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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Golden Age of Hollywood

My love for Old Hollywood or the “Golden Age” of Hollywood came about quite young when I was introduced to musicals by my aunt. I moved from the colorful musicals to the black and white dramas featuring all the great actors and actresses. I especially love Pre-Code films. My love for all things Old Hollywood got me itching to learn more about the actors and actresses. I tend to read multiple bios on a particular person to get a feel for who they were without the author’s bias getting in the way. I’ve also been intrigued about the whole Hollywood Studio system from back then. Here are some books I’ve read, both fiction and non-fiction, to get you started on your Tinseltown journey. Descriptions are from Goodreads.


A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set.

Marlene by C.W. Gortner
A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich, from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood 

I’ve read a few biographies about Marlene Dietrich and this novel is so well written that you almost think it’s non-fiction (in a good way).

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner 
Los Angeles, 1938. Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide. 

I gave this book a 4 star rating and finished it so quickly because I couldn’t put it down. I loved how this was just about fictional characters but set in a very real time and place. The author makes it seem completely believable.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard
Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film.

I enjoyed this novel and the author’s take on Jean’s thoughts. I also just love that cover! 

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
An intimate portrait of the close friendship and powerful creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female superstars: Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. 

I enjoyed this novel because while I have read a lot about Mary Pickford, I have never read anything about Frances Marion. I found her character to be intriguing and am on the hunt for a biography about her. 


She Always Knew How: A Personal Biography of Mae West by Charlotte Chandler
Actress, playwright, screenwriter, and iconic sex symbol Mae West was born in New York in 1893. She created a scandal -- and a sensation -- on Broadway with her play Sex in 1926. Convicted of obscenity, she was sentenced to ten days in prison. She went to jail a convict and emerged a star. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg with this hellcat. Mae West movies are super campy and full of double entendre. She was over the top and ahead of her time.

If This Was Happiness by Barbara Leaming
A beautiful actress, a gifted dancer, a fiery screen temptress linked to some of the most handsome men of her generation, Rita Hayworth seemed to live the life that dreams are made of. But the reality behind the fantasy was a harsh one. (Goodreads description)

Miss Hayworth is one of my all time favorite Golden Age actresses. I found this biography to be eye opening and learned that not everything is what it seemed.

The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger
Jeanine Basinger gives us an immensely entertaining look into the “star machine,” examining how, at the height of the studio system, from the 1930s to the 1950s, the studios worked to manufacture star actors and actresses…she shows us how the machine worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn’t, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be…the “awesomely beautiful” (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others—Loretta Young, Errol Flynn, Irene Dunne, Deanna Durbin. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. (Both Lana Turner and Errol Flynn, for instance, were involved in notorious court cases.) In her trenchantly observed conclusion, she explains what has become of the star machine and why the studios’ practice of “making” stars is no longer relevant. 

This work of non-fiction really opened my eyes to how the old studio system really worked. How certain stars were forced to “date” other stars, to never go in public without being made up, and how delicate/controversial events were covered up by the studio.

Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto
This is a wonderfully researched and well written biography of the iconic Miss Joan. She is so much more than the portrayal of her in “Mommie Dearest”.

Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Eliot
I love love love Cary. He is so charming in his films. I was fascinated to find out he was English born and that he lived with his male lover while being married to heiress Barbara Hutton. He had an amazing career that lasted a long time and films that still hold up today.

There are so many more bios and novels out there that I have read. Leave any comments or questions down below. Also leave your favorite Old Hollywood movie in the comment section. I love getting recommendations on new ones to watch. I can’t pick a true favorite as that would be like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, but one that stands out is “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “Double Indemnity”. 

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