I’m happy to present a survey of recently published film and show-business-related books in order to spread the word, especially during this gift-giving season. These are not reviews, as I’ve only had time for a quick skim, but I feel confident that all of the following are worth your time and money. And yes, there are more to come…so stay tuned.
CECIL B. DeMILLE: THE ART OF THE HOLLYWOOD EPIC by Cecilia de Mille Presley and Mark A. Vieira; introduction by Martin Scorsese; foreword by Brett Ratner (Running Press)
This lavishly produced book is worthy of its subject: a giant volume celebrating the work of a man who looms over film history, larger than life. Historian and photographer Vieira has culled stunning stills and conceptual artwork from the DeMille archives and photographed surviving props and costumes to illustrate his lively, anecdotal text. The director’s loving granddaughter has added her vivid memories of the man she knew and her visits to his movie sets. Scorsese, ever the enthusiast, shares his earliest memories of seeing DeMille movies on a theater screen before discovering his groundbreaking work in the silent era. Whether you choose to read or simply browse, this beautiful tome is well worth owning.
HOLLYWOOD FRAME BY FRAME: THE UNSEEN SILVER SCREEN IN CONTACT SHEETS 1951-1997 by Karina Longworth (Princeton Architectural Press)
Why has no one thought of this before? There is an inherent fascination in looking at the uncensored results of a professional shutterbug taking successive images on a movie set or location. As Longworth observes in her erudite introduction, “Given the great artificiality of moviemaking and the role still photography plays in, essentially, selling lies, it’s all the more remarkable to see the moments of spontaneity or misstep that are often visible in the outtakes, right alongside images deemed supportive of the facade, and thus commercially useful. Contact sheets show aspects of moviemaking that someone—a star, a producer, a publicity department, a photographer—didn’t want us to see.” Here are unfiltered, behind-the-scenes looks at James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and scores of others right through the era of Francis Coppola and Woody Allen. Some of these snaps were taken by well-known lensmen like Eliot Elisofon, Bob Willoughby, Sid Avery, Peter Stackpole, Cecil Beaton, Gjon Mili, Terry O’Neill, Steve Schapiro, and Brian Hamill, while others are the work of anonymous studio journeymen. I find the earlier examples, from the waning days of the studio system, most interesting, but there are no dull pages in this mesmerizing book.
STYLING THE STARS: LOST TREASURES FROM THE 20th CENTURY FOX ARCHIVE by Angela Cartwright and Tom McLaren; foreword by Maureen O’Hara (Insight Editions)
Here’s another tantalizing glimpse behind the scenes of a Hollywood movie factory: wardrobe and makeup test shots from the Fox archives, along with candid on-set photos featuring the stars being prepared for duty by makeup artists, hair stylists, and costumers. In a word, wow! There are valuable glimpses from the 1930s and ’40s featuring Shirley Temple, Tyrone Power, Betty Grable, and other Fox contract stars, but the real goodies emerge in the 1950s and ’60s, with never-before-seen images of Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Susan Hayward, Elizabeth Taylor, and scores of others. A casual shot of Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn posing casually on location in their wardrobe for The Sun Also Rises is worth its weight in gold, but it’s just one of many in this oversized volume. Co-author Cartwright remembers her experiences as a child actress in such films as The Sound of Music, trying on costumes and posing for the photographer, which helps turn back the pages of time (as does Maureen O’Hara’s foreword). The parade of photos continues through the late 1960s and early 1970s, through the era of Planet of the Apes, Patton, Myra Breckinridge, and Valley of the Dolls (with a wardrobe shot of Judy Garland, when she was still working on the picture). This is another coffee-table book that’s hard to pull away from once you dip into it.
We’ve already had a massive, visually-oriented volume celebrating the work of master designer Saul Bass: here, Horak (director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive) takes a careful, well-considered look at the influences, methodology, and personal peccadilloes of the man who changed the face of movie advertising and main titles from the 1950s onward. Horak’s scholarly text reveals Bass’ process and elaborates on his approach to key assignments for such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, and Billy Wilder, right up through his late-in-life collaboration with Martin Scorsese. There is much to learn here, and I speak as a lifelong Saul Bass fan.
KING VIDOR’S THE CROWD: THE MAKING OF A SILENT CLASSIC by Jordan R. Young; foreword by Kevin Brownlow (Past Times Publishing Co.)
After coming upon an unpublished article he wrote decades ago, based on interviews with director King Vidor and actress Eleanor Boardman, Jordan Young has expanded that piece into a slender but valuable softcover book on one of the greatest of all silent films. From a variety of sources, he has produced an estimable account of how the groundbreaking 1928 movie came about and where it fits in Vidor’s extraordinary career. With rare photos, biographical information about the director’s colleagues, on both sides of the camera, and articles from the time of the film’s release—and a typically eloquent foreword by Kevin Brownlow—this marks a significant contribution to silent-film scholarship.
A talented photographer, Lankes has documented the twelve-year journey that brought Boyhood to the screen. Richard Linklater’s remarkable and unprecedented film, which follows a boy from age 6 to 18, deserves no less. Although there are brief, interesting essays by the filmmaker and several of his collaborators, this is more a photograph album than a typical “making-of” volume. As it turns out, visually documenting the principals over the course of more than a decade proves to be eloquent in itself. Appropriately enough, it is the young man who stars in Boyhood, Ellar Coltrane, who best articulates the movie’s message when he writes, “There is beauty in the mundane.”
If he is remembered at all, Ted Healy is known as the man who assembled the trio that came to be known as The Three Stooges. Little is known about the comedian himself, a boyhood friend of Moe Howard who went on to achieve considerable success on stage and screen. Bill Cassara, a retired police Internal Affairs sergeant, has employed his investigative skills and keen interest in movie comedy to research biographies of Edgar Kennedy and second-banana Vernon Dent. Now he turns his attention to Healy and comes up with “the goods.” He even devotes an entire chapter to the rumors and lore surrounding his mysterious death in 1937. Comedy buffs will welcome this thorough biography, filled with rare photos and newspaper clippings, along with a wonderful new drawing of Healy by Drew Friedman.
As one of the seminal pop-culture creations of 20th century, Mickey Mouse has inspired a wide range of thoughts and essays. Art historian Garry Apgar has collected (and deftly annotated) a wide range of these pieces from around the globe. They bear such notable bylines as E.M. Forster, Diego Rivera, Gilbert Seldes, John Updike, Stephen Jay Gould, Terry Ramsaye, Irving Wallace, Maurice Sendak, and Walt Disney himself. It is endlessly fascinating to see how Mickey was regarded at the time of his arrival on screen in 1928 and in the decades since.
I should not be so foolish as to avoid plugging my own efforts: the 2015 edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which marks the end of our long run, is available in pocket-size from Signet and a larger format from Plume, and Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, a possible gift for the film buffs in your life—especially if they spend a lot of time watching TCM and other vintage-movie channels.