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 Amazon.com 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 PaperBackSwap.com which can be an excellent resource to hunt down books (for free!).
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?