Saturday, November 11, 2017

NEW BOOKS: film biographies and film history

There are a number of just out and forthcoming film biographies which I am looking forward to. If you like biographies or works of film history, you will want to check out each of these titles. I haven't had a chance to read any of them yet, but plan on doing so. A couple I have dipped into. The description that follows is from the publisher. [I just got my copy of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film, and it looks great. Curtiz, of course, is the director of the 1931 Louise Brooks film, God's Gift to Women, and the book does mention the actress. The Miriam Hopkins should also be a great read. I loved the author's earlier biography of Ramon Navarro.]


Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode
University Press of Kentucky

Academy Award–winning director Michael Curtiz (1886–1962)―whose best-known films include Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945) and White Christmas (1954)―was in many ways the anti-auteur. During his unprecedented twenty-seven year tenure at Warner Bros., he directed swashbuckling adventures, westerns, musicals, war epics, romances, historical dramas, horror films, tearjerkers, melodramas, comedies, and film noir masterpieces. The director's staggering output of 180 films surpasses that of the legendary John Ford and exceeds the combined total of films directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and Howard Hawks.

In the first biography of this colorful, instinctual artist, Alan K. Rode illuminates the life and work of one of the film industry's most complex figures. He begins by exploring the director's early life and career in his native Hungary, revealing how Curtiz shaped the earliest days of silent cinema in Europe as he acted in, produced, and directed scores of films before immigrating to the United States in 1926. In Hollywood, Curtiz earned a reputation for his explosive tantrums, his difficulty communicating in English, and his disregard for the well-being of others. However, few directors elicited more memorable portrayals from their casts, and ten different actors delivered Oscar-nominated performances under his direction.

In addition to his study of the director's remarkable legacy, Rode investigates Curtiz's dramatic personal life, discussing his enduring creative partnership with his wife, screenwriter Bess Meredyth, as well as his numerous affairs and children born of his extramarital relationships. This meticulously researched biography provides a nuanced understanding of one of the most talented filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age.

Barbara Lamarr: The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful for Hollywood by Sherri Snyder
University Press of Kentucky

Barbara La Marr's (1896–1926) publicist once confessed: "There was no reason to lie about Barbara La Marr. Everything she said, everything she did was colored with news-value." When La Marr was sixteen, her older half-sister and a male companion reportedly kidnapped her, causing a sensation in the media. One year later, her behavior in Los Angeles nightclubs caused law enforcement to declare her "too beautiful" to be on her own in the city, and she was ordered to leave. When La Marr returned to Hollywood years later, her loveliness and raw talent caught the attention of producers and catapulted her to movie stardom.

In the first full-length biography of the woman known as the "girl who was too beautiful," Sherri Snyder presents a complete portrait of one of the silent era's most infamous screen sirens. In five short years, La Marr appeared in twenty-six films, including The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Trifling Women (1922), The Eternal City (1923), The Shooting of Dan McGrew (1924), and Thy Name Is Woman (1924). Yet by 1925―finding herself beset by numerous scandals, several failed marriages, a hidden pregnancy, and personal prejudice based on her onscreen persona―she fell out of public favor. When she was diagnosed with a fatal lung condition, she continued to work, undeterred, until she collapsed on set. She died at the age of twenty-nine.

Few stars have burned as brightly and as briefly as Barbara La Marr, and her extraordinary life story is one of tempestuous passions as well as perseverance in the face of adversity. Drawing on never-before-released diary entries, correspondence, and creative works, Snyder's biography offers a valuable perspective on her contributions to silent-era Hollywood and the cinematic arts.

Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel by Allan Ellenberger
University Press of Kentucky

Miriam Hopkins (1902–1972) first captured moviegoers' attention in daring precode films such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Story of Temple Drake (1933), and Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932). Though she enjoyed popular and critical acclaim in her long career―receiving an Academy Award nomination for Becky Sharp (1935) and a Golden Globe nomination for The Heiress (1949)―she is most often remembered for being one of the most difficult actresses of Hollywood's golden age. Whether she was fighting with studio moguls over her roles or feuding with her avowed archrival, Bette Davis, her reputation for temperamental behavior is legendary.

In the first comprehensive biography of this colorful performer, Allan R. Ellenberger illuminates Hopkins's fascinating life and legacy. Her freewheeling film career was exceptional in studio-era Hollywood, and she managed to establish herself as a top star at Paramount, RKO, Goldwyn, and Warner Bros. Over the course of five decades, Hopkins appeared in thirty-six films, forty stage plays, and countless radio programs. Later, she emerged as a pioneer of TV drama. Ellenberger also explores Hopkins's private life, including her relationships with such intellectuals as Theodore Dreiser, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, and Tennessee Williams. Although she was never blacklisted for her suspected Communist leanings, her association with these freethinkers and her involvement with certain political organizations led the FBI to keep a file on her for nearly forty years. This skillful biography treats readers to the intriguing stories and controversies surrounding Hopkins and her career, but also looks beyond her Hollywood persona to explore the star as an uncompromising artist. The result is an entertaining portrait of a brilliant yet underappreciated performer.

Harry Langdon: King of Silent Comedy by Gabriella Oldham and‎ Mabel Langdon,‎ with a foreword by Harry Langdon Jr.
University Press of Kentucky

Among silent film comedians, three names stand out―Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd―but Harry Langdon indisputably deserves to sit among them as the fourth "king." In films such as The Strong Man (1926) and Long Pants (1927), Langdon parlayed his pantomime talents, expressive eyes, and childlike innocence into silent-era stardom. This in-depth biography, which features behind-the-scenes accounts and personal recollections compiled by Langdon's late wife, provides a full and thoughtful picture of this multifaceted entertainer and his meteoric rise and fall.

Authors Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon explore how the actor developed and honed his comedic skills in amateur shows, medicine shows, and vaudeville. Together they survey his early work on the stage at the turn of the twentieth century as well as his iconic routines and characters. They also evaluate his failures from the early sound period, including his decision to part ways with director Frank Capra. Despite his dwindling popularity following the introduction of talkies, Langdon persevered and continued to perform in theater, radio, and film―literally until his dying day―leaving behind a unique and brilliant body of work.

Featuring never-before-published stories and photos from his immediate family, this biography is a fascinating and revealing look at an unsung silent film giant.

Mr. Suicide: Henry "Pathe" Lehrman and The Birth of Silent Comedy by Thomas Reeder
BearManor Media

It was every immigrant’s dream. Within ten years of his 1906 arrival in the U.S., Henry Lehrman had achieved both fame and fortune in the fledgling film industry. Widely acknowledged as the creator of frenetic comedies of unusual artistry and unparalleled mayhem, Lehrman’s guidance and creativity ushered newcomer Charles Chaplin to international popularity at Mack Sennett’s Keystone. Roscoe Arbuckle, Ford Sterling, and numerous others benefited immeasurably from his direction as well, at Keystone and later at Lehrman’s own Sterling, L-Ko, and Fox Sunshine companies. By 1919, Lehrman’s meteoric rise led to the realization of his dreams: full independence and artistic control with his Henry Lehrman Comedies. And then it all collapsed. Lehrman’s career hit the skids with the studio’s failure, followed by his involvement in the era’s most notorious scandal: the alleged rape and subsequent death of Lehrman’s fiancé, Virginia Rappe, at the hands of his friend Arbuckle. MR. SUICIDE: HENRY “PATHE” LEHRMAN AND THE BIRTH OF SILENT COMEDY is a riveting cautionary tale for all aspiring artists whose dreams exceed their grasp.

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