Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Library That Hollywood Built

As fascinated and mesmerized as I am watching old movies, I am even more fascinated by the stars in them. There used to be an air of mystery about movie stars. They were posh, they were pretty, they were the pink of perfection. In short, they were stars in every sense of the word and that's what the Studios, the Press, audiences and fans wanted from them.

Courtesy of

These days we're not interested in the pretty, we want the ugly: the addictions, the violence, the scandals. We no longer look at them with stars in our eyes, we revel in their flawed humanity and laugh when they fall.

I know I'm talking extremes and there are exceptions to everything but I miss The Age of the Movie Star. Don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people that think there are no good movies anymore. I still cry during "Lord of the Rings" and laugh out loud during "Anchorman". It's the mystique of the actors and actresses I miss. We don't watch the red carpet to ooh and ahh over what they are wearing, we look to see who looks the worst. It's not that I think that Stars were above reproach during the "Golden Age of Hollywood", there was some messed up stuff going on behind the scenes but you have to admit there is an ever widening gap in the caliber of actor from then to now in this writer's humble opinion. There's no glitz, no luxury, no glamour...

It was this very air of mystery that prompted me to start my own Golden Era Library. There are so many amazing biographies and autobiographies out there and I wanted to know the truth. Where did the glamour end and the reality begin? What was hiding behind the Studio Suits in a time where the actor was an employee with no rights and no say so?

You may have noticed if you scroll down the left hand sidebar that I keep a list of every bio I have read and am currently reading. Having just finished Ava Gardner's autobiography, I thought I would give you all some quick interesting bits from the books in my Golden Era Library. If you're interested in discussing any of these books at length, feel free to comment here or e-mail me at katamommy at gmail dot com. Please note: All book titles are linked to their respective page. Also, a few of these are now out of print but I've been lucky enough to find them at various used bookstores and on which can be an excellent resource to hunt down books (for free!).

Books Completed As Of 12/19/2009

I Loved Lucy by Lee Tannen

This was a very bittersweet book for me but a must read for any fan of Lucille Ball. Lee Tannen was a close personal friend of Ms. Ball during the last decade of her life so this is his personal account of that relationship. I found a lot of it very sad as I'm not sure how happy Lucy was later in life.

Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball

Lucy's memoirs from birth through her final divorce from Desi Arnaz. You come away with the sense that she never stopped loving him even though she eventually remarried. It was so interesting to learn about her experiences in Hollywood before "I Love Lucy".

The Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams

If you want to know just how much of a hold the Studios had on their stars, you need to read this book. Williams gives a lot of inside info including how their likeness was used in ads without their knowledge (or payment) and how Louis B. Mayer would kick and scream on the floor like a baby when he didn't get his way. She gives accounts of personal run-ins with Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford and Fernando Lamas asking her to give up her acting career to focus solely on him (which she did). You also find out that a lot of the Press were in the pockets of the Studios: they would call them before printing anything in most cases.

Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot

This is a well written bio although it's almost as vanilla as you would assume Jimmy Stewart's life would be...almost. He was great friends with Henry Fonda despite their polar opposite political views and lost his virginity to Ginger Rogers.

Life Is A Banquet by Rosalind Russell

This is my favorite one so far. I felt an instant kinship with Russell while reading her book. To borrow from The Simpsons, "She writes the way people talk!" lol She also gives good account of the studio wheelings and dealings including how stars could not keep their costumes, however they could buy them from the studio at a discount. Luckily her husband added a forward after her death from cancer and points out that she always put a positive spin on everything and rarely discussed the massive amounts of physical pain she endured. Had he not added that to her book, you would never know how much she physically suffered at times. That being said, her story is a fun one (normal childhood and one marriage that lasted until the day she died) and I laughed out loud during parts.

Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh
by Alexander Walker

Coming off of Rosalind Russell's delightful book filled with her plain speech and quick wit, this biography of Vivien Leigh was a struggle to read from the get go although it is definitely worth reading. Written by someone who obviously loved Leigh very much, the language was very flowery and quite frankly, the whole thing was just sad. I've always adored Vivien Leigh and her struggle with manic depression was simply frightening. It made you wish you could just give her a big hug and make it all go away. Her love of Scarlett O'Hara began as soon as she read the book, "Gone With the Wind" and the instant the film was announced, she declared that she would play the role but she always preferred the stage to the screen.

So that's about halfway through my completed list, right? I think I'll break this up into two posts. LOL

What are your thoughts on the current state of Hollywood: Is there a relationship between a star's image and the quality of their work? Do you want to know when Spears is going commando or do you prefer the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy?


  1. I totally agree with you! The Glam is gone... that "air" you talk about, Personaly I beleive that happens because the studios dont have total rights over the actors any more. For example MGM FORGED Judy Garlans Birth Certificate so she could be 2 years younger. In her bio "Get Happy" It tells in detail How MGM told her when to sing, when to dance, when to go to bed, when to get up, what to eat how much of it to eat! I also think The Studio Publicity Men have become a thing of the past. 9 times out of 10 they caught a star before they fell, and would report if to the Hea dof the studio, and Like magic it would never appear in papers... *Sigh* What a time it was, what a wonderful technicolor time it was....

  2. Great news! You won! :-D

    If you get the chance, there's another lingerie giveaway happening on my blog now. It's for a black satin bra, panty, and garter belt set worth $85. I'd love for you enter again! Maybe you'll be lucky twice. :-)

  3. Hey there. I hope you're having a good weekend. It's been cold and rainy here. Our internet keeps going out so I did want to leave a comment on your blog. Take care. Have a great week. Cheers!

  4. I will admit...I am a total "people" mag reader....but what I like about them ... they just don't focus on Hollywood...they talk about real people too......and that's what i think separates them from the rest! :):):):):):):):):):):) I don't know if I totally agree though about today's hollywood VS. the old hollywood.....remember there was the "BLACK LIST" back in the golden day of scandal....and then when my Great Uncle George Reeves was "killed" or "suicide".....still a mystery and still a scandal....and then the whole Mommie Dearest thing....WHOA!!! LOL! Sooooooooooooooo I think there was still a lot f scandal back just wasn't commercialized as much as TV/Movies/Magazines weren't as WIDE spread as they are today....ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh and remember the whole Judy Garland/Wizard of Oz scandal on her weight/looks????? lol lol...i'm rambling....i'm just a hollywood geek....i can't help it!! LOL LOL LOL! :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  5. I completely agree with what you're saying, today we're so focused on celebrities failures and scandals, they never put as many articles in celeb magazines about their successes.

    Those books sound really interesting, i love Lucille Ball so i'll have to find a copy of those books i think! x

  6. Yes, the glam factor is gone and the nasty dirty -no moral factor seems to be the norm. I would love the see the glamor come back and the actress' start acting like the vintage Hollywood starlets again with the hair, make-up and glam factor.

  7. I just love reading the biographies about old actor and actresses. I loved looking through the list of ones you've read. Some of them have several out about them and it's hard to decided which is the good one.
    Of these I've only read the Million Dollar Mermaid. I thought it was really entertaining and fascinating too.

  8. I just think that any focus on negative stuff is so unnecessary! And for the stars' sanity, why can't everyone just leave them alone! I know they're famous and wealthy but they're actors! They didn't (well, usually) sign up for a reality series! I think it makes us less compassionate as a whole when we get so mean at celebrities.

    And I loved your summaries! Jimmy Stewart's was my favorite.

  9. I agree with you darling 100%. we should respect the privacy of others, I really dont wanna know about stars personal life. I love seeing them look gorgeous on the red carpet and I want amazing actors in movies, not ppl hired simply because of looks. Stars today sometimes lack talent big time.


  10. I totally agree with you... The whole thing about Studio System stars was that they were kept above the public - You would *never* see them with their kids in a grocery store or coffee shop. The fact that they weren't really like us made them ethereal and ideal, like the perfect dream or escape for dull humanity. :)

  11. I agree with you, and many of the previous commenters! There is such a lack of glamour in Hollywood now. It's become a business for getting money for the best trashy photograph. I'd rather just respect what these people do rather than anticipate the next opportunity to seem them in some unflattering situation.

  12. I liked it better when things were laid back and somethings were KEPT private! I don't need to know every ones business and and I don't want to talk about either. Just let be be delussional and think everyone has functional families and not disfunctional. ;o)

  13. What a great post! There really isn't anyone to look to now with stars in your eyes and wish you were in their shoes.

    For me, an actor or actress's private life can be really distracting. If I've heard too many things about them that I find distasteful it colors my experience when watching their movies. In fact, there are a number of celebrities whose movies I avoid because of their shenanigans.

    I am really grooving on your new blog - it's awesome!

    Thank you for the thoughtful and thought provoking comment on my blog. I am so glad I posted about it and opened it to discussion. Personally I am just as likely to give to people who need it or who do not. It was the location that had me thinking they may have mistook us for a family in need. It was great to be able to give additional help to a favorite charity of ours - that made us feel awesome and was a great gift.

  14. Not only do we seem to enjoy crushing stars today by examining the minutiae of their lives, but there's also a huge amount of pressure on them (especially women) to look a certain way.

    Plastic surgery etc makes these people look almost inhuman. And by being forced into these phoney ideals of beauty, they stop being beautiful. And then we laugh and point at them all the more when it goes wrong.

    That's really very different from the 1940s where stars may have been beautiful, but they always looked like real people.

  15. So true. Tiger Woods is another example of a world reveling in the flaws of the celebrities.

  16. Haha..reading the tabloids and all the gossip is my guilty pleasure. I think modern living is stressful and people do get a kick out of reading sensationalized stories so that in comparison, their reality isn't that bad. Plus, it seems to be a lot easier to be in the "spotlight" these days - either be damn good at what you do or just be bad. These days, lots of those so-called stars are more notorious for their bad behavior than for their body of work. The real talent these days is the manipulation of the media. I read stuff and just laugh them off.

  17. I have no interest in today's Hollywood but the " old " Hollywood is really interesting . Try find a book about Francis Farmer ...... it is a very interesting read !


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