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New And Notable Film Books

It’s been a while since I surveyed new film books, and while
(as usual) I haven’t had time to read these cover-to-cover I’ve gleaned just
enough from skimming to feel confident in recommending them to you.

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 WARNER BROS. HOLLYWOOD’S ULTIMATE BACKLOT by Steven Bingen
with Marc Wanamaker, Bison Archives; foreword by Doris Day (Taylor Trade
Publishing)

In the wake of his eye-opening book about MGM (MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot),
Steven Bingen has produced another wondrous look behind the scenes of a great
movie studio. Whether you browse through the hundreds of unfamiliar photos
detailing the famous Burbank facility or read the complete text, this book will
take you on a magic carpet ride through decades of movie and television
history. Here’s one sample paragraph: “A footbridge connecting two
postproduction buildings looks familiar enough when pointed out, but it takes
on a somewhat haunted demeanor when we discover it was crossed by Judy Garland
in A Star Is Born, played a sanitarium
visited by Paul Newman in The Helen
Morgan Story
(1947) and, when decorated with barbed wire and plaster
bricks, portrayed a prison wall breached by both Spencer Tracy in 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and
Superman in a much later television show.” From its construction in 1926
through a fire in 1952 right up to the present day, the studio is an
entertainment landmark, and this book does it justice.

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 THE MAKING OF GONE WITH THE WIND by Steve Wilson, foreword
by Robert Osborne (Harry Ransom Center/University of Texas Press)

 We’ve all read accounts of how this storied film came to be,
but Wilson (curator of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in
Austin, which houses the David O. Selznick archives) lays out the details in a
comprehensive chronology, accompanying his highly readable text with letters,
memos, telegrams, behind-the-scenes photos, production sketches and paintings,
many of them never published before. This is one of those books that is
dangerous to pick up because you might not be able to put it down again for
quite some time. It is also an uncommonly handsome volume, beautifully produced
on high-quality paper that shows off the photos and illustrations in fine
fashion.

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 D.W. GRIFFITH’S 100th ANNIVERSARY: THE BIRTH OF A
NATION
by Seymour Stern, edited by Ira H. Gallen (Friesen Press)

Seymour Stern was an aspiring filmmaker and thoughtful
critic who spent the better part of his life obsessed with D.W. Griffith. He
announced his intention to write a definitive book about the director in 1938—with
the great man’s participation—but it never came to fruition. I clearly remember
purchasing an issue of Film Culture
that published the first part of his study of The Birth of a Nation back in the 1960s, but that was only Part
One; part two never materialized. Now, film and TV historian Ira Gallen has
taken it upon himself to published Stern’s work, adding his own layer of
obsession with the star-crossed author (as well as Griffith himself). This is an
important addition to film literature; my only complaint is that it doesn’t
include an index.

nullDISNEY’S GRAND TOUR: WALT AND ROY’S EUROPEAN VACATION SUMMER
1935
by Didier Ghez, foreword by Diane Disney Miller (Theme Park Press)

Disney aficionados have good reason to be grateful to Didier
Ghez, who has published many rare Disney manuscripts and interviews. His latest
endeavor is the result of many years’ intensive research on two continents. While
the volume itself is slender, the material it uncovers is invaluable to Disney
scholars and buffs. Over several weeks’ time in 1935, Walt and Roy Disney
traveled overseas with their wives for the first time, combining business and
pleasure. During that trip they saw sights that would influence Walt’s thinking
about filmmaking (and, eventually, theme parks) for the rest of his life, met
celebrated figures ranging from Louis Lumière to Luigi Pirandello, and
established important business relationships that influenced the future of
their company. Ghez takes great trouble to establish that, contrary to
published reports, Walt did not receive an award from the League of Nations in
France, nor did he ever meet Mussolini while in Rome. Including rare photos,
contemporary newspaper articles, and quotes from the travel diary of Roy’s wife
Edna Disney, this lively manuscript pulls back the curtain on a significant but
little-documented moment in Disney history.

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 A HITCH AT THE FAIRMONT by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Nick
Bertozzi (Atheneum)

I don’t usually review novels, but this imaginative book for
young readers is, among other things, an homage to the Master of Suspense, set
in 1956. The hero is a boy named Jack Fair whose mother has committed suicide,
which forces him to leave Los Angeles and live with his starchy, unkind aunt at
the elegant Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. One day, Aunt Edith vanishes, and
Jack tries to track her down, with a little help from Alfred Hitchcock himself.
Author Averbeck tells me, “It’s aimed at middle grade readers (age 9 to 13 or
so) but I am hearing from a lot of adults who are enjoying it too— mostly
Hitchcock fans or people who remember his TV show with nostalgia. It is my
sincere hope that it helps bring a new generation to an appreciation of the
work of Alfred Hitchcock. It was written with the kind permission of the
Hitchcock estate and a portion of the proceeds goes to the study of cystic
fibrosis. Hitchcock’s granddaughter suffered from c.f.” In keeping with the
inspiration for this fanciful novel, there is even a trailer online that’s well
worth a look.

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THE 101 BEST FILM NOIR POSTERS FROM THE 1940s-1950s by Mark
Fertig; introduction by William Friedkin (Fantagraphics)

What a knockout collection! Here are beautiful, oversized
reproductions of one-sheet posters for such notable films as Murder, My Sweet, Double Indemnity, The Lady
from Shanghai,
and D.O.A., along
with lesser lights like Armored Car
Robbery
and The Scar. Some of the
images are stunning and need no hype, while others benefit from hard-sell copy,
like The Narrow Margin (“A Fortune if They Seal her Lips! A Bullet if They Fail!”) and Caged (“She was part-good before—She’s all bad now!”). As usual,
some great films like Detour have
disappointing poster art, but that’s show biz. Fertig pays appropriate and
articulate tribute to these films in his introduction and summarizes the appeal
of each one in tightly-written tributes at the back of the book. This would
make a great gift for any movie lover.

nullEARS & BUBBLES: DANCING MY WAY FROM THE
MICKEY MOUSE CLUB TO THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW
 by Bobby Burgess (Theme Park Press)

If you grew up watching The
Mickey Mouse Club
you need no introduction to Bobby Burgess, whose sunny
personality and dancing talent landed him that job for Walt Disney and then
extended his career for years afterward on The
Lawrence Welk Show.
It’s hard to picture Bobby without a smile, and his memoir
reflects the positive outlook he has always embodied. He has a terrific memory
dating back to his childhood in Long Beach, California and his earliest public
appearances. Regarding his big break, he writes, “When we were kids we really
didn’t appreciate what was going on around us…the success of the show, the ability
to ride the attractions at Disneyland to our hearts content, and the privilege
it was to work with Walt Disney himself. But today, all of us realize what a
profound time it was.” This breezy and engaging autobiography is sure to please
Bobby’s many fans—and I am one of them. 

5 comments

  1. ejwilliams says:

    The Bingen Warner Bros backlot book is very interesting but has many typos and errors i.e. Bogie’s death date(1957 not 1956), the WB Teddington British studios were "bought" by Danny Kaye in 1948-(He mc’ed the re-opening post WW2 damage),Paris is spelled "Pairs", etc.
    WB has been a studio for more than 85 years unlike MGM’s c.50 ,the backlot has had many fires so that an exact lineage of sets can be murky despite records and memories(see the CASABLANCA sections) However I highly recommend this book just wish that it was as accurate as a Maltin history.

  2. Jamie LaMoreaux says:

    have you read the Toby Peters Myteries by Stuart Kaminsky? they’re set in the 1940’s Hollywood and are a lot of fun.

  3. M.T. Fisher says:

    Ever read any of J.M. Harrison’s work, Leonard? They’re darned good reads.

  4. Brutus says:

    Yup, typo. Should be 1957.

  5. mike schlesinger says:

    Paul Newman was in a movie in 1947? Yikes! I hope that typo isn’t in the book!

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