I’m a sucker for anything to do with Walt Disney. This handsomely designed volume documents his many travels, including a stint as an ambulance driver in France in 1918, the now-famous expedition to Central and South America in 1941, a return to Marceline, Missouri with his brother Roy in the 1950s, and numerous vacations with his wife Lillian. (One of those trips, to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, helped to solidify his thoughts about building a theme park, while a later visit to Switzerland inspired the Matterhorn attraction.) This book is packed with rare, candid photos—some right out of a family album—and assorted ephemera that covers nearly half a century.
As I am quoted on the dust jacket and a number of times within the text I can hardly be objective about this latest endeavor from Tony Slide. He has a fairly narrow—but not inaccurate—definition of the prototypical film buff and it is not flattering, to say the least. Some readers may object to his dogmatic views but he has captured the “cinemaddicts” of a certain time and place who were the ultimate film fanatics. Exceptional people like William K. Everson and Herb Graff come in for justifiable praise. Some of his anecdotes are hilarious, others strange, but Tony is nothing if not honest about these oddballs, many of whom I knew. I also cannot deny that I am cut from the very same cloth.
This exhaustive book should draw interest from film buffs and baseball aficionados alike. Aside from chronicling the show-business careers of such notable athletes as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Reggie Jackson and players who enjoyed successful acting careers like Chuck Connors and John Beradino, there are essays on such topics as Ron Shelton: On Cobb, Bull Durham and Baseball On-Screen, Big Leaguer: A Small-Time Film with Big Personalities, and Ball Four, The Television Series: Ahead of Its Time? Brimming with information and rare photos, this looks like a home run to me. (Baseball buff Rob Edelman was a valued contributing editor to my Movie Guide for decades.)
It’s an unusual feeling to see aspects of my own life transformed into history, as Tony Slide has done [above], following A Thousand Cuts by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph, which also deals with the strange world of film collectors. Now comes a chronicle of the New York specialty theaters that shaped at least two generations of movie buffs and scholars. They are gone but not forgotten: temples to the Gods of cinema with names like The New Yorker, The Thalia, The Bleecker Street Cinema, and later, The Regency, and Theater 80 St. Marks, among others. Historians of the future will thank Ben Davis for having rolled up his sleeves to tell the stories of these establishments, which were often as idiosyncratic as their customers.
A compelling actress who was equally at home in heavy dramas and sophisticated comedies, Miriam Hopkins is due for rediscovery and this book may serve as a linchpin. Author Ellenberger had the cooperation of the actress’ daughter, son-in-law and grandson as well as many friends and colleagues—not to mention a 100-page file maintained by the FBI. Her friend Tennessee Williams referred to her as “a magnificent bitch,” a role she seemed to relish when pitted against her supposed rival Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance. With pages of sources to verify his extensive research, Ellenberger has tried to bring the public and private Miriam Hopkins to life in this welcome biography.
Although its glory years were in the past, MGM enjoyed a last hurrah in the 1960s as the studio behind such popular shows as Dr. Kildare, The Man from U.N.C.L.E and Mr. Novak, a serious-minded drama that tackled challenging issues on a weekly basis. I was a dedicated fan and remember the program with fondness. Harter has done yeoman service in tracing the history of the series, interviewing actors who were guest stars alongside series regulars James Franciscus and Dean Jagger, and providing an exhaustive episode guide. Anyone with even a passing interest in Mr. Novak, or the workings of network television in the 60s, should find this a valuable resource.
In the early 1970s film scholarship was still in its (relative) infancy, hampered by the difficulty of gaining access to the films themselves. At the University of Texas, Austin, a group of ambitious graduate students took on the challenge of writing program notes for a wide-ranging film series, based on fresh viewings of the movies. (The original notes had complete credits, transcribed directly from 16mm prints, as well as “suggested reading” lists.) Many bright young people engaged in this enterprise from 1972 to 1986, including my old friend Louis Black, who went on to co-found the weekly newspaper The Austin Chronicle. He and several colleagues have read over hundreds of notes on films ranging from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance to Robert Altman’s Nashville in order to publish this collection, the first of a promised series. There is also a nostalgia for the time and place these essays evoke, before the emergence of home video and streaming. Contributor Charles Ramirez Berg accurately describes them as “love letters to the cinema” and they are well worth reading.
Finally, a pair of books that don’t relate to movies but spotlight the voices (and experiences) of two remarkable women I happen to know. Nell Scovell’s JUST THE FUNNY PARTS (Dey Street Books) is a lively, sardonic, often hilarious journal of a talented writer-director-producer whose credits range from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, which she created, to such TV shows as Late Night with David Letterman, Murphy Brown, and The Simpsons. When the Letterman sex scandal broke in 2009 she had the guts to speak out, long before there was solidarity to back her up. Scovell talks honestly, sometimes achingly, about the challenge of being the only woman on a writing staff. This is eye-opening material that transcends the world of show-business. A highlight is her correspondence with the great director Arthur Penn, who gave her sound, practical advice on her first directorial effort when it seemed like the crew was out to sabotage her. His pithy remarks are a master class in miniature form. Most of all, Just the Funny Parts is enormously entertaining.
I first met Judy Carmichael where many Southern California musicians land their first jobs: Disneyland. I’d read about the emergence of a female pianist who played stride piano in the manner of Fats Waller. Surely there couldn’t be two young women playing that difficult music so effortlessly, so I approached the young lady in Gay 90s garb at Coke Corner and asked if she was indeed Judy Carmichael. We’ve been friends ever since; I’ve even appeared on her long-running radio show (and podcast) Jazz Inspired. Now comes a well-written, disarmingly funny memoir called SWINGER! A JAZZ GIRL’S ADVENTURES FROM HOLLYWOOD TO HARLEM (CreateSpace). Judy is a natural storyteller and there couldn’t be a better tale to spin than her own. A straight-A student who also won beauty pageants in her teens, she had to move from California to New York to be taken seriously…but it didn’t take long for jazz veterans to take her under their wing. That’s how good she is. And now I know that she’s as talented a writer as she is a musician.