Pat H. Broeske

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A quartet of new memoirs provides an eclectic roadmap of personal journeys set in Hollywood, the Brooklyn projects, Philadelphia public housing, Oklahoma, Broadway and beyond.

In Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found  Allegra Huston comes to terms with the convoluted ties of one of Hollywood’s legendary families. “My family was made up of individual people who shared an accident of circumstance,” she explains. She was four when a car accident claimed the life of her mother, a former ballerina and fourth wife of iconic filmmaker John Huston. Sent to live at his Irish estate, she seldom saw him (he was making movies) or her much-older brother and sister. “I was living one of those stories where there aren’t any parents, and the children run free,” she writes.

Today a director of a respected Taos writer’s program, Huston tells her story as it unfolded—recapturing the innocence and confusion of a child grappling with her place in an ever-shifting realm of family and logistics. Often packing her suitcase, she moves from Ireland to Long Island to live with her mother’s parents. At eight she’s off to California, to be with her father and his fifth wife (and a step-sibling). But even when sharing a house with her father, he remains distant and imposing. In a rare “ordinary” moment he reaches out to touch her feverish forehead.

Similarly mythic is big sister Anjelica. A dozen years older and a glamorous model, she will go on to become a compelling actress and filmmaker. But when she takes her little sister under her wing, she is girlfriend to Jack—as in Nicholson. Later she’ll be with Ryan—as in O’Neal. Both men appear through young Allegra’s eyes (not those of a cineaste). Life becomes even dizzier when 12-year-old Allegra learns her real father is a British Lord with whom her mother had an extramarital affair. And what of her late mother? Allegra seeks to make her acquaintance through a scattering of letters and journal entries, but much remains an ethereal mystery in this beautifully written, haunting exploration.

Living for the City
Nelson George grew up in very different surroundings, in the projects of Brownsville in Brooklyn, where he and his sister were raised in a single-parent household. City Kid: A Writer’s Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success traces George’s ascent to influential journalist, author (books on hip-hop, Motown and more) and filmmaker (he is the writer-director of the HBO movie Life Support, based on his sister’s battle with HIV). In a direct but passionate writing style, George recounts what it was like to be young, black, poor—and driven. 
A voracious reader at nine, and an avid collector of Marvel Comics, at 14, George sent a dollar bill to the Literary Guild and was rewarded with volumes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Wolfe. He wrote and filed away short stories, worked on the high school newspaper and escaped the projects, moving to a near-middle-class neighborhood. He was becoming a student of film (Sidney Poitier was a role model), but music was his passion. George credits the Motorola stereo in the family living room for early on becoming “my passport, not simply to records, but to the vast nation outside New York that the music came from.” He listened and studied the credits of the Stax, Motown and Tamla records in his mother’s collection.

While attending a local college he wrote for a black newspaper and was a Billboard stringer. He also climbed the freelance ladder, by bringing his cultural sensibility to articles on black artists and black sounds, including the explosive hip-hop scene. City Kid puts the reader at the pulsating fault line of the seismic shakeup of black movies and music in the 1980s and 1990s. It also has quiet virtues—including the joy of discovery through reading and writing.

Life with father
Pop culture critic Joe Queenan can get goofy: he once wrote about spending a day talking like Yoda; for a piece on becoming Mickey Rourke, he didn’t bathe for a week. Funny and fearless—and often vitriolic—Queenan reveals how he developed his thick skin in Closing Time, a dark story of emotional survival.

His was an Irish-Catholic childhood, in a Philadelphia housing project in the 1960s. Poverty was a challenge, but Queenan’s father was the true nightmare. A man in perpetual rage, he went from job to job (13 in a single year) and drink to drink, and often came at his children with a belt. Even after they’d retreated to their beds, Queenan and his sisters endured sleepless nights—fearing their father’s destructive behavior would result in setting the house on fire. The public library and the bookmobile provided escape. Still, Queenan sought his father’s love and acceptance. A botched suicide attempt changed all that. Why, he wondered, had he tried so hard for approval from such a person?

Queenan’s father went on to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and, in one of the group’s famous steps, sought to make amends. Though Queenan shook his father’s hand, he also wrote an opinion article for Newsweek entitled, “Too Late to Say ‘I’m Sorry.’” As anyone who reads Queenan’s writing knows, he’s not into clemency.

Fairy-tale ending
Ready for some sunshine? In A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages, the petite, perfection-driven Kristin Chenoweth—known for starring in Broadway’s Wicked, and for appearances on TV shows including “The West Wing” and “Pushing Daisies”—shares her plus-size story of show business fame. Written with Joni Rodgers (herself a gifted memoirist), Chenoweth’s lively, chatty story reveals how faith and family have held her together, offers tips on succeeding in show business, lists the questions she plans to ask God when she meets him (including, “Who is the sadistic genius behind cellulite?”) and shares several shock-and-awe recipes, including one for her “No Calorie Left Behind Butterfinger Pie.” A sweet touch if ever there was one.

A quartet of new memoirs provides an eclectic roadmap of personal journeys set in Hollywood, the Brooklyn projects, Philadelphia public housing, Oklahoma, Broadway and beyond. In Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found  Allegra Huston comes to terms with the convoluted ties of one of Hollywood’s legendary families. “My family was made up […]
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The star names shine particularly bright on the bookshelves this holiday season. Where to begin? How about age before beauty . . .

The good ol’ boys
The life, times and works of an iconoclast filmmaker are examined in Robert Altman: The Oral Biography. Author Mitchell Zuckoff rounded up family members (including exes), associates and countless actors who assess the director known for ensemble casts, overlapping sound, a dense and naturalistic style and disdain for the Hollywood system. To Altman, the great films were inexplicable; a moviegoer might not be able to recount the plot, but they knew they’d experienced something. Little wonder Altman’s Nashville is so revered.

A former documentary filmmaker (see 1957’s compelling The James Dean Story) who directed episodic TV in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Altman became a counterculture force with the 1970 film M*A*S*H. (He had nothing to do with the TV series, which he hated.) Critical successes followed, as did flops. But the rollercoaster career was never boring. Neither was the hard-living Altman, who died in 2006 at the age of 81. As confounding as his films, he was alternately gregarious, self-absorbed and bitter. He demanded loyalty from the troops; sensing otherwise, he held a grudge. “His eyes were fantastic instruments of reprimand and reproach,” recalled composer John Williams. But as careers go, Altman gave it his all, and he did it the hard way—by remaining true to himself.

Another famous maverick is the subject of the unauthorized American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood. But this is no “gotcha” tome; author Marc Eliot is reverential as he links Eastwood’s personal life with his professional choices. Based largely on previously published works, the book moves along quickly, fueled by Eliot’s astute knowledge of the Eastwood filmography, including the performer’s three essential screen personae: The Man With No Name (the spaghetti Westerns); nihilistic “Dirty” Harry Callahan; and the good-natured redneck. All “are viscerally connected to the real-life Clint,” Eliot argues. Eastwood’s Army days were a conduit to Hollywood—and beyond. As a base lifeguard and projectionist, he met young actors like David Janssen and Martin Milner, who served in the Special Services. (Like Janssen and Milner, Eastwood became a contract player at Universal.) Being stationed at Fort Ord allowed him to explore the fabulous Northern California coastline—and the quaint city of Carmel, where he would ultimately become mayor.
Like the men he has portrayed, Eastwood goes his own way, and is not to be crossed. Though he had a long first marriage, he was never the faithful type. Over the years and under the radar, he fathered four illegitimate children, in addition to two with his first wife and one with the current Mrs. Eastwood (who is much younger than Eastwood’s 79 years). A palimony suit involving his former lover, actress Sondra Locke, put his unorthodox personal life in the spotlight. But his cinematic artistry on the big screen has remained unspoiled over the years—a testament to hard work, resourcefulness and a deft understanding of moviegoer’s tastes. As for Eastwood’s special allure, the Italian director Sergio Leone once said, “It seemed to me Clint closely resembled a cat.” He’s moved like one, too—pouncing to the top of the Hollywood fence.

Glamour girls
Though Liz Taylor long ago lost her perch as a leading lady, her name continues to evoke fame like few others. William J. Mann dissects the crafty machinations of her stardom in the biographical How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood. The author, who last wrote about Katharine Hepburn, interviewed Taylor sources and exhaustively examined the publicity that has accompanied the life and career of a woman who once casually observed that she couldn’t recall when she wasn’t famous. Mann concentrates on what he calls the “chocolate sundae” years—those of the great films and great romances. That period encompasses her carefully staged illnesses and botched suicide attempt, the Liz-Eddie-Debbie drama, the scandalous Liz-Dick Cleopatra hookup, her friendships with gay icons Monty Clift and Rock Hudson . . . which all played out publicly, with Liz working the media. Say what you will about her, the woman knew how to be a star.

Grace Kelly knew how to evoke style, class and an on-screen cool. Celebrity biographer Donald Spoto met her in her incarnation as Princess Grace of Monaco, while writing one of his many books on Alfred Hitchcock, director of three films in which she starred. At her request, he waited 25 years after her death to write High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, a respectful take on a woman whose impassive calm hid great passion (there were many lovers) and whose serenity masked her melancholy.

Another screen icon is profiled in Doris Day: The Illustrated Biography, by frequent BBC broadcaster and prolific celebrity biographer Michael Freedland.The book hits the career highlights and personal benchmarks of a complex woman whose life is at odds with her sunny image. First published in the U.K. in 2000, the book doesn’t include recent events in Day’s life, such as the death in 2004 of her only son, record producer Terry Melcher. But the slender volume succeeds as a stocking stuffer-sized introduction to the vivacious actress-singer-animal rights activist.

All about Paul
Ending on a musical note, Paul McCartney: A Life, is a page-turner that depicts McCartney as an ambitious, intuitive musical innovator, ever in competition with the rougher-edged John Lennon. Peter Ames Carlin, author of an acclaimed bio of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, is a journalist-fan who’s dug deep and written authoritatively. It’s all here: the genesis of the Beatles; McCartney’s relationship with the sophisticated and cultured Jane Asher—and her family (with whom he lived); his romances and marriages; the contractual battles with John and Yoko. And of course, there’s the music, with Carlin arguing that it was the “cute” Beatle who was the real force behind the Fab Four. Be prepared to be convinced.

Author-journalist Pat H. Broeske has written about Hollywood for publications including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly.

The star names shine particularly bright on the bookshelves this holiday season. Where to begin? How about age before beauty . . . The good ol’ boys The life, times and works of an iconoclast filmmaker are examined in Robert Altman: The Oral Biography. Author Mitchell Zuckoff rounded up family members (including exes), associates and […]
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The holidays are a perfect time to reach for the stars—of the celebrity kind. This season’s offerings include the cool and the classic.

A COMPLICATED LADY
Before she became a campy caricature as the queen of mean, Joan Crawford was a box office goddess—and one of the hardest-working women in the business. In Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford, veteran Hollywood chronicler Donald Spoto helps restore his subject’s reputation by going film by film through her life. Reminding us of her professionalism, he also counters some of the claims of adopted daughter Christina Crawford, of Mommie Dearest notoriety.

The survivor of a hardscrabble childhood, Crawford came to Hollywood as a dancer during the silent era. The former Lucille Le Sueur—her name was changed in an MGM-sponsored contest—ultimately logged a staggering 87 films. (For comparison’s sake, Julia Roberts has made 40.) Some are classics (Mildred Pierce, Humoresque, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?); many are forerunners of today’s “chick flicks.” Most remain watchable.

Married four times, she once said, “I am a woman with a woman’s needs—a husband.” Yet her men were sometimes other women’s husbands, including Jeff Chandler and the director Vincent Sherman. Yes, she was a clean freak and perfectionist, and vodka became a too-frequent companion. But Crawford was a generous performer and a faithful friend, and her adopted twin daughters told Spoto she was a good and caring mother. (Cathy, one of four adopted Crawford children, is the only twin still living.)

A recluse in her final years, Crawford succumbed to cancer in 1977. Time will tell if her movies—or her daughter’s tell-all—will become her legacy.

THE KING OF COOL
Steve McQueen spent his last days in Mexico seeking alternative treatment for cancer. That, and some unfortunate post-mortem photographs, cast a shadow over his death, at age 50, in 1980. But today it’s the man, his movies and his undeniable screen presence that endure.

The coolest of all the cool movie cats, McQueen was also the most contradictory. His characters were calm, collected. But he was tightly coiled, distrustful of women and ultra-protective of his professional turf. In Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon, author Marshall Terrill, who has written previous McQueen titles, delves beneath the public persona.

McQueen grew up fatherless, as his hard-drinking mother bounced from man to man. As a kid he was sent to reform school, worked the carny circuit and hopped freight trains. A place called Boy’s Republic turned him around, as did a stint in the Marines.

He trained as an actor in New York, married popular Broadway dancer Neile Adams (they had two children) and came to L.A. He was starring in TV’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive” when he was cast in The Magnificent Seven. Sensing an opportunity, he gave a still-compelling taciturn performance, stealing the show from star Yul Brynner. With McQueen, less was always more.

Ensuing hits included The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, Bullitt, Junior Bonner and The Getaway. While making the latter he romanced co-star Ali MacGraw—whose husband was the powerful mogul Robert Evans. McQueen and MacGraw later married. While they lasted, glamorous MacGraw stayed home to cook and clean. That’s how McQueen liked his “old lady” to behave—while he tomcatted about.

He could be infuriating, even cruel. And he knew it. While quietly battling cancer, he manned up—seeking out old associates to make amends. And he did it on his terms, cool to the end.

A TALENTED LIFE CUT SHORT
Sal Mineo was 37 when he was stabbed to death in what turned out to be a botched Hollywood robbery. With his 1976 murder came revelations of his closeted homosexuality, and rifts among family and friends who anguished over how he would be remembered.

They needn’t have worried. Sal Mineo: A Biography, written by Michael Gregg Michaud, is a revealing but respectful work that captures his sweetness, likability and artistic passion—and the conflicts fostered by the times in which he lived.

Professionally, Mineo was stuck in a time warp. Though Oscar-nominated for both Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Exodus (1960), he was hampered by his ’50s-era teen idol image, and his mother’s mismanagement of his career.

Personally, his life was a series of private flings with men, and a very public romance with his Exodus co-star-turned-lover-turned-friend to the end, Jill Haworth. Appropriately, the book is dedicated to Haworth as well as Mineo’s longtime male lover, model-actor Courtney Burr. Both gave the author candid, sometimes heartbreaking details about the man they loved.

The book includes some eye-openers, including eyewitness accounts of Mineo’s exploits with a pre-Shindig Bobby Sherman. But Michaud’s delivery is matter-of-fact, not sensational—though he offers plenty of color in capturing the changing eras when rigid mores gave way to the counterculture.

Of course, Mineo will forever be enshrined as Plato, the anguished lonely boy who makes surrogate parents of James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel. Michaud makes a case that Plato was the first gay teenager of the movies. Had he lived, Mineo might have eventually and bravely gone on to acknowledge that, yes, that really was so.

CAINE'S COMEBACK
The Elephant to Hollywood is a celebration of survival. Michael Caine (who grew up in London’s tough Elephant and Castle neighborhood) wrote this follow-up to his 1992 memoir, What’s It All About?, when he realized that the career he thought was over, wasn’t.

He credits Jack Nicholson with helping him find his latter-life footing by coaxing him into co-starring in 1996’s Blood and Wine. Now enjoying a more subdued stardom, largely of the supporting actor kind, Caine has found memorable roles—including his Oscar-winning turn in The Cider House Rules, and the part of Alfred the butler in the new Batman franchise—and takes pleasure in working with new talent.

Caine does some double dipping—repeating/embellishing stories from the past book (such as partying with John Lennon, boozing with Peter O’Toole). But he’s a vivid and compelling raconteur, gentle even when he’s barbed.

THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC
Were it not for scribes there’d be no stars. Thus, our shout-out to Hollywood: A Third Memoir, by the prolific novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry. (Earlier McMurtry memoirs were Books and Literary Life.) By his estimation, McMurtry has had about 70 Hollywood gigs via his novels, including The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove, and scripts, such as Brokeback Mountain. In recounting how his relationship with Tinseltown unfolded and flourished, McMurtry writes with a sly wink and an ambling tone, to deliver evocative moments about Southern California, glamour, power—and, of course, stars.

The holidays are a perfect time to reach for the stars—of the celebrity kind. This season’s offerings include the cool and the classic. A COMPLICATED LADY Before she became a campy caricature as the queen of mean, Joan Crawford was a box office goddess—and one of the hardest-working women in the business. In Possessed: The […]
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The passage of time and occasional discoveries of new source materials have made Marilyn Monroe an ever-evolving presence. Marking the 50th anniversary of her death on August 5, 1962, two revisionist biographies offer divergent views of the blonde icon.

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, by USC gender studies professor, feminist historian and unabashed Monroe fan Lois Banner, seeks to quash the notion of Monroe as damaged victim. Marilyn is instead the one on top—a smart cookie, largely in control of her self-created sexy persona and career.

Adept at depicting time and place in authentic detail, Banner digs deep into the fractured childhood of Norma Jeane Mortenson, showing that Monroe exaggerated chapters of her life (her foster families were relatives/friends, not total strangers), while downplaying probable childhood sexual abuse.

Growing up in the shadow of Southern California’s film industry, Monroe did more than dream of stardom; she set out to make it happen. After being snapped by a photographer for a recruiting magazine, she became an eager and astute photo subject, then a possible “party girl” (serving up sex and drinks to the powerful) and studio contract player. Her star was rising when rumors hit that she’d once posed nude for a calendar pin-up. Instead of today’s typical insincere apology, Monroe owned up to it. Asked if she had anything on during the shoot, she quipped, “The radio.”

Seeking self-improvement she frequented bookstores, took classes at UCLA, studied acting. She confounded studio executives by wanting control over her movies, and infuriated the same crowd when she went out without donning underwear.

Banner takes us through the films, love affairs, the shrinks, the medication and a pivotal weekend during which something murky transpired at Frank Sinatra’s Cal Neva Lodge. A drunken Monroe may have been sexually violated; she was certainly humiliated. Days later she was dead, at 36. Banner recounts various Monroe death theories, including those with a conspiratorial edge involving the Kennedys, and wonders if, had she lived, she would have embraced the sisterhood of feminism. 

In Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years British author Keith Badman charts similar biographical terrain, but steadfastly refutes an affair with JFK—beyond a one-nighter—and shoots down a rumored RFK romance. Itineraries prove both were logistically impossible, Badman argues. He also claims to have solved the mystery of Monroe’s death, via copious data regarding her lengthy use of prescription meds. Well, maybe. . . .

Like Banner, he delves into the creepy goings-on at Cal Neva, while taking a magnifying glass to the actresses’ final films, The Misfits and the never-completed Something’s Got to Give.

Author of books on the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Badman is gifted at depicting Monroe’s colorful supporting cast, including longtime acting coach Paula Strasberg (dubbed Black Bart by crew members) and publicist Pat Newcomb, who remains a tantalizing figure in the life of the ultimate mystery woman.

Author Pat H. Broeske is also a Hollywood journalist whose byline appears in the latest issue of Emmy magazine.

The passage of time and occasional discoveries of new source materials have made Marilyn Monroe an ever-evolving presence. Marking the 50th anniversary of her death on August 5, 1962, two revisionist biographies offer divergent views of the blonde icon. Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, by USC gender studies professor, feminist historian and unabashed Monroe […]
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Fifty years after gunshots rang out in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, the collective memory continues to celebrate the life and achievements of John F. Kennedy, and to ponder his death. Authors and publishers are also remembering the November 22nd anniversary with dozens of new books on Kennedy’s assassination and legacy. We’ve pored through the stacks to point readers toward some of the best.

James Swanson, author of the riveting 2006 bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, brings his storytelling acumen and research skills to the event he calls “the great American tragedy.” Swanson’s End of Days begins with Lee Harvey Oswald meticulously planning a killing. He has maps, surveillance photos, a planned escape route and more. His intended target: General Edwin A. Walker, a Dallas-based ultra-conservative who considered JFK a political foe. But Oswald’s assassination attempt fails; his bullet comes within an inch of Walker’s head.

Oswald isn’t a suspect in the Walker incident. It’s only after he succeeds at his next assassination attempt—on the life of JFK—that investigators make the connection. Swanson’s linear narrative positions all this as it happens. He does the same in detailing the forces that bring Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline to Texas, ultimately putting them in the crosshairs of Oswald’s rifle, and the reader in a “you are there” edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Dallas 1963 masterfully describes the sociological and political forces that made the city a hotbed of reactionary activism. Bill Minutaglio—whose Texas-themed books include biographies of George W. Bush and Molly Ivins—and Texas scholar Steven L. Davis vividly describe the collision of the colorful characters who gave Dallas its foreboding renown. Among them: Gen. Walker, the once-celebrated military leader who went rogue; oil baron H.L. Hunt; Dallas Morning News publisher Ted Dealey; and incendiary congressman Bruce Alger. At odds with JFK’s foreign policies, they also resented the president’s domestic agenda, notably on civil rights. Into this toxic atmosphere came Oswald, an avowed Marxist who had resentments of his own.

As authoritative as it is readable, Dallas 1963 is a significant addition to the JFK canon.

A RESTLESS ASSASSIN

Peter Savodnik, who once reported from Moscow, is no conspiracy theorist. He believes Oswald did it—and acted alone. The nagging question is, why? To find the answer, Savodnik traces Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1962. The Interloper gets its title from Oswald’s lifelong efforts to escape his old life and insert himself into a new one.

Oswald’s youth was chaotic, in large part because of his hectoring mother, Marguerite. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Marines. He also discovered Marxism. Seeking a more fulfilling life, he journeyed to the Soviet Union where he perplexed the KGB (as a defector, he had little to offer), enjoyed success with women (who found him exotic) and ultimately married.

But as Savodnik details, the lifelong outsider didn’t fit in; returning to America with his Russian bride, his anger and frustrations festered. Over the next 17 months, Oswald moved nine times, eventually making his way to Dallas. Ever the interloper, his disconnectedness led to his actions on November 22, 1963. In a sense, says Savodnik, it was as much a suicide attempt as it was a murder.

EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY

In Five Days in November, Clint Hill and co-author Lisa McCubbin, who previously teamed up for Mrs. Kennedy and Me, focus on a timeframe that begins just before the trip to Texas and ends with a nation in mourning.

As the Secret Service agent in charge of the first lady’s detail, Hill is known for leaping onto the back of the car that carried the injured JFK, pushing Jackie back into the seat.

Five Days in November includes a reproduction of the trip agenda, a plan of Air Force One and a chart of the Dallas motorcade—as well as seldom-seen photos. But the highlights are Hill’s personal remembrances, like hearing the first lady practicing her Spanish while en route to San Antonio, in anticipation of a speech to Latino constituents.

The text is straightforward; the embellishments come from the heart, as when Hill relates the backstory of John-John’s famed salute at his father’s funeral. Or when the first lady takes Hill’s hand, during the somber flight carrying the president’s body from Dallas to D.C., and asks, “What’s going to happen to you now, Mr. Hill?”

Other first-hand observers of the events in Dallas include the medical professionals who have been quoted in a spate of books over the years about what took place at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the mortally wounded president was rushed. At long last, there is a single volume of remembrances, compiled by Dr. Allen Childs, who was on the scene. We Were There includes accounts of more than 40 Parkland staff members.  Some are tearful, some insightful, some strictly by the book; all underscore the sense of urgency—and the craziness—that resonated throughout the hospital. 

There’s Jackie, silently circling the emergency room, holding something in her cupped hands. Nudging a doctor, she hands him “a large chunk of her husband’s brain tissue.” In the halls, angry Secret Service agents brandish machine guns. Outside, a medical student watches as an ornate casket is carried in.

It’s at Parkland that the seeds of conspiracy theories take root, beginning with professional differences over where the bullets entered the president’s body. In one startling recollection, a doctor says a Warren Commission representative admitted to him that witnesses were prepared to testify that “they saw somebody shoot the president from the front,” but the commission didn’t want to interview them.

No wonder Skyhorse, the publisher of We Were There, has a number of conspiracy titles among the 26 JFK assassination books it is publishing this year, including The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ and They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK.

Another probe of conspiracy theories is History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, a lively and cleverly packaged exploration. Adapted from the History Channel program “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” the book presents conspiracies in countdown format: 10, 9, 8 . . . with Kennedy’s assassination in the number-one spot.

Authors Meltzer and Keith Ferrell review the top 10 theories pointing to a conspiracy in JFK’s death. Among them (at #9): the fact that the findings of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Assassinations, released in 1979, differed from those of the Warren Commission. 

The book comes with envelopes of removable facsimile documents for each conspiracy; for JFK, the envelope contains the order form for Oswald’s $19.95 rifle that may—or may not—have changed history.

Weighing in at more than five pounds, the striking commemorative LIFE The Day Kennedy Died: 50 Years Later recalls the iconic magazine’s illustrious relationship with the Kennedys, as well as the dark days in Dallas. 

A foreword by historian David McCullough assesses JFK’s significance. (It was JFK’s passion for history that triggered McCullough’s professional calling.) There are biographical pages, family portraits—including Cecil Stoughton’s wonderful shots of Caroline and John-John cavorting in the Oval Office—and sections on the murder and its aftermath. ?It was LIFE that first published images from Abraham Zapruder’s legendary 26-second 8mm home movie. Here, all 486 frames are reproduced in an eight-page fold-out. The book also includes a removable reprint of the original LIFE issue that followed the assassination.

REASSESSING KENNEDY

Historian Thurston Clarke delves into the final chapter of Kennedy’s presidency in JFK’s Last Hundred Days. This compelling page-turner follows JFK from August 1963—just after the death of his two-day-old son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy—to that fateful day in Dallas. The mystery Clarke sets out to solve is not who killed JFK, but rather, who the president was and where he might have led us.

Clarke makes a convincing argument that, had he lived, JFK would have opted for a 1964 running mate other than Lyndon Johnson—dubbed Uncle Cornpone by Kennedy and his crowd—and that, following his re-election, he would have gotten the U.S. out of Southeast Asia. Domestically, Clarke contends, Kennedy would have pursued a strong civil rights agenda. (One anecdote finds JFK watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the White House’s only TV, a 13-inch black and white with rabbit ears—on which Caroline regularly watched “Lassie.”)

Detailed in both political and personal revelations, JFK’s Last Hundred Days does not delve into the assassination, though the stage is set. The morning they left for Dallas, JFK warned Jackie, “We’re heading into nut country today.” 

After the assassination, Jackie and some Kennedy cabinet members promoted a romanticized vision of the late president. It started with Jackie’s interview with LIFE magazine, in which she compared the Kennedy White House to King Arthur’s Court. A spate of glowing biographies followed.

Myths are one thing; facts are another. Camelot’s Court is an unvarnished account of JFK’s inner circle (nicknamed the “Ministry of Talent”). Robert Dallek, author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, goes behind closed doors as JFK deals with the communist advance and the foreboding possibility of nuclear war. Cuba and Vietnam dominate Kennedy’s agenda, as well as this book—especially as the conflict in Southeast Asia grows. But Dallek has cleverly spiced up his scholarly reporting. In doing so, he humanizes the sometimes brittle politician who—when facing the Cuban missile crisis—confided to a lover, “I’d rather my children be red than dead.”

Dallek takes a measured view of what might have happened had JFK not been killed. Perhaps he’d have been re-elected; it’s “plausible” he would have gotten the U.S. out of Vietnam.

Today, what’s certain is Kennedy’s hold on the American psyche. No assassin’s bullet could snuff that out.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE:
Speculative takes on Camelot.

Fifty years after gunshots rang out in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, the collective memory continues to celebrate the life and achievements of John F. Kennedy, and to ponder his death. Authors and publishers are also remembering the November 22nd anniversary with dozens of new books on Kennedy’s assassination and legacy. We’ve pored through the stacks to […]
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The assassination has inspired fiction by writers from Don DeLillo (Libra) to Stephen King (11/22/63). Now, two journalists take their turns.

Jim Lehrer, former anchor of PBS’s “NewsHour,” was a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald when JFK was killed. His questioning of a Secret Service agent about the use of the “bubble top” on the presidential limousine was the impetus for the novel Top Down. This slender volume begins like a detective story but becomes a character study of the emotional toll on individuals involved in a national tragedy. The characters include a guilt-ridden Secret Service agent who gave the order to remove the bubble top for the Dallas motorcade, his plucky daughter and a reporter clearly modeled on Lehrer (right down to the crew cut).

If Kennedy Lived, by political commentator Jeff Greenfield, has a cheeky tone and a scenario that begins with JFK recovering from the assassin’s bullet. He goes on to serve a second term; Lyndon Johnson resigns the vice presidency to curtail an investigation into his finances; both Bobby and Jackie seem to stand by their man. But increasingly, the media takes shots and the public is losing faith. Ah, politics.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE:
On a tragic anniversary, remembering the life and death of JFK.

The assassination has inspired fiction by writers from Don DeLillo (Libra) to Stephen King (11/22/63). Now, two journalists take their turns. Jim Lehrer, former anchor of PBS’s “NewsHour,” was a reporter at the Dallas Times Herald when JFK was killed. His questioning of a Secret Service agent about the use of the “bubble top” on […]
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Forget visions of sugar plums. This holiday season, a roster of Hollywood-themed entries summon up lingering images from beloved movie classics, among them The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as from kooky cult favorites, including TV’s wonderfully eccentric “Doctor Who.”

Of course, some cult films go on to become classics. In development for a decade, A Christmas Story was released in November 1983 with little fanfare and to mixed reviews. Ticket sales were surprisingly solid, but MGM pulled the movie from theaters after only five weeks—before Christmas—to make way for Barbra Streisand’s Yentl. No offense to Babs, but over time, it’s the modest tale of Ralphie Parker and family that has triumphed. It’s now an annual tradition that brings in an estimated 50 million viewers.

A Christmas Story ­Treasury celebrates the little movie that could. This is an interactive book with sound buttons that trigger eight famous quotes—delivered by the film’s narrator and writer, Jean Shepherd—and a packet of ephemera, including a “Merry Christmas from the Parkers” greeting card. Author Tyler Schwartz produced the documentary Road Trip for Ralphie, and he’s also affiliated with the Cleveland-based A Christmas Story House & Museum. So, yes, he’s a fan, and his book is for those who share his love for this holiday staple. I triple-dog-dare you to dislike this book.

FANTASTIC MR. ANDERSON

Cult film maestro Wes Anderson—whose oddities include Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom—is the subject of The Wes Anderson Collection, featuring film-by-film conversations between Anderson and critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

Seitz has been interviewing Anderson intermittently since 1993, when Seitz was a rookie film critic for the Dallas Observer and Anderson was making a 12-minute, 8mm movie called Bottle Rocket, which he co-wrote with then-unknown Owen Wilson. Seitz calls this book “a tour of an artist’s mind, with the artist as guide and amiable companion.” Included are nods to Anderson’s influences (such as Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape), his favorite music, his filmmaking habits (he heavily annotates his frames and, à la Hitchcock, does detailed storyboards) and more.

With an introduction by Michael Chabon and clever Andersonian artwork by Max Dalton, this coffee-table book is also heavily illustrated with stills from Anderson’s films. The stars are familiar—including Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston—but if the titles aren’t, this book may prompt you to add a few of them to your Netflix queue.

GOLDEN AGE

For lavish production it’s hard to top Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, which features sumptuous production stills and behind-the-scenes candids from some of the greatest movies ever made, starring some of the greatest stars Hollywood has ever known.

Author Mark A. Vieira, who specializes in celebratory books about Hollywood’s Golden Age, looks at 50 films of a landmark year. They include Gunga Din, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as star vehicles such as The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, The Roaring Twenties with tough guys Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and Ninotchka with the legendary Greta Garbo. Let’s not forget Basil Rathbone as the ultimate sleuth in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or young Shirley Temple in the teary The Little Princess. And then there was The Wizard of Oz, which had already gone through 10 writers, three directors, two witches and two tin men when director Victor Fleming came aboard—and the rest is history. As for the cherry on top, that would be Gone with the Wind.

Each film merits production highlights and critical reaction—and the aforementioned production stills from master photographers such as George Hurrell. That kind of artistic photography is now “gone with the wind,” as is the style of filmmaking that made 1939 a year to remember.

TIMEY WIMEY

For time travel fans, and for those who follow the exploits of the eccentric Time Lord known simply as the Doctor, there’s Doctor Who: The Vault.

The BBC-produced series is watched regularly in the U.S. by 2 million viewers; worldwide, there are 77 million. Not bad considering the show’s shaky beginnings. After a rocky period of pre-production, it debuted in November 1963, one day after the assassination of JFK.

Author Marcus Hearn enjoyed enviable access to the BBC’s “Doctor Who” archive and to those of private collectors. The result is a beautifully produced chronicle of the series.

In the last 50 years, 11 actors have portrayed the Time Lord—the result of his ability to “regenerate.” In various incarnations, the Doctor has been jokey, earnest, gray-haired, a youthful 26 and so on. He travels in a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which usually resembles a 1960s British police box. 

All this is explained in depth by Hearn, who looks at the costumes, weapons, monsters and promotional items of the series. There are accounts of the comings and goings of writers, directors and producers; differences over storylines and programming approach; and movies that influenced the series, including Frankenstein and classic Westerns.

Should the phenomenon have passed you by, don’t pass up the book. The Doctor will see you now.

Forget visions of sugar plums. This holiday season, a roster of Hollywood-themed entries summon up lingering images from beloved movie classics, among them The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as from kooky cult favorites, including TV’s wonderfully eccentric “Doctor Who.” Of course, some cult films go on to become classics. In […]
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The Kennedys continue their reign as the royal family of publishing. One year after the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy set off an avalanche of new titles examining his death and presidency, it is the former first lady who is under the microscope in a pair of new biographies with differing agendas.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story has a traditional birth-to-death arc, but midway through, the focus is on Jackie’s behavior after the assassination of her husband. Author Barbara Leaming makes a strong argument, based on original research, that Jackie suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at a time before the condition had been diagnosed.

“I am a living wound,” said Jackie, who self-medicated with vodka and cigarettes. Guilt-ridden that she hadn’t been able to yank her husband out of the way of the fatal gunshot, Jack’s widow talked incessantly to friends—whether or not they wanted to hear—about that dark day in Dallas. To a priest she knew well, she revealed she was contemplating suicide.

While she had no interest in the investigation into JFK’s murder, she was contentiously obsessed with his legacy. After concocting the notion—for an enthusiastically complicit Life magazine—of Camelot as the theme of the JFK presidency, she battled writers whose views differed from hers. Her dispute with historian William Manchester, whom she commissioned to write The Death of a President, was so bitter and protracted that, in time, public sentiment turned against her.

The 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, just three months apart, had Jackie believing that she and/or her children would be next. It was in part to escape what she called “the outside world” that she married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The public was appalled—as was the media. (“Jack Kennedy Dies Today for a Second Time” proclaimed one headline.)

According to Leaming, whose previous subjects include Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, the Ari-Jackie marriage was stronger (for awhile) than most people realize. He “rescued me at a moment when my life was engulfed in shadows,” she once said. Onassis was also a good stepfather to Caroline and John.

The marriage to JFK had come about, at least on his part, largely for political reasons; the young senator required a wife to counter his playboy image. Jacqueline Bouvier, the product of a respected finishing school and a former debutante—who once said her life’s ambition was “not to be a housewife”—wasn’t nearly as pretty as the girls JFK typically  squired, but shared his passion for reading and the arts. To Jackie, he was reminiscent of her bad boy-father (John “Black Jack” Bouvier), whose infidelities led to her parents’ divorce.

JFK had not exactly been the ideal husband—his infidelities were legend. But as his wife, and eventual First Lady, Jackie sculpted a legend of her own. To this day she remains the supreme White House style icon. (Sorry, Michelle.) Her credentials as a tastemaker contributed to her reinvention, in her latter years, as a book editor and outspoken advocate for historic preservation. As for her greatest achievement, she once opined, “I think it is that, after going through a rather difficult time, I consider myself comparatively sane.”

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., in John’s nursery, following a joint birthday party for the children at the White House in 1962.

A SON’S TRAGIC LEGACY
The Good Son: JFK Jr. and the Mother He Loved mines some of the same sources utilized in the Leaming book, but the emphasis is on Jackie’s close relationship with John Jr., and the tone is more tabloid-ish than refined.

Christopher Andersen, who has written a slew of celeb titles including a number of Kennedy tomes (among them, Sweet Caroline: Last Child of Camelot and Jack and Jackie: Portrait of an American Marriage), bookends the mother-son saga with the tragic death of John Jr. 15 years ago.

Reflecting on his celebrated childhood, the adult John couldn’t distinguish between personal reminiscences and public images captured by the cameras. (Of his famed salute at his father’s funeral, he admitted, “I’d like to say I remember that moment. But I don’t.”) Andersen tells us about Jackie’s efforts, in the aftermath of JFK’s death, to provide her son with a strong masculine role model. Robert F. Kennedy fit the bill. Indeed, Peter Lawford told his wife that RFK filled in for JFK “in all departments”—including as a lover to Jackie.

Aristotle Onassis would be an especially vivid and helpful father figure, a status Andersen depicts while simultaneously throwing in allegations that Onassis was a cross-dresser (using the name “Arianna”) who enjoyed himself with young Greek males. As is now widely known, he also continued seeing his former mistress, the opera great Maria Callas (whose nickname for Jackie was “the False Lady”).

Yeah, it’s got lots of dish, including plenty about the hunky John’s never-boring love life. There are myriad celebrity girlfriends, including Sharon Stone and Madonna (“a sexual dynamo,” according to John). He and Daryl Hannah were on-again/off-again for years; at one point they even got a marriage license—and she bought a wedding gown at a flea market.

Jackie, who was none too pleased with John-John’s Madonna hookup, and who took to shunning actress Hannah, passed away of non-Hodgkins lymphoma before getting to meet Carolyn Bessette. Tall, slim and elegant, the young woman who became John’s wife had many qualities similar to Jackie—and in contrast to John. She was orderly and tidy; he was haphazard and sloppy. She was coolly detached; he was warm and ingratiating. Their marriage would have probably ended in divorce, per their various friends’ accounts (toward the end they were constantly fighting), had they not died, along with Carolyn’s sister, in a plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard on July 16, 1999.

Andersen sees John’s legacy as one of unfulfilled promise. As delivered here, cleverly intertwined with Jackie’s story, it’s also one for the books.

 
Photo credit: Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
The Kennedys continue their reign as the royal family of publishing. One year after the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy set off an avalanche of new titles examining his death and presidency, it is the former first lady who is under the microscope in a pair of new biographies with differing agendas.
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Santa’s gift bag is heavy with books celebrating enduring filmmakers, the making of a Golden Age screen classic, two beloved cult films and a toast to Hollywood’s drinking circuit.

Scorsese on the set of Goodfellas, copyright ©1990 The Kobal Collection. From Martin Scorsese, reprinted with permission from Abrams. 

CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN MASTER
Martin Scorsese: A Retrospective celebrates one of America’s most original and audacious filmmakers. Written by incisive film critic Tom Shone and lavishly illustrated, this book—like a Scorsese film—packs a passionate wallop and is elevated by scrutinous attention to detail.

The film-by-film format encompasses Scorsese’s student films, B-movies (the Roger Corman-produced Boxcar Bertha), slick Hollywood entries (New York, New York), curiosities (The Last Temptation of Christ), documentaries (The Last Waltz) and iconic titles that established him as “the patron saint of blood and pasta” (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas).

A SINGULAR STYLE
In The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion, author Jason Bailey—film editor for Flavorwire—focuses on professional output, not controversial personal life, as he moves through nearly 50 years of Allen’s films—from What’s Up, Tiger Lily? to Blue Jasmine. The book’s lively, intuitive essays include surveys of Allen’s recurring themes (Jewish mothers, magic and magical realism, Groucho idolatry, infidelity, younger women, hypochondria), intermingled with charts and pages on related subjects including New York (complete with a map showing locales of film scenes), his favorite leading ladies and more.

BEHIND THE ULTIMATE EPIC
Lawdy! Who’d have guessed—after all these years and so much dissection—that The Making of Gone with the Wind would be as startlingly informative as it is sumptuous? But, then, author Steve Wilson, curator of the film collection at the University of Texas at Austin, had the benefit of access to the archives of David O. Selznick, the film’s producer, and his business partner. As a result, more than 600 rarely seen items, including storyboards, telegrams, contracts, fan mail, concept art and more, are grandly reproduced and scrutinized.

The book doesn’t skirt the racial controversies that have dogged the movie over the decades, but in this, its 75th year, neither is there any denying of its influence—and endurance.

AN IMPROBABLE CLASSIC
It was at a 25th anniversary gathering for the 1987 cult movie The Princess Bride that Cary Elwes—Westley to the film’s many devoted fans—was inspired to pen, with the help of Joe Layden, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

The filmmakers and stars share their stories as Elwes charts the film’s unlikely journey from modest hit to cult status (thanks to VHS sales) to a timeless favorite featuring derring-do, pirates, giants, oversize rodents and the quest for true love.

UNABASHEDLY CAMPY FUN
Thanks to a magical blend of music, madness and gender bending—the lead, played by the riotous Tim Curry, is a transsexual mad scientist—a strange little musical became a pop culture legend. The Rocky Horror Treasury: A Tribute to the Ultimate Cult Classic, by devotees Sal Piro and Larry Viezel, follows the film’s history, includes lots of fun facts (an entire episode of TV’s “Glee” was devoted to RHPS) and has a side panel with eight buttons that play musical clips of songs like “Dammit Janet” and more. An envelope in the back contains extras: a poster, temporary tattoos and an instructional Time Warp dance chart.

RAISE A GLASS
And finally, hoist a glass to Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History, a clever compendium of equal parts showbiz and booze. Written by Mark Bailey and illustrated by Edward Hemingway, the book includes often outrageous stories of famed inebriates (John Barrymore and Liz Taylor among them), the bars they frequented, hangover cures and cocktail recipes.

Read all about that bastion of Tiki glory, Don the Beachcomber, and discover the origins of Chasen’s Shirley Temple (yes, it was created expressly for the tiny starlet). Sprinkled with celebrity quotes (Dennis Hopper: “I only did drugs so I could drink more.”), this book also works as a kind of tour guide—find “Open” signs hanging over sections in which the bars and other alcohol-centric joints are still serving. My personal favorite bartender, the legendary Manny Aguirre of Musso & Frank Grill, gets a shout-out and shares his martini recipe. Cheers!

 

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Santa’s gift bag is heavy with books celebrating enduring filmmakers, the making of a Golden Age screen classic, two beloved cult films and a toast to Hollywood’s drinking circuit.
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An unstoppable film franchise. A luminous Golden Age star. A beloved oddball actor. This season’s standout entertainment-themed books run the gamut from design to drama, from stand-up to the stage. 

THE NAME'S BOND
Whatever your take on the Bond films—including the vastly differing opinions on which actor is the best Bond—the franchise’s production value is not up for debate. The large-format Bond by Design salutes the behind-the-scenes artists—including renowned production designers Ken Adam, Syd Cain and Peter Lamont—and features a copious display of artwork, sets, costumes and embellishments, making this hefty tome a must-have for 007 fans and devotees of production design. 

With many sections written by Meg Simmonds, the archivist for the Bond empire’s production company, the book moves film by film, featuring storyboard sequences, costume illustrations, gadgetry ruminations and more. Styles vary from artist to artist. Adam, whose Bond career dates back to the 1962 debut title, Dr. No, liked to work with a Flo-master felt tip pen. Jump ahead many decades, and the artists embrace digital design; what is consistent is the quality and attention to detail. No wonder Bond is the most successful franchise in film history, with the 24th entry, Spectre, now in theaters and thoroughly represented in this elaborate collection. 

A HOLLYWOOD LEGEND
Though she won three Academy Awards, Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman is best known for her role opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Published to commemorate the centenary of her birth, the lavish and loving Ingrid Bergman: A Life in Pictures takes readers on a journey through her career, including her downward spiral and triumphant encore. 

With daughter Isabella Rossellini serving as co-editor, this book boasts more than 350 photos—some from Bergman’s private collection—an introduction by her co-star and friend Liv Ullmann, a lengthy Bergman interview and texts by various acquaintances. 

Her highly controversial liaison with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini is detailed alongside the image that sparked the media frenzy: Bergman and Rossellini, who were both married to other people, walking hand in hand on the Amalfi coast. Published by Life magazine, the photo established Bergman’s reputation as a loose woman. When she became pregnant with Rossellini’s child and delivered the baby prior to their marriage, she became a Hollywood pariah. 

Beauty, talent, choices and sacrifice—they’re all on display here in Bergman’s intriguing story, all of it captured by the camera.

THE CULT OF BILL
Whether he’s battling gophers, ghosts or zombies, Bill Murray is the quirky king of offbeat humor. As Robert Schnakenberg puts it in The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, his on-screen persona is that of “the sardonic slacker-trickster who charms his way out of precarious situations.”

Topics are arranged alphabetically: Under “cats,” we learn that he’s allergic to them; under “Chase, Cornelius ‘Chevy,’ ” we hear about his rocky relationship with his fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum, including their fistfight prior to a February 1978 taping. His movies are all featured, as are the roles he turned down (like porn producer Jack Horner, subsequently played by Burt Reynolds, in Boogie Nights).  

As the book observes, the beloved Murray is a complicated guy. (See the listing under “Ramis, Harold,” about his two-decade estrangement from his former pal and director.) Comedians usually are. 


Photo of Bill Murray in Caddyshack from The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, reprinted courtesy of the Everett Collection.

MAKE ’EM LAUGH
Speaking of comics, more than a century of stand-up gets the spotlight in The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy. Author Kliph Nesteroff, a former stand-up comic, conducted more than 200 interviews for a book that manages to be both encyclopedic and hugely entertaining. 

Did you know that the term “stand-up comic” was invented by the Mob, which owned the early clubs? Or that it was Redd Foxx, of TV’s “Sanford and Son,” who triggered the comedy album boom in the 1960s?  

Nesteroff takes us through the history of stand-up, with vivid stop-offs in burlesque, radio, early television, Vegas and the talk show circuit. Of course, comedy has a dark side. Nesteroff uses Robin Williams to remind us that the funniest guy in the room is sometimes hiding a world of pain. 

BROADWAY'S BEST
Celebratory and jam-packed with facts and great imagery, Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story focuses on more than 140 great musicals of stage and screen from the past century. The enduring classics are all accounted for, from Show Boat to The Phantom of the Opera, from Jesus Christ Superstar to Hair. Lush production photos, fascinating essays and facts about the genre’s geniuses, including Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, make this a choice coffee-table tome. There’s much to sing about here, in what could easily become a favored reference work.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

An unstoppable film franchise. A luminous Golden Age star. A beloved oddball actor. This season’s standout entertainment-themed books run the gamut from design to drama, from stand-up to the stage.
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For TV and film lovers, this year’s crop of books offer fun “best of” rankings, behind-the-scenes tours, photos from the vaults of Hollywood A-listers, touching tributes and more.

TOP PICKS IN TV
Is “The Simpsons” really the best TV show ever? Does “Deadwood” belong in the top 10? Is “The Larry Sanders Show” TV’s most influential series? Readers will be fighting for the remote and cruising Netflix to see how their picks compare with those of authors Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, who name the greatest American shows of all time in TV (The Book). In choosing the greatest scripted comedies and dramas, criteria included innovation, influence and storytelling. The bulk of the nods are for shows from the ’80s (when TV first hit its artistic stride, per the authors) through today. Still, “I Love Lucy” makes their top 10.

PIONEERING LEADING LADIES
For fans of Hollywood’s Golden Age, there are lavish, large-format celebrations of two indelible leading ladies. Audrey: The 50s tracks the early years of Audrey Hepburn’s career. Author David Wills utilizes his own photo archives to spotlight the actress and her movies, her relationships with colleagues (her Roman Holiday co-star Gregory Peck called her “a magical combination of high chic and high spirits”) and her undeniable impact on fashion, a Hepburn legacy that began with Sabrina. This carefully curated photographic retrospective contains restored shots of Hepburn from a decade of acting on sets like Funny Face and The Nun’s Story, with snippets from her interviews and charming candids of Hepburn at home. Audrey is a great gift for fashion and film lovers alike.


Hepburn on the set of Sabrina courtesy of Wills' collection.

Natalie Wood (Turner Classic Movies): Reflections on a Legendary Life is the first family-authorized book about the Oscar-nominated actress who starred in classics including Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. Authored by Manoah Bowman with Natasha Gregson Wagner, Wood’s eldest daughter, this book has a straightforward agenda: to restore Wood’s legacy. As the opening chapter notes, her “accidental death” in 1981 has for too long overshadowed her life. Moving chronologically through her life and career, the chapters feature remembrances from various colleagues, friends and family. Fans will love the shots of Wood on the set of the iconic Rebel Without a Cause and other favorites like Splendor in the Grass, along with her magazine covers, wedding photos and never-before-seen images from her family’s private collection. An introduction penned by Robert Wagner, to whom she was famously twice married; her friend Robert Redford’s brief afterword; and a special chapter on the making of West Side Story make this a standout tribute.

FILMMAKING FINESSE
Let’s not forget the filmmakers. The Oliver Stone Experience is appropriately hefty, with 500 color photos and illustrations, including facsimiles of script pages and correspondence. This dramatically designed book looks at the life and work of one of Hollywood’s most audacious, controversial artists. Author Matt Zoller Seitz (co-author of the aforementioned TV) and Stone participate in a probing Q&A that provides an engaging through line in the book.

Stone doesn’t hold back about his privileged upbringing, his relationships with his parents and women, behind-closed-doors Hollywood dealings, how Vietnam changed his worldview and more. 

In the preface, Seitz states that this isn’t just a portrait of the director responsible for iconic films such as Scarface, Platoon, Wall Street, JFK and the loony Natural Born Killers, but a celebration of one of America’s film titans. The book wraps with Snowden, Stone’s latest eyebrow-raising and politically charged title. Love him or loathe him, his movies are never boring and neither is this book. For Stone’s followers, it’s a must-have.

IT'S "FRON-KEN-STEEN"
On the lighter side is Young Frankenstein, a collection of photos and ruminations about one of the funniest movies ever made. Written by beloved crazy man Mel Brooks, it’s got behind-the-scenes surprises plus never-before-seen art. Brooks’ voice comes through in his writing, and like the movie, it’s both distinctive and hilarious.

The 1974 film Young Frankenstein was the brainchild of the late Gene Wilder, who played Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. Their teamup, says Brooks, was “a fierce collaboration” marked by an especially big fight involving Wilder’s desire to have the movie’s monster perform the song and dance number, “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” If you’ve seen the film, you know who won that one.

In the book’s introduction, contemporary comedy king Judd Apatow calls the film “the comedy equivalent of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ or The Great Gatsby, or the ’86 New York Mets.” He won’t get any arguments.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

For TV and film lovers, this year’s crop of books offer fun “best of” rankings, behind-the-scenes tours, photos from the vaults of Hollywood A-listers, touching tributes and more.

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