First, to all of you who have told me that you miss having my annual Movie Guide to use as a stocking-stuffer, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You helped keep the book alive for many years. I would remind you that we do have a new 3rd edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide now available, presented by TCM. It’s a perfect gift for anyone who loves old movies. And four of my vintage film books—Selected Short Subjects, The Great Movie Comedians,The Real Stars, and Don Miller’s B Movies—are now available in e-book and print-on-demand form from Amazon. The physical books are surprisingly good-looking, and the e-books are very reasonably priced at $3.99.
As for the flood of other publications, I’ve only had time to read three of them straight through (so I could provide endorsement quotes). The other listings below are merely descriptive, based on a quick browse…but they all look worthwhile to me. I’ll have more for you tomorrow.
DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS: THE FIRST KING OF HOLLYWOODby Tracey Goessel (Chicago Review Press)
There have been other good books written about Douglas Fairbanks, but after devoting herself to this indelible star for years, Goessel has amassed a cornucopia of material that makes her biography more personal and thorough than any other to date. She even acquired Fairbanks’ love letters to Mary Pickford and quotes from them liberally. In graceful prose she charts Doug’s amazing career and his enduring influence on our popular culture: I knew that Batman creator Bob Kane was inspired byThe Mark of Zorro, but didn’t realize that Superman’s emblematic pose, hands astride his hips, also came from Fairbanks. At the same time, she debunks a number of myths and legends to reveal Doug as a man with foibles and faults. Even if you know—or think you know—everything concerning this towering figure of film history, I highly recommend this book, and I daresay you will come away with a greater appreciation of his many achievements.
THE COMEDIANS: DRUNKS, THIEVES, SCOUNDRELS AND THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN COMEDY by Kliph Nesteroff (Atlantic Grove Press)
This is one of the best books I’ve ever read about show business. Nesteroff has been conducting exhaustive interviews with veteran comics—both famous and obscure—for the past decade, which he posts online atclassicshowbiz.blogspot.com/. From that wealth of first-hand material, and extensive research in trade papers likeVariety, he has amassed a dishy, informal, and knowledgeable history of comedy in vaudeville, radio, early television, the post-WWII nightclub era, late-night TV, and podcasts. The topics of radio and vaudeville are too huge to cover comprehensively, but Nesteroff is at his best in the nightclub and early-TV chapters, where he offers straight talk about how people got ahead, dealt with mob connections to show business, and competed with one another, often in cutthroat terms. This is straight talk about largely undocumented areas of show business and it is utterly fascinating. I feasted on this book and look forward to a possible sequel.
I BLAME DENNIS HOPPER AND OTHER STORIES FROM A LIFE LIVED IN AND OUT OF THE MOVIES by Illeana Douglas (Flatiron Books)
Actress Illeana Douglas is known for her work in films and television and respected for her reverence of movie history, instilled in her (to some degree) by her grandfather, Melvyn Douglas. In this candid memoir she takes us back to her childhood and spins tales of a free spirit in search of her path in life. She also shares evocative memories of visiting her grandfather on the set of Being There. Her experiences breaking into show business are equally insightful, poignant and amusing. In other words, this is a “good read.”
THE CHARLIE CHAPLIN ARCHIVES edited by Paul Duncan (Taschen)
Imagine being given free rein to go through Charlie Chaplin’s personal and professional memorabilia. That’s the gift that Paul Duncan was given in order to assemble this enormous, expensive, and impressive tome (in the same oversized format with which Taschen publishers saluted Billy Wilder’sSome Like It Hot and Stanley Kubrick). Aided and abetted by film historians and vintage sources, Duncan traces the chronology of Chaplin’s career, beginning on stage and continuing through his final film, A Countess From Hong Kong. You’ll find daily production reports, art directors’ set designs, rare photos, stills showing deleted scenes, and an appendix that documents Chaplin’s unrealized film projects. (One photo of Chaplin and Stan Laurel during a cross-country trip with the Fred Karno troupe is almost worth the price of this book by itself.) A gift book if there ever was one, this beautifully designed volume invites repeated visits.
THE CHARLEY CHASE SCRAPBOOK compiled by Brian Anthony and Bill Walker (Walker and Anthony Publications)
A growing number of aficionados have come to appreciate Charley Chase as one of the unsung heroes of silent and early-sound comedy. Author Anthony got to know Chase’s daughter and grandson and is now sharing never-before-seen photos and clippings from his scrapbooks in this handsome volume, light on text but heavy on beautifully-reproduced pictures. (I wish more of them were fully captioned, but that’s my only quibble.) If you care about Charley Chase, consider this a must.
HOLLYWOOD CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS 1920-1970 by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory (Schiffer)
If you’ve followed this website for any length of time you know I’m a sucker for publicity stills showing starlets of the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s promoting every holiday on the calendar, from New Year’s Eve to July 4th and beyond. This handsome, well-designed book gathers scores of such stills, many of which I’ve never seen before. The authors also provide the original promotional copy that accompanied them when the studios sent them out to newspapers and magazines. In these pages you’ll find everyone from Clara Bow to Buster Keaton, from the Our Gang kids to Ann-Margret….mostly in black & white but also in color. I find all of this irresistible.
TOONS IN TOYLAND: THE STORY OF CARTOON CHARACTER MERCHANDISE by Tim Hollis (University Press of Mississippi)
Here’s a tantalizing nostalgia trip for readers of a certain age. Hollis conjures up vivid memories of comic books, picture puzzles, records, books, drinking glasses, board games, and toys of all sorts that were produced for baby boomers (like me) who grew up hooked on cartoons. Most books of this kind focus on Disneyana of the 1930s, but Hollis documents the television era when he and I grew up. TV gave new life to animated shorts from the 1930s and ’40s (Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, etc.) before launching stars of its own (Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones). The one thing they had in common was licensing and merchandising. The text traces the history of this phenomenon, while the color photos bring back memories of toys I, for one, wish I’d held onto.
BEFORE EVER AFTER: THE LOST LECTURES OF WALT DISNEY’S ANIMATION STUDIO by Don Hahn and Tracey Miller-Zarneke (Disney Editions)
Every student of Disney history knows that Walt hired an art teacher named Don Graham away from the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in the 1930s to help coach and train his staff for the production ofSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But how many of us have had the opportunity to read transcripts of those lectures and others delivered by the studio’s leading artists, as well as guest speakers like architect Frank Lloyd Wright? You’ll find all of that and more in this generous, oversized, well-illustrated volume which reproduces the lectures as they were handed out to staff members in the 1930s, on hole-punched animation paper. Bravo to longtime Disney producer Hahn and Miller-Zarneke for making all of this available.
STUNTWOMEN: THE UNTOLD HOLLYWOOD STORY by Mollie Gregory (University Press of Kentucky)
Gregory has conducted more than sixty interviews in order to compile this history of the most underrated women in the movie business…from the era of silent-screen heroines like Helen Gibson and Helen Holmes right up to the present day. Along the way, these athletes and daredevils faced sexual discrimination, condescension, harassment, and other barriers to building legitimate careers alongside their male counterparts. This chronicle is long overdue and Gregory seems to have found the right people to help tell the tale. Endorsements from Kevin Brownlow and Anthony Slide certainly point in that direction.
More books tomorrow…and don’t forget my e-books and print-on-demand reissues of these titles: