There’s never enough time to read, so please consider this a survey rather than a series of reviews. I’ve only included books that interest or intrigue me.
In addition to teaching several generations of filmmakers at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Basinger has written a handful of essential books on classic Hollywood including The Star Machine, Silent Stars, and A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960. Her latest is an expansive (634-page) treatise on musicals: a heady mixture of history, personal experience, and pointed opinions. This is the book I most look forward to reading cover-to-cover over the holidays, and I know I won’t be disappointed.
Anyone foolish enough to believe that reference books have been supplanted by the Internet should browse this indispensable volume and tell me where one could find its equal online. Goldmark established his bona fides years ago in this field, and is the perfect person to have edited this dictionary of film and television composers. For each entry there is a biographical essay by a film music expert, a filmography (some complete, and often including radio, television and concert works), as well as a bibliography. I’m sure I will be consulting this often in years to come.
Other books on the great writer-director Preston Sturges have tended to dismiss his frustrating final years. This one, co-written by his son, emphasizes that part of his life, drawing largely on correspondence between the filmmaker and his last wife Sandy (who kept carbon copies of everything she wrote). Tom Sturges says the manuscript “revealed to me a man I never knew and practically had never met.”
Maurice Costello was one of the first true movie stars, but if he is remembered today it is primarily because his daughter Dolores married John Barrymore, merging two American acting dynasties. Author Shulman had access to Costello family archives and interviewed Dolores Barrymore Bedell (the daughter of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello) and Helene Costello’s daughter Deirdre to research this sweeping story. Even a quick appraisal of his text reveals enough juicy material to have filled several volumes.
I am proud to have contributed a foreword to this invaluable history of Ub Iwerks’s career written by his son. (It is also an uncommonly handsome volume.) Don Iwerks followed in his father’s footsteps developing systems and techniques for visual effects and earned an Oscar of his own in 1997; two years later he was named a Disney Legend. He describes his father’s many inventions and innovations in detail but what I value most about this book is his description of Ub’s unique relationship with Walt Disney.
This highly browsable collection of essays covers a wide swath of films from Willlow to The Cable Guy. The only thing they have in common is that they failed to score with critics…yet each title has at least one champion. I am pleased to have contributed a piece about my longtime favorite so-bad-it’s-good movie, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Other contributors include Jen Yamato, April Wolfe, Eric Kohn, Amy Nicholson, and David Stratton.
Anyone who has ever been fascinated by Rondo Hatton, whose distorted features made him a unique movie presence in the 1940s, should consider this a must. Essays by experts in the horror-film arena explore every possible aspect of the actor’s life and career, including his posthumous fan base. Liberally illustrated, it also features an afterword and cover portrait by the great Drew Friedman.
For the last ten years of Bette Davis’s life, she and Kathryn Sermak were inseparable. As her assistant and, over time, her confidante, Sermak got to know the formidable actress as well as anyone could. This is her story, a portrait of Davis’ final act told from a unique vantage point.
The latest update of Garner Simmons’ excellent 1982 book is subtitled “50 Years After ‘The Wild Bunch’ from the Writer Who Knew Him Best” and that is no exaggeration. Simmons has chronicled the maverick director’s life and work for decades and speaks with authority when he discusses any of Peckinpah’s films or his famously erratic behavior. This compilation of articles and essays incorporates the kind of perspective that only time can provide.
This colorful show-business memoir chronicles the life and career of a New York street kid turned standup comic who wound up being one of the most successful comedy directors in television history. From the Catskill Mountains to the nightclub circuit, Storm has a limitless supply of anecdotes and observations about everyone from Woody Allen to Robin Williams.
Hawk Koch is the son of famous producer Howard W. Koch. He grew up in his father’s shadow, even as he made such successful films as Heaven Can Wait, The Pope of Greenwich Village, and Wayne’s World and worked as assistant director on Chinatown and The Way We Were, among many others. How he built his own reputation and became President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the through-line of this highly anecdotal book, praised by such colleagues as Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
Abraham and Kearns surely aren’t the only show-biz aficionados who have harbored a keen interest in the stories of entertainers who actually died in front of an audience… but they’re the only ones who have had the gumption to research every urban legend surrounding this topic and separate fact from fiction.
This massive two-volume tribute to seven-time Academy Award winner Rick Baker is a definitive study of his life and career in the world of makeup. Lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced in a slipcase edition, its quality and thoroughness justify its hefty price. Every page offers wonders and delights, including young Rick’s first correspondence with his hero, makeup genius Dick Smith, and his earliest experiments.
Finally, what kind of author would I be if I didn’t plug my own current titles?
This labor of love compiles articles and interviews spanning fifty (!) years, and drawn from my two longtime publications: Film Fan Monthly and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy. You’ll read conversations with Anita Loos, Burgess Meredith, Joan Blondell, Madge Evans and George O’Brien as well as articles I’ve written and researched about all the music in Casablanca, the genesis of Busby Berkeley’s “Remember My Forgotten Man,” the forgotten films of RKO Radio Pictures and much, much more, illustrated with scores of rare photos.
From the silent era to 1965, this hefty paperback includes capsule reviews of (and essential information about) 10,000 films, including hundreds never covered before in my annual Movie Guide. If you or someone you love enjoys watching vintage movies on TCM, this fingertip guide should come in handy.
The next installment of this survey will examine a number of Disney- (and Disneyland-) related books.