the rare occasions in my mid-teens when the entire family went to the movies together. The film was Neil Simon's The Heartbreak Kid and it was playing on Polk Street in San Francisco at the Royal Theater. The line for the movie was long so we were stalled for some time in front of the bookstore on the corner. The Busby Berkely Book was part of the store's window display and I had been chattering away to one of my sisters about how, after seeing Ken Russell's The Boy Friend (1971), I had become such a fan of Berkeley's movies. So caught up in the topic, I didn't pay much heed when my mom sent my eldest sister off to check on our parking meter. As it turns, out, my mom actually gave my sister money to go into the bookstore to purchase this book. A book I vocally lusted after, but which seemed too grand and costly a purchase (a whopping $15) to seriously entertain.
As any adolescent is likely to attest; when a parent gives even the slightest sign of knowing what is of importance to their child, it feels like the most extravagantly heartwarming acknowledgment and validation. I've never forgotten the way this terribly sweet gesture made me feel that day, and I forever associate my mom (an avid reader) with instilling in me a love of books.
The Busby Berkeley Book itself?...an exhaustive, photo-crammed, film-by-film look at how Berkeley achieved all those dazzling musical panoramas and kaleidoscopes. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
The Richard Burton Diaries Edited by Chris Williams / 2012 —  I'm not a huge fan of Richard Burton, but I grew up during the whole Liz/Burton thing, so a book like this is irresistible. It seems Richard Burton, in addition to being an avid reader who devoured books like Neely O'Hara devoured pills, was a lifelong diarist. Encompassing the years 1939 to 1983, this collection of Burton's jotted-down thoughts is every bit as juicy as you'd think it would be. Sure it's fun to read him laying into stars like Lucille Ball, Joey Heatherton, and Eddie Fisher; but for guys like me - whose childhood memories are filled with Taylor and Burton as movie magazine staples - it's entertaining and enlightening to get a private glimpse into a very public relationship. 

Ken Russell's Films by Ken Hanke / 1984 — More an academic monograph than a book geared to the casual fan, Ken Hanke's book analyzes and critiques Ken Russell's entire body of work up to 1980 (ending on a Ken Russell high-note with Altered States, so we're spared the years of decline). For the true Ken Russell aficionado, the level of research and study here is sublime. 

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West / 1939 — Got this paperback in 1975 after seeing the film, and to this day it stands as one of the most scathing indictments of Hollywood I've ever read. Like a grimly surreal allegory, the timeless The Day of the Locust "gets" the strange, hungry symbiosis that exists between the dreamers and the dream machine. Even when one thinks about the Hollywood of today, it's difficult to know who's tune is being danced to. Is it the ones without hope, demanding that movies lie to them and feed them fantasies that can never be fulfilled; or is it the dreammakers who intentionally create want and desire out of the valueless, guaranteeing an endless supply of lack and resentment?
As one who has found in movies a level of comfort and release, I can't help but wonder to what extent I may also use film as a means of escape. I don't have any answers as to it's potential harmfulness (although my instinct leans toward whether films help us to engage in life or encourage us to avoid it) I'm impressed by how artfully Nathanael West turned Hollywood into a state of mind.

The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way) by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss / 1978 — One of the great things about coming from a big family is that watching movies on TV together becomes a kind of impromptu MST3K episode. Growing up, my sisters and I all harbored a taste for bad movies and loved riffing on them as we watched, so we actually sought out B-movies and loved cheapo horror programs like Bay Area's KTVU Creature Features (then the only program I knew of to poke fun at movies).
When this book came out, it felt like it could have been a family collaboration. Poking fun at films as diverse as Airport 1975 to Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, it's more than just easy potshots taken at questionable filmmaking. The book offers a lot of background info on the films in question, and the critiques are more grounded in legitimate structural and contextual gripes than later copycat books could lay claim. A laugh-out-loud funny book with sharp observations.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood  by Peter Biskind / 1998 — Fan of the 60s and 70s as I am, this book was heaven for me. Especially since - in profiling directors like Altman, Bogdanovich, Spielberg and everyone in between - the author isn't really of a mind to build a shrine to anyone. Gossip monger that I am, I prefer my film history behind-the-scenes anecdotes with a certain amount of irreverent candor. This book doesn't disappoint. 

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy / 1935 — As with The Day of the Locust, I can't imagine compiling a list of Hollywood/film industry books without including this dark companion piece to West's brilliant nightmare. McCoy's novel, set in a marathon dance during the Depression, is more an existential parable, but it's Hollywood backdrop, populated by wannabes and hangers on, is the flip side of the sunny "those were the good old days" nostalgia that was so popular when this paperback edition was published in 1969. If you can get your hands on one of these it's worth it, for in addition to the novel they've included the screenplay to the Sydney Pollack film.

(Honorable Mention: Pictures at a Revolution- Mark Harris, The Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers Book- Arlene Croce, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark -Brian Kellow, Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman- Patricia Bosworth, Robert Altman: An Oral Biography - Mitchell Zuckoff, Roman Polanski -F.X. Feeny, Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell & His Films -Joseph Lanza, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock-Donald Spoto, Twiggy In Black & White: An Autobiography-Penelope Dening & Twiggy Lawson, Mommie Dearest- Christina Crawford)

Not every film-related book can be a winner. Here are a few I'd put at the bottom of the pile.

Crowning Glory: Reflections of Hollywood's Favorite Confidant by Sydney Guilaroff  & Cathy Griffin / 1996 — The prospect of the chief hairdresser at MGM for more than 50 years writing his memoirs certainly sounds like a can't miss book. He met all the great stars in his time, and lasted through the Golden Age into the '60s. Listen, I like a good show-biz fish story as much as anybody, but most of Mr. Sydney Guilaroff's "I was there!" memories are called into question when he asks the reader to accept the rather outlandish notion that he is a heterosexual male (he was for all practical purposes outed by Esther Williams in her autobiography) romantically involved with some of his famous female clients. Meaning no disrespect, but if he was seriously trying to carry off this Liberace-esque charade, he should have left out the precious early photo of himself looking like Norma Shearer with his two adopted sons, and most CERTAINLY a later photo with his hunky adopted "grandson" at his side (said grandson being a full-grown man when adopted). When an author lies about the single most glaring fact about his life, the book may be 100% fact, but with the author so determined to nail the door shut on this very obvious closet, I can't trust anything in the book to be reliable.

Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage  by Raquel Welch  / 2010 — As one of the last of the old-fashioned studio-created sex symbols, one would think Raquel Welch would have a lot to talk about. She's a survivor with a legendary temperament who's worked with some of the biggest names in the business. Unfortunately, Miss Welch (whom I adore) decided that what her fans most needed from her are beauty, diet, and wig-buying tips. She glosses over her questionable film resume (all the more reason I wanted to know more about them) and turns her book into a tedious episode of The View.

The Elephant To Hollywood by Michael Caine  2010 — This is Caine's second autobiography (his first, What's It All About? was published in 1992) and I guess by this time he was a little talked out. The lack of anything substantive to relate about a late career sustained by accepting any and everything that's laid on your doorstep becomes apparent as we are treated to chapter after chapter in which he recounts how much he loves his birthday. Hoping for at least a mirror into what it's like to go from heartthrob to Batman's butler, the best that can be said is reading this book is like being seated at a dinner next to an amiable chap well versed in inoffensive, unenlightening small talk.

Undiscovered  by  Debra Winger / 2008 — Back in the early 90s Debra Winger used to take my dance class (because she couldn't relate to "perky"- a word she used to describe the other instructors). I've been called many things, but since perky isn't one of them, we developed a friendly rapport, even sharing a tuna sandwich at a diner on her birthday while she talked about her aversion to Hollywood.
Anyhow, when this memoir came out I was very excited because I knew Winger to be a straightforward, pull-no-punches type and I thought she'd use this opportunity to dispel some of the many myths surrounding her tumultuous career.
No such luck. At this point in her life the talented actress must have been going through some kind of self-exploration journey, for Undiscovered is almost hostile in its refusal to be what anyone picking up a celebrity memoir might expect. Want to know about Terms of Endearment? Tough. She's got several pages of poetry for you. Want to know how the hell she was chosen to replace the fired Raquel Welch in the ill-fated Cannery Row (1982)? Sorry, but prepare to read about her garden.
At the end of it all, you wonder if she just wanted to screw with the publishers (which sounds more like the real Debra Winger than most parts of this book).

Tony Curtis: American Prince by Tony Curtis and Peter Golenbock  / 2008 — Perhaps because I was never really a Tony Curtis fan to begin with (the book was a gift) but I found there to be a huge ick factor attendant to reading this. Curtis was 80 or so when this memoir was published, but it reads like something that would sound puerile coming from a 16-year-old. 
To grow older without wisdom or insight is a sad thing, and as Curtis recounts love affairs, sexual flings, and his oddball double-standards when it comes to infidelity (he, a man could sleep with as many co-stars as he wished...the height of insults was to find his wife may have done the same...once!) is to to stare into a pretty but vacuous void. For me, all that came off of the page was ego, self-justification, and the pathetic laundry-listing of sexual conquests as though it actually meant something. I had the same reaction when I read Eddie Fisher's 1999 autobiography Been There, Done That. Ick!

So what are your favorite books about Hollywood, celebrity, or the film industry? Any you want to recommend or warn others about? Let me know! In the meantime...see you around the bookstalls!

Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. Excellent suggestions, Ken. Some of these I've had since I first bought them (the mass market They Shoot Horses and the movie tie-in of Day of the Locust for instance) and Pictures at a Revolution is one my favorite film books in years. Now I'm looking forward to picking up the Dirk Bogarde, Twiggy, and John Schlesinger. Your complaint about Raguel is one of my of my biggest pet peeves of film autobiographies. Bought it, flipped through it. Pfft. It's so true and so irritating. I was one of the few who bought Martha Hyer's A Hollywood Memoir but it's filled with "and then I made a few more movies" and goes on to tell us about her spiritual awakening. Fine for her, really, but not so much for fans of House of 1000 Dolls or Picture Mommy Dead. And I should have known that Goldie Hawn's A Lotus Grows in the Mud would be heavy on enlightenment. Honestly, I really do want to know how A Girl from Petrovka came about. (the book itself it quite handsome though).

    That why I'm such a huge fan of Faye Dunaway's Waiting for Gatsby (but ouch, that title!). In addition to going into detail about her major films, Dunaway actually discusses The Happening, Puzzle of a Downfall Child, The Extraordinary Seaman, Hurry Sundown, A Place for Lovers, Doc, and The Deadly Trap. Every time I see Dunaway in something I return to the book.

    Other favorites: Chris Fujiwara's The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger (can't get enough of reading about Hurry Sundown); Patrick McGilligan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light; and Tom Lisanti's Dueling Harlows (I mean, an entire book on the making of the Baker/Lynley Harlows? Heaven!)

    Now if only there were detailed, day-by-shooting-day, making-of books on Valley of the Dolls, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and Rosemary's Baby I'd be so happy.

    Best (at least, most singular) novel about the movies I think is David Thomson's Suspects. Best faux memoir of all time: Little Me. Belle Poitrine's spiritual awakening is something to remember.

    Thanks for letting me go on, Ken!

    1. Hi Max
      I'm not sure what kid of deals publishers strike with celebrities to get them to write their memoirs, but I sense that the desires of the "cineaste" market and general public must be at odds.
      Film fans always want to know about a star's career and individual experience (I have the Dunaway book and I agree, it's great the way she goes into each of her films), but perhaps the general public wants that stuff you see on shows like "The View" and daytime TV. A whole lot of masturbatory talk about a star's inner journey.
      Richard Chamberlain's bio was so tiresomely spiritual, especially given that he was a career closet case and insights into how he pulled THAT off would have been much more interesting.
      Love that you read a book on Martha Hyer (!) and I too made the mistake of reading that Goldie Hawn book. Really...what was she thinking?

      We are like-minded in enjoying "making of" kinds of books. I would adore a day by day shooting account of the making of "Myra Breckinridge"
      Thanks for listing so many of your favorites...I think I'll add the Dueling Harlows book to my want list.
      Thanks Max, for sharing your favorites and affording me an opportunity to vent my own frustration with "introspective" celebrity memoirs!

    2. Hi Ken,

      Just one more thing, if I may...It's because of the movies that I ended up reading some very good novels when I was young--only because of the movie tie-in editions. (Not novelizations, although I bought those too).

      Your mention of They Shoot Horses, and Day of the Locust reminded me of this. The only way to "re-live" a movie back in the 60s and 70s was either buy the original novel or listen to the soundtrack. And all because Lynn Redgrave was on the cover, I bought and read Margaret Forster's Georgy Girl. Same with Kristin Hunter's The Landlord, Paula Fox's Desperate Characters, Ken Kolb's Getting Straight, and William Eastlake's Castle Keep--for starters.

      I'm sure I would have gotten around to reading Day of the Locust eventually, but having Karen Black on the cover and the reproduction of David Edward Byrd's original artwork made it must buy. And what an impression that novel made on an impressionable young(ish) mind!

      Thank you, Ken

    3. Hi Max
      We share a similar history in that vein. I read "The Collector" "The magus", "The Sterile Cuckoo" and countless other novels in high school chiefly because I wanted to see the films. And indeed those tie-in printings were a favorite.
      I don't know about you, but this "habit" introduced me to the art of screen adaptation; for every film I first discovered as a novel I was allowed to visualize...then it was such a revelation to see how someone else chose to adapt to the screen what I had imagined. I had in a sense, made my OWN film in my mind. A skill (or quirk) that helped a lot when i went to film school.
      Thanks Max, for bringing up this topic, which would make another interesting list: Books you discovered chiefly because of the films adapted from them.

    4. Hi Max Frost, thanks so much for including my book Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen in your list of favorites. Honored to be included in such good company and glad you enjoyed it. Best, Tom Lisanti

  2. Bonjour Ken,

    I loved reading about your favorite film books, some of which (Nashville Chronicles, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Ken Russell's Films, The Busby Berkeley Book) are among my favorite too. Buying film books has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, especially when I was in my teens and when a few good bookshops in Paris had a large selection of US/UK film books (there was not much written in French about film back then, I'm talking about the late 70's-early 80's).

    Here is a list of my favorite books (in English only), the ones I always come back to. I just checked my film book library so the list is all fresh (and in no order).

    Film as a Subversive Art / Amos Vogel
    Lulu in Hollywood / Louise Brooks
    Images in the Dark, an Encyclopedia of Gay & Lesbian Film / Raymond Murray
    Hollywood Babylon / Kenneth Anger
    Napoleon, The Parade gone by, How it happened here / Kevin Brownlow
    Time Out Film Guide (so sad the series was stopped in 2011)
    The Aurum Film Encyclopedia (The Western, Horror, Science Fiction, The Gangster Film) / Phil Hardy
    Widescreen Dreams, Growing up gay at the Movies / Patrick E. Horrigan
    The Hollywood Musical / Clive Hirschhorn
    Any film book published back then by Citadel Press (love them all, I even bought The Films of Ronald Reagan...)
    The Marilyn Encyclopedia / Adam Victor
    Any trashy biography by Darwin Porter (I know...)

    And top of the list, any film book by Danny Peary:
    Cult Movies 1, 2 & 3 (I think these are my favorite film books ever, the ones I would take on a desert island)
    Cult Movie Stars
    Close Ups
    Alternate Oscars
    Guide for the Film Fanatic

    Many more, but then...

    Thanks again, Ken, for your wonderful blog.
    When do you publish a book?

    1. Bonjour Tom!
      What a wonderful list of film books, and so nice to see so many of my favorites among the titles. We share a similar taste, especially in those old Citadel "Films of" books I grew up on.
      I'm unfamiliar with Darwin Porter, but of course I'm so pleased that Googling these titles is such a cinch.
      Nice to see Hollywood Babylon in the bunch.
      Many of your titles bring back great memories, but I am going to have to check out Lulu in Hollywood. I've seen it for years but have never given it a read.
      Terrific hearing from you again Tom, and I thank you for giving us so many possible titles to look up and discover!

  3. The wonderful and wonderfully eccentric David Thomson, especially Suspects, which ties dozens of films noirs - and other films - together.
    Geoff Dyer's Zona, which is an eccentric and entirely individual examination of Tarkovsky's Stalker and Dyer's reactions to it.
    The diaries of Lindsay Anderson, one of the great Glums of film-making.

    1. Hey Roger
      OK, so you're the second person to mention "Suspects" so that's becoming a must-read. And I had no idea Lindsay Anderson's diaries had been published...that certainly peaks my interest. Thanks for the introduction of a few likely unfamiliar titles to the mix!

  4. Oh Ken--this is one of those wonderful topics (similar to your post about movie songs) that I suspect will required several "one more thing" comments from me (and perhaps others). Like you, I read about movies voraciously in the 1970s. Everything from Rona Barrett's Hollywood to John Simon's erudite (but extremely right-wing) film criticism. Off the top of my head, the first books I thought of were:

    Renata Adler--A YEAR IN THE DARK. In the late 1960s, Adler was the third-string film critic for the New York Times. She was never assigned to review "important" films, but more run-of-the-mill productions. As a result, it was Adler who wrote the (rather mildly critical) review of John Wayne's pro-Vietnam War movie, THE GREEN BERETS and all hell broke lose. The book is a collection of her reviews, but she touches upon the resulting GREEN BERETS furor.

    One of my all- time favorite books is Leslie Halliwell's THE FILMGOER'S COMPANION. I have a late-1970s edition (I'm not sure of its final update; Halliwell died in the 1980s, I believe). A delightfully opinionated compendium that focuses very much on Hollywood's golden age.

    Another 1970s favorite (although he's still writing for the New York Observer, I think) was Rex Reed who was adept at getting celebrities to open up in a time that was far less confessional than today. Collections include DO YOU SLEEP IN THE NUDE?, PEOPLE ARE CRAZY HERE, and VALENTINES AND VITRIOL.

    (Getting too long; will divide this up.)

    1. Hi Deb
      Well you know that I love anyone passionate enough about film to keep having "one more thing!" moments, and it flatters me if these topics inspire that in you.
      I'd totally forgotten about Renata Alder. I read a lot of her stuff around the same time i discovered those other critics (although i was unaware of the Green Berets thing). And good old Rex Reed! I read all of his published collections from Jr high through to college.

      I have a very worn copy of a 70s edition Filmgoer's companion. Kids today (with their internet) have no idea how much film lovers clung to their reference books. How else could we drive our friends crazy with all our feverishly acquired movie trivia?
      The 70s was a great time for film books!

    2. I thought Adler's review of TGB was mildly critical, but I went to the NYT archives and reread it and it is a brutal takedown. However, having seen TGB, I'd say it deserved all of the opprobrium Adler heaped upon it!

  5. Nice to see "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way) by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss on this list. I enjoy reference books with witty writing, especially dealing with bad movies. I truly loved John Wilson's (he of the Golden Raspberry Awards) The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst". And recently I read "150 Movies You Should Die Before You See" which while not as godd as Wilson's is still interesting. I love bad movies, so much so that I occasionally blog about them. I have also recently acquired a couple of the FAQ books put out by Applause ("Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ" by Tom Demichael and "Armageddon Films FAQ" by Dale Sherman. But my most treasured books are two books that contain reprints of newspaper reviews of drive-in movies by Joe Bob Briggs. (Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In) It was these two books that originally inspired me to inaugurate my own movie blog "The Midnite Drive-In"

    1. Hi Quiggy
      I'm a fan of bad films, too. I haven't read the Official Razzie Movie Guide, but I gravitate to all those "Golden Turkey Award" style film books.
      I'm glad you mentioned "150 Movies You Should See Before You Die" - it's a fun book I remember reading in conjunction with Roger Ebert's "Your Movie Sucks."
      However, the two Joe Bob Briggs collections you mention really sounds up my alley, I remember his syndicated TV show.
      Many of the readers here like good/bad movies, so should you feel of a mind to, drop another line and include a link to your blog. Thanks for suggesting titles for all us fans of movies of questionable merit!

    2. I hope you can find Joe Bob's Drive-In books. I think you'll have a hard time though.... I THINK they are both OOP. The copies that I have are ancient. I was a newspaper carrier for he Dallas Times Herald newspaper which featured his weekly reviews and were very risque at the time, and he was a caustic wit, which ended up getting him fired at DTH. Like I say, the books are just reprints of his weekly columns from the early 80's, but well worth it if you can find them.

    3. Hi Quiggy
      Had no idea about Jo Bob's DTS firing. I just knew he was pretty funny with his B-movie TV show. I even came across one of his books in a used bookstore once.
      I sort of luck out when it comes to hard to find books. my partner works in the California university system, so he has access to all the university libraries throughout the state. if the book can be found in the system at all, he can borrow it for me.
      So I'll keep a look out. Thanks!

  6. Two by Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL: HOLLYWOOD IN THE 1950s (which touches on many of the era's big scandals) and the far superior (IMHO) FURIOUS LOVE: ELIZABETH TAYLOR, RICHARD BURTON, AND THE MARRIAGE OF THE CENTURY. The Liz & Dick book is a look at one of the last (non-criminal) scandals that rocked Hollywood prior to the more permissive late-sixties. Perhaps the most telling anecdote comes in the book's afterword where the authors say they were telling someone they were writing a book about the Taylor-Burton marriage and the person they were talking to replied, "Oh, I didn't know Liz Taylor had been married to Tim Burton!"

    Edward Marguiles and Stephen Rebello: BAD MOVIES WE LOVE. An affectionate look at some of the "best" bad movies. They don't write about the cheapo PLAN 9 type movies; their focus is on BIG BUDGETS, BIG HAIR, BIG MISTAKE (their words). Entire chapters on both Sharon Stone and La Liz, plus a Hall of Fame that spotlights (natch!) MOMMY DEAREST.

    Roger Ebert's annual round-up of all of his reviews for the prior year; he continued to publish these right up until the year he died. I also enjoyed his posthumous LIFE ITSELF, a collection of essays and blog entries about his development as a writer of film criticism.

    I liked Lauren Bacall's first memoir, BY MYSELF; but subsequent volumes were rather draggy affairs.

    As for Michael Caine's WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, I was baffled by what I perceived as an insistent "I'm not gay" subtext. I'd never thought he was gay, but all of the strenuous denial made me wonder....

    And one final comment: when I first had a copy of THE 50 WORST MOVIES OF ALL TIME, I remember it as being written by Harry and Michael Medved. Who is Randy Dreyfus? And why is he referred to as Randy Lowell in some places?). Perhaps Michael Medved's more recent incarnation as a right-wing pundit made him think of his past life as a bad movie connoisseur as being, well, undignified

    1. Hi again
      I like how so many of your favorites jog my memory. I had forgotten how Edward Marguiles and Stephen Rebello picked up the Medved mantle for a while.
      All the books you mention are favorites, the two I don't know are the Liz & Dick book and the one about Hollywood in the 50s.
      I had a similar response to lauren Bacall's memoirs, but in reverse (being more familiar with her post-Bogie career), and that same "I'm not gay" vibe permeates Caine's second book. The worst is when he describes having another of his blessed birthday parties (the man regards his birthday as his favorite day of the year) but in a gay section Florida. He brings up so often the fact that people thought he looked like a woman when he was younger, it sounds like he developed a complex.

      And I know what you mean about the "50 films" Medved book. The two Medved brothers appear exclusively as the authors of those three "Golden Turkey Award" books - harry Medved and his cousin Randy.
      This People magazine article from 1978 states that Michael really-co-authored, but Randy was the driver and got book billing.

      In any event, who would have guessed such a funny writer would turn into a humorless right-wing nutjob?
      Thanks Deb, excellent contributions, all!

  7. The book I'm recommending is of a rather different type than those you mention, which either focus on many movies in a class or many movies of a particular actor. This one is about a single movie: Robertson's "The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film".

    I learned *so much* about the actual making of a movie from this (very entertaining) book. The author is a close enough friend of the Coens that he knows he can ridicule them in print and be forgiven. He takes several scenes from the movie, and asks each of the costumer, art director, and director of photography, "What did you add to this scene?" In each case they say, "Well, I'm pretty sure my contribution is what really made this scene work," and then explain why.

    1. Hi Allen
      I haven't read it myself, but I came across "The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film" while doing an Amazon search. From your description it sounds like an enjoyable and informative book along the lines of ones I've read about the making of Psycho, All About Eve, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and the aforementioned Nashville.
      Filmmaking is such a rarefied sphere (art meets commerce meets dumb luck), I love when books provide a glimpse into the process. Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. Ken,
    When I moved away from Michigan for about 6 years, I sold nearly everything I owned. The only thing I sometimes regret selling are my film books...but I had a spare bedroom filled with them!

    The one book I've always wanted to get my hands on was Joan Crawford's "My Way of Life." Or as I call it, "My Way or the Highway of Life!" You can listen to excerpts of her reading it on You Tube...it sounds like she's giving a Sunday sermon!

    I thought "Easy Riders and Raging Bulls" was a great read, but was amused/bemused that those young Turks, who looked down on old Hollywood filmmakers, were just as arrogant, sexist, and status-seeking as their elders!

    I read Tony's tell-all, too. They shoulda called it: "Tony Curtis: An American Putz!" Ever see him interviewed by TCM's Robert Osborne? What a ego-maniac and mean-spirited, too. I recall him mocking the sympathy Janet Leigh got when he left her for a 16-year-old starlet. Which in turn made me recall an interview Osborne did with Leigh herself, discussing the situation. Even though it was decades later, she still choked up recalling being suddenly discarded, with two small children. Curtis belongs in the Hollywood Schmuck Hall of Fame with Eddie Fisher, William Shatner, and Ryan O'Neal.

    I enjoy William Mann's movie bios, very in-depth and great reads. I have his books on Kate Hepburn, Billy Haines, and "How to Become a Movie Star," about Elizabeth Taylor...though I feel he strains a little in over-comparing her to today's "stars" who use the social media to parlay a "career."

    I also wish Cher would get off Twitter and sit down and write a full-on memoir. She wrote a little book of essays called "The First Time" that was actually intriguing, as far as it went. How many stars can say they've sung with Bob Dylan, danced with the Jackson 5, acted with Streep and Nicholson, and appeared on "Scooby Doo?!" Come on, Cher, before all those National Enquirer covers predicting your death come true!

    Cheers, Ken!

    1. Hi Rick
      For sure a Cher autobiography is long overdue. She is one of the last of those true "survivor" stars and she must have tons of tales to tell. I thought the same would be true of Diana Ross, but her book had a serious case of rose-colored "positivity" glasses that made her distort the past through a prism of "Don't dwell on the negative".
      I have never heard of Cher's "The First Time" so that's an interesting one to look for.

      I haven't yet sold or given away any of my film books, but the day is likely dawning. My love of hardbacks doesn't help.
      I read that Joan Crawford book many years ago, when I was still in high school and had not yet developed an appreciation for unique vision of the world. I remember getting it from a library in Berkeley along with a copy of Bette Davis' "The Lonely Life"...and to think I had had the naivete at the time to think no one knew I was gay.
      I think the only William Mann book I read all the way through was the one on Schlesinger. I tried to get through the Liz Taylor one, but perhaps what you noted got to me as well. Just something about the tone left me feeling I wasn't going to learn anything new. Maybe I should give it another try.
      Thanks for the contributions, Rick...and of course I laughed at your reaction to Tony Curtis' book. Honestly, what a jerk!

  9. Dear Ken, this is a fun idea for a film discussion and your list of film books favourites is great! I've read some of your choices: Schlesinger and Easy Riders (both fascinating and informative). I have on my bookshelf: the Pauline Kael one (I love how she tears into my favourite film "Blow-Up". A very enjoyable piece to read), Richard Burton and 50 Worst Films (which I must have bought when it was new. It's fun but when the Medveds hate a movie they hate very single second of it. Every part of it is bad according them, as I remember).

    My favourite film books in my posession are the big books about films from the different studios written by Clive Hirschorn (The Universal Story, The MGM Story etc.), "Movies of the Sixties" from the early 80's edited by Ann Lloyd, "The Film Encyclopedia" by Ephraim Katz (indispensable before IMDB), "Antonioni or the surface of the world" by Seymour Chatman and "Hollywood Talks Turkey - The Screens Greatest Flops" by Doug McClelleand (lots of fun).

    My modest list of Hollywood biographies consist of: Bette Davis, Clara Bow, David Hemmings, Ali McGraw, Cybill Shepherd (!), Faye Dunaway, Julie Christie and my favourite autobiography is by Marianne Faithfull (sometime actress).

    1. Hi Wille
      What a cool collection of books! I love the big-format books too, great film history stuff. A few of your titles I don't know or haven't read (I know nothing about Marianne Faithful but liked her in that movie where she rides around on a motorcycle in a tight leather suit). I love that you own that Cybill Shepherd autobiography. It actually isn't that bad, although she has a good deal to be more humble about.
      The variety of books you all are contributing is great. Some titles I've forgotten about, others I have to look for. Thanks, Wille!

  10. Argyle, here. An immediate second for Renata Adler’s “A Year in the Dark.” I discovered it in maybe 1977 at college, haunting the stacks (while I should have been doing many other things) and immediately fell under its spell. In my mind’s eye I can still see myself standing in front of the shelf starting to read that slim book. I do not have a copy, and it seems cheating to order it online, but it’s one of a very few books that if I ever run across in a used shop I will absolutely buy. It just stands for a moment in my life sort of like a religious relic. I had read lots of film criticism but her tone and attitude captured me instantly. I wanted to be Renata Adler. I wanted to be that dry and dismissive and smart. I tried. I showed it to my best friend; he was also taken with it. It became sort of the template for our shared aesthetic experience. Which was probably bad because I think I have subsequently learned that you have to be really smart and experienced to be that dry and dismissive. I was not, still aren’t. Also, that kind of attitude can be kind of a cancer for a young, growing person, but at the time it seems like fun. It was a defense mechanism. It can derail into smugness and reflexive rejection. But it’s an incredible book. Years later she wrote a brutal assessment of Pauline Kael’s film criticism. Also look for her portraits by Richard Avedon. What lonely, introverted, inexperienced young man wouldn’t want to be that steely, casual, pony-tailed person? Well, maybe not all but I did. I think Diane Keaton’s character Mary (from Philadelphia) in “Manhattan” is kind of an extension of that persona, at least she was for me. Thanks, Ken.

    I may have to comment again when I get home and look at my bookshelves. Such a big topic. I’ll sign as myself - Bill.

    1. Hello Argyle!
      What a wonderful semi-tribute to Renata Adler, a marvelous critic who never comes up in conversation as much as she should.
      I like that her style captured imagination, and indeed, i think you're right that a certain level of that sort of entertainingly dry attitude should come from an older soul.
      The voices and personalities of the critics of that era were so distinct, it was a joy to read about the same film as seen trough each of these writers' eyes. It certainly made it clear for me how no two people ever see a film in exactly the same way...and that is perfectly fine.
      I look forward to hearing what other film books have meant something to you. Thanks, Argyle! And I'll pretend not to know who you are when you write in again as Bill.

  11. I've read quite a few bios of the Old Hollywood stars - love these. I like Anne Helen Petersen's "Scandals of Classic Hollywood." She started this as a column for Hairpin and turned it into a book. Fascinating stuff.

    One of my favorite books is "Classic Hollywood Style" by Caroline Young. It cover the iconic fashion styles worn in some of the great movies. Think ET's beautiful slip in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Marlon Brando's T in "Streetcar Named Desire," Faye Dunaway's 60's mod in "Thomas Crown Affair." The book covers about 35 movies beginning with "Camille" in 1921 and ending with "Thomas Crown Affair" in 1968. There's lots of gorgeous photos and design sketches, plus some interesting fashion history.

    P.S. Here's hoping you will do a piece on "Chinatown." The cast, the clothes, the cars, the music!!!!

    1. Hi Bella
      I'm unfamiliar with both of your book recommendations, but as they encompass Hollywood scandal and costume design...well, my "to find" list is growing larger!
      I'm particularly glad you brought up a good book on cinema costume design because my partner has designed for movies and TV and stuff (I'm particularly jealous of his years working with David Lee Roth during his hair extension years-a college crush of mine) so I've really developed an appreciation. The book as you describe it sounds terrific.

      And I dearly love the film "Chinatown" and would have covered it long before if I could ever think of an angle on the film not already exhausted. Thanks so much for contributing, Bella!

  12. Argyle here, again. I also loved “Hitchcock/Truffaut.” I would check it out over and over from the library and this was when I had probably only ever seen “The Birds.” I was schooling myself in the event that I would actually be able to see “Rope” or “Under Capricorn” one day. My southern town (not a university town) had a tiny revival house for maybe two years in the mid-70's. I remember seeing several Marx Brothers movies and “Citizen Kane” but don’t recall any Hitchcock playing there. The library had a sporadic film series that usually tended toward musicals but that may be where I first saw “Rebecca.”. Anyway, I think it was an interesting exercise to read about Hitchcock’s technique and have to imagine how it worked. Also, I love the redacted interview format, no editorializing, and you feel like you can hear Hitchcock and Truffaut’s voices in your head. I hadn’t looked at “H/F” in maybe 20 years when recently I saw things about the new documentary (haven’t seen yet) and decided that maybe it would be a good book to give to my high-school age nephew, so I got it from the library. Unfortunately the cover has been redesigned with a ghastly orange color scheme that immediately harshed my mellow. And looking through it I began to question discovering something yourself versus being gifted with something. Then there’s the question of why am I giving someone a copy of something that I loved? Will it mean anything to them, which I think really means, will it mean the same thing to them that it meant to me? It felt like a dead end. So I didn’t order a copy. Who knows?

    The book that I immediately thought of is the book that your blog has always reminded me of: “The Great Movies” by William Bayer from 1973. I think I found this book in a bargain bin in about 1978. It’s pretty unassuming on the outside, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else refer to it. I don’t have it in front of me right now, but I think it covers 60 films, 5 in 12 categories. A lot of the categories are pretty standard - westerns, musicals, period films, comedies, war movies. A few categories have a bit more wiggle room - “Manners, Morals and Society,” “Cinema of Personal Expression” and “The Concerned Cinema.” Each film has an essay by Bayer and a selection of color stills. It’s nicely designed, on nice paper and Bayer’s essays - like yours, Ken - are lucid, thoughtful and very re-readable. A lot of his choices are what you might expect, “Citizen Kane,” “Stagecoach,” “The Rules of the Game,” “Singing in the Rain.” But then it’s seasoned with more idiosyncratic choices, sort of like your blog. And so the overall mix puts things into interesting contexts - what does “The Wizard of Oz” (which of course I had seen countless times) have in common with Godard’s “Weekend” (which I would be years away from seeing)? And that was the main thing, I would read and re-read these essays many times before I would have the chance to see the film, filling in the blanks between the stills, trying to understand something like Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar” decades before I was finally able to see it. Like your blog, there is a sense of the range of film from the very accessible to the obtuse, and a sense of the value of it all separately and in relation to each other. As you have mentioned many times, in the days before videotapes, DVD’s or the internet, you could spend a lot of time reading about a film, imagining it, sort of loving the idea of it, long before you had the chance to actually see it. I hope another commenter is familiar with this book. I’d love to hear someone else’s impression.

    Thanks, Ken.


    1. Hello...Bill

      I know "The Great Movies" only by having seen the cover at libraries. I'm so sorry to have passed it over all these years. I have to seek it out.

      Your anecdote about the Truffaut/Hitchcock book is so full of tiny, uniquely "film lovers" truths. I too balked at the horrid redesign of the cover (what...were they afraid magpies would be attracted to a stark black graphic?), and I've been on that same road where you question whether you really want to share one of your youthful memories with someone who may/may not appreciate them (only mine tends to happen with the gifting of DVDs...like you, I always decide against it).
      Your entire comment is the emotional companion-piece to what these lists of film books is revealing in us all. Those of us of a certain age had no IMDB to run to, often read about a film long before it showed up on the late show, and were guided somewhat by these books in helping us to understand (content and contextually speaking) and that meant something.

      You really wrote a brilliant little-mini essay capturing (for me, at least) what film books meant in the time of not-so-easy access to movies.
      One of the reasons I love "Day of the Locust" and "They Shoot Horses" so much is that they are books about longing. Your comments reminded me what a beautiful longing it was to see a film and not not be able to see it again for some time. How you'd read books, re-read articles, seek out soundtrack albums and haunt movie memorabilia stores; all to feed that longing. Then when the movie came on TV or re-appeared at theaters...it wasn't seeing the same movie again. It was revisiting an experience with a passel of new dreams in your head.

      I must be getting old. I love that DVDs make movies accessible and the internet puts info at my fingertips, but your well-written comment made me miss the "longing" side of the film experience.
      Thank you, honestly. that was brilliant. Argyle

    2. I know I'm heading into "in my day, we had to..." territory here, but while I know our technological advances have allowed all of us to partake of the great (and, let's be honest, not so great) films, what gets lost in this "the moment I want to see it, for the most part, I can" is that sense of anticipation and longing--stoked by reading about these films before we've seen them. I remember poring over the TV Guide every week and circling the movies I wanted to see on the late, late shows, then setting my alarm to get up at 2:00 in the morning to watch a scratchy print of "The Scarlet Empress" or "Shanghai Express" (oh, and how it would hurt when I drifted off to sleep mid-movie and awoke to static on the tv screen!). But how did I know I wanted to see these movies in the first place? From reading books about them!

      So, while I love being able to have instantaneous access to many ( but, as we know, not all) movies, something has certainly been lost!

    3. But it's true, and every passing era should be afforded its "In my day"; for progress brings numerous improvements, with small things (often not valued until they're gone) falling by the wayside.
      My family engaged in the exact same ritual you described...circling notable movies in the TV Guide and setting the alarm for the wee small hours.
      How, when, and under what circumstances we see movies is a part of the experience, I think. Thus I hope the day never comes where I "discover" a film by looking at a 3 by 6 inch image in my palm.

  13. Another vote for Patrick Dennis's LITTLE ME. Hands down, it's the funniest thing I've ever read, even as it spells out truth after truth about the movie business. Turning Hester Prynne into a cheerleader for Allstate College says it all about Hollywood.

    It perfectly skewers celebrity autobiographies of an earlier era, a time when these light offerings never challenged the mores of the day and reading between the lines was at least as important as reading the lines themselves. In 1952, Tallulah Bankhead offered up "Tallulah - My Autobiography." The writing is, at least today, hysterical. Time after time, one will shake one's head and mutter, "Noooo, this never happened." Or, if it did happen, it didn't happen in the complimentary but absurd way Tallulah, or her flattering ghost, recounted the tale. Anecdote after anecdote about life on stage and screen are offered up. But is any of it true?

    Patrick Dennis so effectively lampooned the movie star autobiography that none should ever again dare to step into his enduring cross hairs.

    Also, "Hollywood Babylon." As a youngster in junior high school, I found a hardback copy with the dust jacket on a remainder table at a shopping mall. For a dollar or so, I bought myself all the filth and perversion I could handle in 8th grade. It was great. I still have the book.

    1. Hi George
      It's so odd that I have the entire score of the 1962 Broadway musical adaption of "Little Me" on my ipod, but never once thought to check out the book. I have to rectify that.
      Your mention of Tallulah Bankhead's memoir brings to mind my aversion to stars who play fast and loose with the autobiographical form and turn it into a kind of extended arm of their myth-making. (Liberace comes to mind) No truth in it, just great stories.
      Yes, and I recall "Hollywood Babylon" being so juicy, it was always OUT at the local library. pretty heady stuff for those days!

    2. The Broadway musical is a wonderful slapstick comedy, but it's Neil Simon's comedy. The book is Patrick Dennis, all the way. Both are great, but it oh so very different ways.

  14. Replies
    1. You're so welcome! Fun to hear people recollect their fave film books (and give me ideas).

  15. I love "Movie Star--A Look at the Women Who Made Hollywood" by Ethan Mordden. His observations are so sharp.

    1. Hi Michael
      Wonderful! I've never heard of this book, but my quickie-Google lookover makes it a fascinating recommendation. Thanks!

  16. I loved Hollywood Babylon as well. It took me years to realize that Kenneth Anger was just repeating the juiciest possible scuttlebutt rather than recounting actual history! To this day, I still have to remind myself that Lupe Velez did NOT die with her head in the toilet and Jean Harlow did NOT die from hair bleach seeping into her brain...though I so love the story of Barbara LaMarr keeping a gold casket of cocaine on her grand piano that I can't bring myself to dismiss it. High-living Twenties hedonism at its finest!

    I'm so glad to see Kevin Brownlow's name mentioned here, because he is one of my two Official Heroes (the other is Larry Kramer). In 2011 I was lucky enough to see his glorious restoration of Napoleon at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, and I even got to meet him beforehand to get my copy of The Parade's Gone By signed. We only spoke for a few minutes--starting off with how I was named for my Aunt Lila, who was named after Lila Lee!--but every time I glance at his inscription in my book, I'm filled with wonderment and disbelief in equal measure. Getting to express my heartfelt thanks to him for saving history was one of the greatest moments in my life.

    I'm currently reading Michael Palin's diaries (de rigeur for a lifelong Monty Python fan), though it saddens me to see how frequently anxious and depressive he is; for someone who has brought such joy to my life and helped me cope with my own depression, I hate that he may be beset by 'the black dog' as well--the common trope about comedians being miserable notwithstanding. On a lighter note, I've been a latecomer to the Powell and Pressburger fandom, but I've never found another director/producing team whose films I invariably love. (Back in the 80's/90's, I might have classified Almódovar thusly, but not anymore. I don't know the last time I liked one of his films.) In any case, reading Michael Powell's two-volume autobiography last year gave me wonderful insights into the making of his films. I also can never hear enough stories about Anton Walbrook! ;)

    1. Hi Lila
      You bring up a point I forgot about those "Hollywood Babylon" books; you're right, they were recitations of old gossip, and thus it was years before I could dislodge so many of the "legends" recounted in the book from the truth (Like the Jayne Mansfield beheading myth).
      Wonderful anecdote about meeting Kevin Brownlow and getting a book signed. I remember reading a couple of his books on silents when I was in school.
      The mention of Michael Palin's diaries is good because I'd forgotten about the book. Similarly, my lack of knowledge about British cinema has left a blank where recommendations of books about people like M. Powell and E. Pressburger might be. So, thanks for those contributions.
      And I'm on course with you about Almodovar...movies once so daring, now I can barely wait for them to end.
      Thanks your sharing these unique entries, Lila!

  17. Dear Ken: This is a wonderful post, and I enjoyed reading everyone's responses and recommendations just as much as your comments!

    Like many others above, as a teen and young adult I haunted the film/TV/"entertainment" section of local bookstores. I also attended a large state university, which had an enormous, five-story library and rows and rows of stacks. The film section was gigantic, and I spent hours of my college career (when I might have been studying or getting involved in social events instead) poring over the magical volumes on the shelves there. Like you, I was shy, and film was a wonderful fantasy refuge for me.

    I also recall, as others have, the excitement about seeing a film show up on the late show that for some time I had only read about. Before we owned a VCR, my parents and I would set the alarm for 1 or 3 am to get up to watch some obscure but treasured favorite together. (One instance that stands out in my mind is the three of us watching Doris Day in "April in Paris" from 2 to 4 am the morning after Easter. My dad even took off work the next morning so he could drive me back to college--luckily the campus was less than an hour away.)

    As you know, I tend to gravitate toward films of earlier eras (the 1920s through 1950s mostly), so most of my films books follow suit. I used to have many of the Citadel "Films of. . ." titles. I also owned all of the coffee table studio history books. At one point I went through and made a list of every film from MGM, Warners, RKO, etc. I had not yet seen that I hoped to see someday. I still have the list, and cross out the title when I happen to run across one of those hard-to-see films.

    My husband and I are about to move to a new apartment, and I found myself going through my book collection and, somewhat surprisingly, down-sizing it. I guess now that I own so many of the actual films on DVD, it is less essential for me to read about them!

    P.S. Someone above recommended Ethan Mordden's book about female Hollywood stars. Mordden is a favorite writer of mine, and though his usual focus is opera or Broadway musicals, he has written some highly enjoyable books about film. One you might like is "Medium Cool," about Hollywood films of the 1960s.

    1. Thanks, David!
      Your memory of watching "April in Paris" is really charming. I love stories that reflect how movies are an "experience"...not time-killers, like the whole streaming thing tends to promote (got a long wait for a flight?...stream a movie! Oy!)
      Film books, like soundtrack albums, were once such a big part of the experience of loving films. One could learn a lot, but it wasn't about secrets being given away and demystifying the process. It was the examination of film as pop culture, influence, and art.

      I live within a block of a public library, but it's one of those big, glass affairs devoted to "media": lots of computer consoles and active space, but it seems to have all of 13 bookshelves. You can order books, but what was fun about huge film sections in older libraries was discovering books you had no idea existed.
      I only know Ethan Mordden from having read one of his Broadway books, but I plan to look up "Medium Cool"
      Thanks for the recommendation and for sharing your memories. Hope you've managed to see most of the films on that list!

  18. Hi Ken,
    This a great topic! I would recommend "The Memoirs of an Amnesiac" by Oscar Levant. Lots of anecdotes from Hollywood, Broadway, and the classical music world. He also wrote "The Unimportance of Being Oscar" and "A Smattering of Ignorance", but I think the Memoirs book is the best.

    On another Levant note, if you ever want to do a piece about the movie "Cobweb", with Levant in a small role, I would enjoy reading your take on it! :)


    1. Hello Charlie
      I'm glad you like the topic!And I really like your book recommendation because I know almost nothing about Oscar Levant beyond a few of his screen appearances. I saw him on an episode of The Merv Griffin Show lately, and if anybody seems like they'd have amusing anecdotes to tell, he's the guy.
      I've never seen "The Cobweb" but a reader highly recommended it. I think I missed an opportunity to see it on TCM some time back, but I'll keep my eyes peeled (eeww...where did that phrase ever emanate from?)
      Thanks very much, Charlie!

  19. This post AND the whole comment thread are going to be my go-to reference archive on 'What To Read Next'!
    Excellent, as usual.
    Thank you so much for doing this!

    1. You're so welcome! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the post. And I know what you mean about the comments section - in the past couple of weeks I've picked up about four books suggested by visitors to the blog.
      Thanks very much!

  20. Hi Ken,

    Boy you have been on fire the last month while I have been MIA due to a bout of pleurisy. Now that I’m back on a relatively even keel I’ve got some catching up to do!

    Like you I was, and am, a vociferous reader all around but of books regarding film particularly and I spent endless hours as a kid in bookstores perusing their movie sections. Also like you I just can’t get into e-books, much to my sister’s chagrin-she gave me an e-reader which sits unopened still in my closet. I love the feeling of a book in my hands…the physical realness of it, being able to see the progress I’m making, the smell of the print, it’s a singular experience that I have no interest in losing. Although I do love audio books but that’s a different situation, offering an option separate from being a slave to the radio.

    Your list includes some fascinating titles, some of which I’ve read and some that I’ve added to my Goodreads list. I remember paging through that Busby Berkeley book years ago, probably when it was released, when those type of glossy picture books were all the rage. I don’t own that particular one but I have several of the type, ones on Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and John Garfield are the first to pop to mind. That’s a lovely memory of receiving yours, and such a nice gift. Books were rarely one I received but I think it was more trepidation on my family members part not knowing what I already had.

    I didn’t love that Burton book but parts of it were fascinating, similar to you I was most intrigued by the sections that pertained to his time with Elizabeth Taylor, their time together was such a saga!

    I loved both The Day of the Locust and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They but they are two of the saddest books I’ve ever read especially Horses. I had actually seen the film first and initially was put off by the grinding hopelessness but then read the book and went back with fresh eyes to the movie. It made me appreciate it more though it is so full of despair I’ll never be able to say I enjoyed it.

    Glad to see the recommendation for Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. It’s already on my to read list and your comments on the content make it sound even more intriguing so I’ll have to bump it up! Thanks!

    With regards to your cautions, I’ve attempted to read them all but the Michael Caine book which sounds eminently missable. I share your disappointment in them all save one. I was so let down by Crowning Glory, I sat down with great relish to read it and sped right through it for similar reasons to yours, who the hell was he kiddin’?

    The Debra Winger tome, and the equally dire Goldie Hawn Mud in the Lotus or whatever it was called, is an exercise in torturous navel gazing.

    The boorish classlessness of the Tony Curtis book was a huge disappointment. It reeked of both egocentric bravado and score settling. I thought he was often a much better actor than he was credited with because of his youthful beauty, I actually just saw Flesh and Fury the other day where he plays a deaf boxer with great sensitivity (in an extremely snug singlet and short short boxing trunks!) but he came across as a total pig in private.

    The one that I thought was okay was Raquel’s book. True it wasn’t what I was hoping for but once I realized it was a combo bio and fitness deal I took it for what it was and did find points of interest. Since I know nothing of wigs I found her discussions of the importance of a good one and what that involves interesting. Some of her maintenance advice was good as well, my sister and nieces went on the hunt for “frownies” as soon as I mentioned them and have used them ever since. Also unlike someone like Suzanne Somers she’s not trying to sell you something so her advice was grounded in practicality, use what works best for YOU not what costs the most. I would have loved to hear about the contretemps of Myra Breckinridge, Fathom etc. but it was a harmless read, I’ve suffered though much worse.

    1. Joel
      I'm so sorry to hear you weren't feeling well. I hope you are feeling better now.
      From your comments I gleaned that you perhaps were pretty well-read when it came to film, and I see that to be the case.
      Enjoyed having you share your thoughts on the books in question, along with our shared attitude towards books.
      Wonderful thoughts on the Raquel Welch and Tony Curtis books, and thanks for reminding me of that terrible Goldie Hawn book. That was a HUGE disappointment!

  21. Now to a list of my favorites, there are so many but I’ll try to keep it brief. I know…good luck but here goes:
    I guess the easiest way is to list them by type (Following your rule I’ve only listed those I own):

    Favorite auto-biographies:
    Ava-Ava Gardner & Veronica-Veronica Lake-They both came across as down to earth, plain speaking-if troubled-broads.

    Me & My Shadows-Lorna Luft-For the chaotic upbringing she had she’s very clear eyed about both the extraordinarily wonderful times she had as well as the grindingly awful and seems remarkably together and likable.

    Tab Hunter: Confidential-Tab Hunter-He’s so straightforward and honest about what it was like to be gay and famous in the 50’s, just fascinating.

    Swanson on Swanson-That Gloria, she was a pistol!

    Honorable mentions: Actress-Elizabeth Ashley, Call Me Anna-Patty Duke, Self-Portrait-Gene Tierney, Life is a Banquet-Rosalind Russell, Being and Becoming-Myrna Loy, Intermission-Anne Baxter, My Story-Ingrid Bergman, What Falls Away-Mia Farrow, Uncommon Knowledge-Judy Lewis, Bring on the Empty Horses-David Niven, Child Star-Shirley Temple

    Ginger: My Story-Ginger Rogers & Tis Herself-Maureen O’Hara-Neither came across as particularly likeable women and my estimation of both was less when I had finished.

    Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister-Evelyn Keyes-I give her that she was unflinchingly honest but by the end it all seemed terribly seedy.

    Favorite Biographies:
    Vivien Leigh-Anne Edwards-I’ve read a few of her but this comes closest to giving a sense of who Leigh was, both good and bad.

    If This Was Happiness…-Barbara Leaming-Talk about perception vs. reality! Heartbreaking, sad and honest portrait of Rita Hayworth’s deeply troubled life.

    Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild-David Stenn-Well researched and compassionate without making Clara an ideal. He really explores the environments that made Clara the incredibly complex woman she was. An absorbing read.

    Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool-Peter Turner-Fascinating slice of one part of Gloria Grahame’s life (nearing the end), with brief looks back at the rest, by someone who was involved in it. An odd, individual contradictory woman.

    Played Out-David Richards-A chronicle of the promise of Jean Seberg and the forces that lead to her destruction.

    The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses-Patrick Agan-A collection of short bios of ten stars who had a hard time of it including Linda Darnell, Betty Hutton and Dorothy Dandridge.

    **There is one that I don’t own, I borrowed it from the library, but that I recommend “Backstage You Can Have” by Betty Hutton-Though it was completed by someone else about ¾ of the book was written by Hutton and she is unflinchingly honest about her almost Dickensian childhood and rough path through stardom. Some of the stories are jaw droppers.

    Honorable Mentions: Haywire-Brooke Hayward (the story of her life as the child of Margaret Sullavan & Leland Hayward), Hot Toddy-Andy Edmonds, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson-Robert Hofler

    Balancing Act-Martin Gottfried (Angela Lansbury) & Pretty Poison-Floyd Conner (Tuesday Weld)…Puff pieces.

    General film:
    Alternate Oscars-Danny Peary-Looks at three main categories (Best Picture, Actor and Actress) from the start of the awards to 1991 who won and who the author feels should have won with a critical opinion for each. This is one I return to often.

    All About All About Eve & When Blanche Met Brando-Sam Staggs

    The Celluloid Closet-Vito Russo

    The Movie Makers-Sol Chaneles and Albert Wolsky-In the pre-internet days when I bought this, for the then princely sum of 19.95, this was an invaluable reference for a neophyte movie buff such as myself because it contained brief bios of 2,500 performers, directors, moguls etc. It more than any other let me discover something about the faces on the screen. And it was illustrated!!!! Priceless.

    Okay sorry to ramble on so let us just say I enjoyed this article and hope my suggestions may lead to something you might like.

    1. Wow! Although I've read several of the same books (and feel largely the same baout them) you've provided me with many many additions to the already long list of wanna-read books I've compiled from this comments section. You make the Ava Gardner and Gloria Grahame books sound particularly good.
      Happily, my partner has taught at Cal State for the last 25 years, so through him I have access to all the Calif University libraries, so I have a good chance of checking out all the ones I've noted. I'm stoked!
      Thanks for your brilliant selection of titles.
      And once again, glad to have you back with us!

  22. Ah yes, "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time". Dated now, but it remains the best-researched book on that particular topic. The Medveds' later "The Hollywood Hall of Shame", which retells the backstories of infamous box-office bombs up through 1982, is also great fun -- although a lot of its humor is punching down, especially by modern standards (fat-shaming, homophobia, etc.). But I can't wholly dismiss any tome that has perhaps the only comprehensive rundown of the making of 1976's "The Blue Bird" around. James Robert Parish's "Fiasco" is another good tome on this particular topic, less snarky about it, and digs up some real obscurities' backstories (1975's "The Wild Party" for instance).

    1. Hello Miss Rori
      Thanks for adding "Fiasco" to this list! I enjoyed that book a great deal, specifically for "The Wild Party" segment. The Medved books spawned a lot of imitators, but as you say, few are as well-researched ...which is where the real fun comes in, anyway; learning how these films went so seriously off the rails.
      And "The Blue Bird"...seems like an entire tome could be devoted to that little disaster gem. Thank you very much for commenting and adding another favorite to the list!

  23. my favorite book that i purchase for one dollar in the books-a-million bargain bin that also foolishly left in a florida hotel on a business trip, tv sirens by michael mcwilliams.

    1. That's a title I'm unfamiliar with and had to Google. Although it's about television, I see that most of the stars covered had long film careers (Stanwyk) or glancing ones (Victoria Principal). Thanks for contributing another title!

  24. Hi Ken-
    This was a great idea for a blog post. So many potential interesting reads from you and your readers! Since I'm a big fan of so-bad-it's-good, I immediately gravitated towards the Medved's Fifty Worst Films tome...but I'm intrigued by many others.
    On a related note the film books I tend to repeatedly enjoy are:
    Bad Movies We Love by Edward Margulies & Stephen Rebello
    The Official Razzie Movie Guide by John Wilson
    The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film by Michael Weldon

    I also offer another vote for the series of Cult Movies books by Danny Peary. Like with many film critics one may not agree with his opinion but the films discussed are a cool cross section. The only book of his I still own is Alternate Oscars, since I really like the premise.

    1. Hey Pete
      Those are all terrific books! It's nice that, among all the academic, cineaste, and film theory authors, there are so many out there willing to write about bad film, cult films, and obscurities.
      I might be wrong, but I think you're the one who alerted me to Rebello's VALLEY OF THE DOLL book--which I devoured way too quickly.
      Thank you adding to our list of favorite movie books!

    2. I wasn't, but as a big fan of that film (everyone loves how she screams her own name at the end, but for me it's when she scream/yells "TED!" that I lose it) I'll most certainly add it towards the top of my must read list... You don't have to ruin the surprise, but does the book explain what "after midnight, all cats are grey" means? Lol.