Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mount TBR #48

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Sex Goddesses of the Silent Screen – Norman Zierold

This biography chronicles the lives of five daring Circes of the silver and silent screen. It is a prime example of the many books about old Hollywood published in the early 1970s during a boom of nostalgia brought about by Watergate and the Vietnam War. That is, this biography is rich in readable anecdotes that mix misfortune and absurdity.

Theda Bara used her striking eyes, bold manner and skimpy outfits to seduce audiences, dazzle press agents, and enrage local censorship committees. Barbara LaMarr had that air of nursing a secret sorrow that some men find enthralling; pining in jail cell, one of her husbands called out her name as he bashed his head against a wall and later died of a blood clot. None of these actresses was emotionally or philosophically equipped to deal with Tinsel Town fame and fortune (who is, really?), but Pola Negri drew on her passionate Polish soul to protect her integrity by out-diva-ing everybody.  Mae Murray was a dancing blonde whose lip-sticked cupid lips earned her the nickname The Girl with the Bee-stung Lips.” Her story is probably the second saddest in the book, after Clara Bow’s descent into nervous breakdowns, madness and death in a sanitarium. 

Zierold spends excessive time describing the opulent life styles and habits of conspicuous consumption of the stars. He balances this by judiciously quoting knowledgeable critics and culture mavens from the 1920s. It’s interesting how little things change. Audiences at that time really were impressionable, mistaking vamping appearances  for reality, just as many people nowadays, for example, assume that Jennifer Lawrence is just as down to earth as any 25-year-old from Pendleton, New York. Also, critics back then were just as snarky and sharp as they are on the web today, but criticism never seems to make movies any better.

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