CARTOON VOICES OF THE GOLDEN AGE, 1930-1970 Volumes 1 and 2 by Keith Scott (BearManor Media)
This is not so much a book as a life’s work for its author, a lifelong cartoon fanatic who wound up providing voices for cartoons himself. (His dead-on rendering of Bullwinkle J. Moose earned him a gig opposite June Foray for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, released in the year 2000.) Decades of intensive research have resulted in an information-packed chronicle of American cartoon shorts and the often-uncredited performers who provided their speaking and singing voices. Scott devotes separate chapters to the key animation studios of the theatrical cartoon era: Warner Bros., MGM, Columbia, UPA, Walter Lantz, Walt Disney, and Max Fleischer, with addenda covering the first generation of TV animation. Because he spoke to so many people who worked during this era, he has accumulated personal, first-hand material that hasn’t made its way into more conventional histories (including my book Of Mice and Magic). I learned a great deal, and while some of those discoveries might fall under the heading of minutiae, the cumulative effect is remarkable. A separate, second volume is an Index book, offering filmographies with voice credits.
MOVIE DAD: FINDING MYSELF AND MY FAMILY, ON SCREEN AND OFF by Paul Dooley (Applause)
I’ve been following Paul Dooley’s career from the time I saw the original Broadway production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple to the present day. I’ve talked to him about his reverence for Buster Keaton and the great silent comedians as well as his fondness for vaudeville. Given that, I knew his autobiography would be entertaining, but I didn’t anticipate the human drama it portrays so vividly. He grew up in a house his father built, by himself, in Parkersburg, West Virginia; there was no indoor plumbing. His father was taciturn and remote, which wouldn’t seem to inspire a boy to become a performer…but did. Later, in the midst of a successful career writing and performing radio commercials and appearing on stage and television in New York, he experienced a turn of events that can only be described as devastating. I don’t mean to tease but I dare not reveal the details. Suffice it to say that Paul rebounded and enjoyed even greater success on screen in films like Breaking Away, Sixteen Candles, and a raft of Robert Altman movies—one of which (A Perfect Couple), though little seen, offered him a starring role. But what gives Movie Dad a truly happy ending is the fact that Paul is still working and collaborating with his talented wife Winnie Holzman, author of the book of the stage musical Wicked. Movie Dad is the odyssey of what we used to call “a working actor” who just happens to have other creative outlets. It’s well worth reading.
WALT DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK: MAKING A MASTERPIECE by Andreas Deja (Walt Disney Family Museum)
This lavish, beautifully printed volume was conceived as a companion piece to an elaborate exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Deja was inspired to become an animator by The Jungle Book and grew to become a master of his craft, with films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King to his credit. The exhibit, and this book, have been a passion project through which he can share his knowledge of the work that went into crafting that 1967 feature. Few people are as eloquent in describing the distinctive drawing styles of Walt Disney’s celebrated Nine Old Men. In images and text, Deja leads us through the development and production of the film that would be the last one created under Disney’s leadership. This is a beautiful book in every sense of the word.
DORIS DAY: IMAGES OF A HOLLYWOOD ICON Compiled and edited by Jim Pierson and Lea Price; foreword by Sir Paul McCartney (Hermes Press)
This handsome coffee-table book promises “photographs from her private collection” and delivers the goods in high fashion: hundreds of images of the actress and singer from childhood onward, including candid shots in black & white and color from every decade of her life, on-screen and off. Laudatory quotes from friends and co-workers dot the pages, along with essays by film noir guru Eddie Muller, performer and musicologist Michael Feinstein, and Bob Bashara, the CEO of Doris Day Animal Foundation. There is even a charming, personal foreword by her friend and fan Paul McCartney. This is a must-have for any Doris Day devotee.
I WAS A TEENAGE MONSTER HUNTER! By Sam Irvin; foreword by Cassandra Peterson (Knuckle Samwitch)
This splashy oversized paperback reprints the author’s interviews and encounters with Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and other legends of the horror/sci-fi/fantasy world that first appeared in his fanzine Bizarre. Sam is one of the Monster Kids like me who grew up on Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, except that he went on to carve a career for himself as a director of made-for-TV movies, as well as Elvira’s Haunted Hills. Sam also earns my envy as the winner of four Rondo Awards. (If you have to ask who Rondo was, never mind.). A proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sam’s personality marks every page of this entertaining, dishy compilation, which is packed with photos and amusing illustrations by cartoonist Dan Gallagher.
HOLLYWOOD: THE ORAL HISTORY by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson (HarperCollins)
Drawing on decades of interviews and oral histories conducted by the American Film Institute, the authors have created a running narrative of Hollywood history. Under such headings as Beginnings, Sound!, Studio Style, and The Studio Workforce up through New Hollywood and The Deal we can appreciate events covering more than one hundred years from a variety of perspectives. Having spent most of my time with this book’s first chapters, it is clear that early directors were great storytellers—and not just on film. How they measure up against modern-day filmmakers will depend on the reader’s preferences and prejudices. Hollywood: The Oral History covers a lot of ground and makes for good reading. I recommend digesting it in chunks rather than trying to swallow it whole.
LAWRENCE TIERNEY: HOLLYWOOD’S REAL-LIFE TOUGH GUY by Burt Kearns (University Press of Kentucky)
I daresay that no one who met Lawrence Tierney will ever forget him. The onetime leading man had a titanic temper and a weakness for alcohol. Luckily, my encounters with him were sober and nonviolent. (He even shared a nice memory of Edgar Kennedy, who offered him a pick-me-up drink after he returned to his dressing room soaking wet from shooting a rain scene.) Most Tierney anecdotes are not so benign, which guarantees that this book will not be dull. I’ve only had time to skim the text but Kearns has dug deep and crafted a colorful account of the actor’s tumultuous life and career.
THE IMAGINEERING STORY: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING by Leslie Iwerks with Bruce C. Steele and special contributions by Mark Catalena (Disney Editions)
This hefty (730-page) hardcover should satisfy any reader or researcher who has ever wondered about the origin, execution, or extinction of a ride or attraction at Disneyland and the other Disney theme parks around the world. In addition to being the daughter of one Imagineer (Don Iwerks) and the granddaughter of another (the pioneering Ub Iwerks), the author spent six years educating herself in order to make the epic documentary series The Imagineering Story for Disney+. With help from some expert colleagues she has produced a book that I daresay is definitive.
BALLERINA ON A HORSE: THE LIFE, CAREERS AND TIMES OF NELL O’DAY by Merrill T. McCord (Alhambra Press)
Who exactly was Nell O’Day and why is there an entire book devoted to her? As the author explains in his introduction, she was “one of the most multitalented performers in the history of entertainment. She was a singer, a dancer, a vaudevillian, an actress in four venues [stage, theatrical films, industrial films, television], a model, a daring equestrienne, a scenarist, a playwright, a magazine author and editor, and a ghost writer, all wrapped up in her 5-foot-3-inch 105-pound frame. And for almost four decades, she entertained millions of all ages in all walks of life, not only in America but also abroad.” McCord first admired her as Johnny Mack Brown’s unflinching, horse-riding leading lady in his B Westerns of the 1940s. Decades later, when he learned that fellow film buff Robert McCay had become friendly with O’Day and was willing to share letters and conversations he’d had with her, McCord set about researching her life. To say this oversized paperback book is a labor of love seems redundant. It will definitely serve as an introduction to an unsung veteran of show business. In order to purchase this book you have to write to the author HERE.
HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD: THE BLONDE BOMBSHELL IN THE GLAMOR CAPITAL 1928-1937 EXPANDED EDITION by Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira (Angel City Press)
If you already own a copy of this 2011 book, which quickly went out of print, the authors and their publisher have bent over backwards to make this revised edition worth your while, adding a number of rare photos and improving the quality of some key images. It is a genuinely beautiful book in tribute to the platinum blonde star of the 1930s. One item that’s never been seen before, to my knowledge, is a telegram from Howard Hughes to his lieutenant Noah Dietrich indicating how much he is going to charge Irving Thalberg purchase Harlow’s contract. (hint: it’s not as much as Hughes boasted it was.)