New titles from others and research in progress

Hollywood's Golden Age

June 2, 2012

Tags: Dana Andrews, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Goldwyn, biographies of film stars and other legends

From Laura (Gene Tierney getting the third degree)
Welcome to the Hollywood Legends Blog. I am the consulting editor for the Hollywood Legends Series, published by the University Press of Mississippi. I will be writing on the subjects of my biographies (Dana Andrews and Marilyn Monroe) but also about anyone who might qualify as a "legend," and that includes directors, producers, and others. I want to hear from you about the biographies you have read and what you think of them. I also want to know if you are looking for a good biography of a particular subject, or if you want to write such a biography.

I'll start by mentioning one of my favorite biographies: Carol Easton's IN SEARCH OF SAM GOLDWYN. As well as writing well about this legendary mogul, Easton tells the story of her own upbringing in Hollywood and of fascinating interviews with Dana Andrews and Walter Brennan, for example. In many ways, I find Easton's book much more satisfying than Scott Berg's authorized Goldwyn opus. Let me know if you've read Easton's book, or if you have other candidates for best biography of a Hollywood legend.


  1. June 13, 2012 10:19 AM EDT
    Dino:Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (Nick Tosches)
    Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland (Gerald Clarke)

    Of course I also recommend my own bios of two screen legends:
    Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase
    The Unruly Life of Woody Allen

    - Marion Meade
  2. June 13, 2012 10:48 AM EDT
    I confess I haven't read the books by Clarke and Tosches, but I certainly will. Do you see a connection, by the way, between Keaton and Allen? It's been a while since I've read your books, and I can't remember if you compare the two.
    - Carl Rollyson
  3. June 13, 2012 1:28 PM EDT
    My favorite Hollywood biography is "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild" by David Stenn. A masterful biography that leaves one weeping at the sadness of the tale. Being the "It" girl, Bow paid a heavy price for her success.
    I also loved reading Budd Schulberg's fictional accounts of Hollywood. Someone ought to do his biography.
    - James McGrath Morris
  4. June 13, 2012 2:01 PM EDT
    David Stenn is one of the masters of Hollywood biography. I recommend his book on Jean Harlow as well. He is a tenacious researcher and tracks down the truth behind various myths--like the one about Clara Bow and the UCLA football team (correct me if I have the school wrong--it's be a while since I read his book).
    - Carl Rollyson
  5. June 13, 2012 3:54 PM EDT
    Budd Schulberg's memoir, Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince, is fascinating--and it tells only a small portion of a controversial life.
    - Marion Meade
  6. June 13, 2012 5:21 PM EDT
    Schulberg comes up again and agaiin.. He's unavoidable. His father, of course, was in the movie business, and so many of the Hollywood greats appear in Schulberg's work. Even readers who have no special interest in Hollywood seem to know his work.
    - Carl Rollyson
  7. June 14, 2012 10:18 AM EDT
    Sticking to biography rather than memoir, and other than my own BURT LANCASTER: AN AMERICAN LIFE (Knopf 2000), I'd recommend Neal Gabler's bio of Disney and David Thomson's of David O. Selznick.
    - Kate Buford
  8. June 14, 2012 11:31 AM EDT
    Kate, your Burt Lancaster biography is still on my list of must read books. I'm embarrased I haven't read it yet, and now I vow to do so soon. David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film is one of my favorite books. I don't always agree with him. For example, he makes certain assumptions about Dana Andrews because Dana studied to be an accountant. I don't think Thomson is right, but he so often says such brilliant things and often penetrates right to the heart of a person's life and work. I modeled my BIOGRAPHY: A USER'S GUIDE on Thomson's opinionated referenced work.
    - Carl Rollyson
  9. June 14, 2012 1:58 PM EDT
    Great minds think alike, or not. In Keaton's ingenious Sherlock, Jr. (1924), a movie projectionist climbs into the screen and enters the action. In Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), a fictional character breaks out of the movie and descends into the audience. Some said Allen stole Buster's idea. Not so, said Woody,and besides he didn't even like Keaton's movies all that much.
    - marion meade
  10. June 14, 2012 2:29 PM EDT
    I wonder why Woody didn't like Keaton's movies. I remember showing one of his shorts to students--it's the one where he's driving a truck with a mechanical arm with a boxing glove on it that he extends when making a turn. My students were roaring with laughter. And Keaton had such a marvelous face. As he grew old the sadness of it seemed to turn to stone. I should have thought some of the seriousness of Keaton's comedy would have appealed to Allen.
    - Carl Rollyson
  11. June 17, 2012 2:01 PM EDT
    I would recommend Robert Payne's "The Great Garbo," and also "The Great Charlie," his biography of Chaplin. Both are partially memoirs, since Robert knew them both
    - Charles L. DeFanti
  12. June 17, 2012 2:08 PM EDT
    Charles, your comment reminds me that Barry Parris gave a wonderful talk on Garbo at the National Arts Club many years ago. I highly recommend his Garbo biography. The Garbo-Marilyn Monroe connection is fascinating. How well they knew each other is not clear, although Lois Banner in her new Marilyn Monroe biography has some fascinating remarks about these two legends.
    - Carl Rollyson
  13. June 21, 2012 11:14 AM EDT
    While not strictly film bios, I can offer thumbs up for Peter Guralnick's "Careless Love - The Unmaking of Elvis Presley" and James Kaplan's "Frank - The Voice." The ups and downs of their film careers are well covered in broader bios of their groundbreaking entertainment careers.
    - Chip Bishop
  14. June 21, 2012 4:01 PM EDT
    I reviewed the Sinatra biography and didn't like it as much as you did, Chip. But Guralnick is great. Presley's film career is sad. I interviewed Philip Dunne who wrote a screenplay for a Presley film. Dunne thought Presley had enormous talent--not merely as a singer but as an actor as well. And yet Hollywood never really gave him an opportunity to show what he was capable of, Dunne said to me. I did think, though, that Presley's film debut in Love Me Tender was impressive. Oh, and one more thing about Sinatra, and this is from Kitty Kelley's biography of him. There is a scene in her book in which a director tells Sinatra to do something (I can't remember what), and Sinatra looks at him and says, "Suggest."
    - Carl Rollyson
  15. June 28, 2012 10:32 PM EDT
    I am writing about screenwriter Herman and screenwriter/director Joe Mankiewicz for the Hollywood Legends series, University of Mississippi Press, and reading all the tributes to the wonderful Nora Ephron has me wondering who will be the Hollywood Legends of tomorrow. We imagine we know -- folks like Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorcese -- but I do hope writers will be remembered as well.

    I interviewed Nora for my biography of Gloria Steinem - at her beloved Apthorpe apartment, no less - and she was as funny and as insightful as one would imagine. (She was also the only interview subject from whom my son asked me to request an autograph; the answer was no.) I used her witty description of glorious Gloria and self-defeating Betty Friedan - "Ozma and the Wicked Witch" - as a chapter title in my book.
    As I reconstruct the lives and work of Herman and Joe, I find it gratifying that their work was admired in their own lifetimes as well as being appreciated today. Tastes and values change, so I hope that the regard we have today for Nora Ephron's work will be shared by our successors and that ten, twenty, fifty years from now, Nora will still be remembered, quoted, and admired.
    - Sydney Ladensohn Stern
  16. June 29, 2012 7:30 AM EDT
    Marvelous comment, Sydney. It would be fascinating to have a piece about screenwriting in Hollywood's Golden Age as compared to a later generation that Nora Ephron exemplified. It would also be wonderful if you discovered that she admired the Mankiewicz brothers who did so much to create the Hollywood Legends that have become the subject of the University Press of Mississippi series.
    - Carl Rollyson
  17. June 29, 2012 4:25 PM EDT
    Thanks for the kind words, Carl. So far I haven't run across anything Nora thought about Herman's or Joe's work (though she is an obvious heir to their style of wisecracking), but I have an awfully catty comment from her mother about Joe. Needless to say, it will be in the book.
    - Sydney Ladensohn Stern
  18. June 29, 2012 6:37 PM EDT
    How tantilizing. If you can, from time to time, post us on your progress.
    - Carl Rollyson