Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book 'em!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I have a practically fetishistic fascination with classic Hollywood movies and the stars that appeared in them. I also have great affection for those big budget, lavish films which turned out horribly, but which provide entertainment to me (and others) for all the wrong reasons. Additionally, I love two particular types of classic stars more than any other -- the aging goddess and the handsome hunk. Today, I’m going to chatter about some of the books that have enhanced my enjoyment of these pursuits and which educated me as I began my classic film-loving journey!

Once I had discovered the magic of the movies of the past, the first book I purchased was a large (and not too cheap!) coffee table book called "The Illustrated Who’s Who of the Cinema." You have to understand that at this time (@ 1987), there was no such thing as The Internet Movie Database or Google Image Searches or even access to The Worldwide Web for most of us. If you wanted to find out anything about an actor or actress, you had to look it up in a library or bookstore. This book did more to help me get on board than any other. Lavishly illustrated with (mostly) color, rare photos of all the stars that mattered to that date, this book gave mini-bios and even brief filmographies. Though I never have a reason to refer to it anymore, I don’t think I could part with this book. It opened up so many people and possibilities to me as a viewer.


Later, when I was a subscriber to Movieline magazine (which, for a while, was the best possible magazine ever published about Hollywood and films), I began to appreciate the hilarity of movies that were so bad they were good. The aptly-titled "Bad Movies We Love" took articles gleaned from what was a regular feature of Movieline magazine along with some new writings and collected them into one volume. It was a revelation to me that anyone else out there was sniggering to the same things I was. I’ll never forget donkey-braying loudly while on a flight to West Palm Beach, Florida around 1993 because of this book and finally having to put it away because I was getting so amused by it. Books of a similar vein, such as "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time" also dot my now-expansive library, but "BMWL" is still the best. Some people keep a family Bible handy in their home. This book has a prestige position in my home in the same manner. One of the authors died prematurely and, sadly, the promised second edition never saw the light of day.


Richard Lamparksi put out a wonderfully informative (and wonderfully tacky, to be truthful) series of books called "Whatever Became Of…" with volumes of about a dozen in number. Lamparski sought out once-popular stars of TV, sports, film and so on and reported back on his findings along with brief interviews and recent photos. These books were also not only captivating and informative, but somewhat haunting in that many times the stars had either fallen on hard times or died tragically or looked old, ill or otherwise sad. Still, many of the updates were satisfying and the subjects seemed to provide some really honest remarks about their careers and former costars.


Though I tend to focus on older, often used books, sometimes a new book will capture my attention. A stunning book about Lana Turner’s life and career was recently published by her daughter. It exhaustively details her films and is lavishly illustrated with rare photos. A neat pair of tomes concerned the beautiful men and women of the movies. The women’s was called "Heavenly" and the men’s "Heartthrob." Cutting more to the chase was a book called "Shirtless: The Hollywood Male Physique." For obvious reasons, this became a favorite of mine.

My favorite Hollywood photographer was George Hurrell, who created so many unbelievable shots of practically all of the majors stars of the 1930s and 40s, but another fave is John Engstead, whose specialty was diffusing the image so that stars maintained a dreamy beauty, even if they were on the way over, or even coming down, the hill. One of his books is called "Star Shots" and is chock full of great images. Chief benefactors of Engstead’s camera included Barbara Stanwyck, The Gabors, Cyd Charisse, Gary Cooper, Peggy Lee, Lana Turner and Mae West along with many others. When you see an Enstead photo, you usually know it because you sometimes have to squint through the haze to see the person in it, but what you can see looks amazing! Ha Ha!


Pyramid Books put out a series in the 1970s that is irresistible to me. Called "The Illustrated History of the Movies," they are fairly small, but exhaustive, histories of either individual stars or genres. You can sometimes find these online, such as at eBay, but I find it more fun to seek them out at used book stores or flea markets, etc… I have close to twenty of them and they give great insight, information and photos regarding their subjects.


I adore perusing old book stores, antique shops, flea markets or anywhere else I can think of in order to find rare or unusual books, the more bizarre the better. Eileen Fulton herself told me that she has trouble getting her hands on hardback copies of her first auto-bio "How My World Turns," but I was thrilled to pick it up for pennies at a flea market. I have a friend who has provided me with several gems over the years and I always try to return the favor when I see a book that pertains to stars he’s partial to. He hooked me up with Zsa Zsa Gabor’s remarkable "How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man" and I ask you, what home is complete without the indispensable "Touch Me: The Poems of Suzanne Somers?" Polly Bergen’s "Polly’s Principles" taught me the “sexy secret” of going without underwear (it’s fine, according to her, so long as you sew panty liners into the crotches of your best pantsuits.) I’m a nut for The Lawrence Welk Show and have read a couple of his books, which are surprisingly entertaining. Then there are downright oddities that you’d grab first in a fire such as "Movie Stars in Bathtubs." This book is just what it says, photo after photo of movie actresses, actors, children and animals in the tub! One glance at the shot from Forty Guns did the impossible in making me actually wish I could go back in time to those gun-slinging days, just so I could wash up in a place like Gene Barry and Barry Sullivan do in this picture! (Incidentally, this book caused me to look up the film the next time it aired and it was an enjoyably tough western despite a tacked-on, studio-imposed ending.)

Certain rooms of my home have suffered a little under the weight of the many books I’ve collected over the years, but I can’t help it. I feel like I have to rescue certain things from the landfill destination they may be headed for if they don’t sell and once they’re gone, they’re gone! They may only matter to me, but they do give me great pleasure and I periodically pull them out to look through them again and again.

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