Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Bad and the Beautiful

The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties  - Sam Kashner and Jennifer Macnair

I like books about Hollywood from the silent era to the late 1970s. I don’t mind gossipy material unless it’s too snarky like Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. I mean, stars were only human, not equipped by nature, upbringing or education to endure the pressures of money and fame, not to mention anxiety and depression in the gilded cage of the meanest company town ever. Who the hell is Kenneth Anger to bag on these ordinary people under extraordinary pressures?

Mercifully, this book avoids excessive snark. There are, however, lapses of sense.  Twice the word “murder” is used to describe the justifiable homicide of “Johnny Stomp,” for instance. But generally speaking, this is worth reading for the inside information on Confidential Magazine, Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper and Sheilah Graham. Well-told are the production stories of Rebel without a Cause and The Sweet Smell of Success. Really interesting, too, were the sad stories of Hollywood treating like dirt the vulnerable Sandra Dee, Grace Metalious, and William Inge. Also you would have thought that intellectuals would have protected themselves more effectively but Ernest Lehman, Charles Laughton, and Alvah Bessie were chewed up too.

The writers acknowledge a debt to Otto Friedrich's City of Nets, a narrative of Hollywood history and culture in the Forties. But this book does not have the hard-eyed intelligence of that one and lacks the digressions that made City of Nets such a fascinating read.

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