movie star drool · stuff I read

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy

40640521A definitive history of Hollywood’s most iconic, storied, and scandalous hotel.

For nearly ninety years, Hollywood’s brightest stars have favored the Chateau Marmont as a home away from home. An apartment house-turned-hotel, it has hosted generations of gossip and folklore: 1930s bombshell Jean Harlow took lovers during her third honeymoon there; director Nicholas Ray slept with his sixteen-year-old Rebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood; Anthony Perkins and Tab Hunter met poolside and began a secret affair; Jim Morrison swung from the balconies, once falling nearly to his death; John Belushi suffered a fatal overdose in a private bungalow; Lindsay Lohan got the boot after racking up nearly $50,000 in charges in less than two months.

Perched above the Sunset Strip like a fairytale castle, the Chateau seems to come from another world entirely. Its singular appearance houses an equally singular history. While a city, an industry, and a culture have changed around it, Chateau Marmont has welcomed the most iconic and iconoclastic personalities in film, music, and media. It appeals to the rich and famous not just for its European ambiance but for its seclusion: Much of what’s happened inside the Chateau’s walls has eluded the public eye.

Until now. With wit and prowess, Shawn Levy recounts the wild revelries and scandalous liaisons; the creative breakthroughs and marital breakdowns; the births and deaths that the Chateau has been a party to. Vivid, salacious, and richly informed, his book is a glittering tribute to Hollywood as seen from inside the walls of its most hallowed hotel.

The Castle on Sunset is a dishy yet understated history of the famous (infamous?) Chateau Marmont, a landmark hotel overlooking the Sunset Strip. Levy takes the history from bare ground covered in scrub and onions through the building’s beginning as an apartment building, an out-of-the-way hideaway for Hollywood elite needing out of the spotlight, the run-down cheap-chic of the 1970s and 80s, and its reinvention as the playground of the glitzy entertainment industry A-list. There are lots of endnotes and citations but I would have loved more pictures. I’ll have to check a finished copy.

Due out tomorrow!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

43692424Summary from Goodreads:
She was beautiful. She was a genius. Could the world handle both? A powerful, illuminating novel about Hedy Lamarr.

Hedy Kiesler is lucky. Her beauty leads to a starring role in a controversial film and marriage to a powerful Austrian arms dealer, allowing her to evade Nazi persecution despite her Jewish heritage. But Hedy is also intelligent. At lavish Vienna dinner parties, she overhears the Third Reich’s plans. One night in 1937, desperate to escape her controlling husband and the rise of the Nazis, she disguises herself and flees her husband’s castle.

She lands in Hollywood, where she becomes Hedy Lamarr, screen star. But Hedy is keeping a secret even more shocking than her Jewish heritage: she is a scientist. She has an idea that might help the country and that might ease her guilt for escaping alone — if anyone will listen to her. A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionized modern communication, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece.

Well, I finished it in time to lead the Book Club discussion last night (we had bad weather, one person came so we’ll try for a make-up date next week). I’m extremely lukewarm on this book. While Hedy Lamarr herself is a really interesting historical figure, I found this fictional account of her life as a married woman in Vienna and her subsequent work in Hollywood to be shallowly drawn and rather simplistic. Bloodless, really. So much was beautifully described, especially the houses and clothes and jewels of Lamarr’s married life, but glossed over the violence of living with a possessive, abusive man. I also wished that the plot spent more time on her life in Hollywood and her scientific inventing, since it came so late in the book. The novel reads easily, though.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book provided by the publisher for the Book Club leader.

mini-review · stuff I read

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth

38647394Summary from Goodreads:
In this riveting popular history, the creator of You Must Remember This probes the inner workings of Hollywood’s glamorous golden age through the stories of some of the dozens of actresses pursued by Howard Hughes, to reveal how the millionaire mogul’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity trapped, abused, or benefitted women who dreamt of screen stardom.

In recent months, the media has reported on scores of entertainment figures who used their power and money in Hollywood to sexually harass and coerce some of the most talented women in cinema and television. But as Karina Longworth reminds us, long before the Harvey Weinsteins there was Howard Hughes—the Texas millionaire, pilot, and filmmaker whose reputation as a cinematic provocateur was matched only by that as a prolific womanizer.

His supposed conquests between his first divorce in the late 1920s and his marriage to actress Jean Peters in 1957 included many of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, among them Billie Dove, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Lana Turner. From promoting bombshells like Jean Harlow and Jane Russell to his contentious battles with the censors, Hughes—perhaps more than any other filmmaker of his era—commoditized male desire as he objectified and sexualized women. Yet there were also numerous women pulled into Hughes’s grasp who never made it to the screen, sometimes virtually imprisoned by an increasingly paranoid and disturbed Hughes, who retained multitudes of private investigators, security personnel, and informers to make certain these actresses would not escape his clutches.

Vivid, perceptive, timely, and ridiculously entertaining, Seduction is a landmark work that examines women, sex, and male power in Hollywood during its golden age—a legacy that endures nearly a century later.

I’ve been a fan of Karina Longworth’s work on her podcast You Must Remember This for a while so I was really excited to see that she had a book coming out about Howard Hughes. Not because of Howard Hughes, because ew, gross, but because she was going to shine a light on the women he treated like garbage. Seduction is the story of how Hughes had this weirdly charming personality, convinced a lot of people that he knew what he was doing in the movie business, and ultimately became a person suffering from untreated mental illness.

One of the major themes in Seduction is how Hughes controlled women’s careers in the movie industry, to the extent that some of them didn’t even work during the time they lived in Hollywood. Women like Jane Russell, Faith Domergue, and Billie Dove who were poised for Betty Davis-levels of stardom, and who were good actresses, were reduced to their noticeable physical assets and made far fewer movies than contemporaries at other studios. Myraid other young women, some of them young enough to require their mothers to come with them, were lured to Hollywood with the promise of stardom and then kept under constant surveillance and prevented from working.

While I was not shocked that he was a completely gross, creepy, controlling predator, particularly toward very young women of a certain physical type, I was surprised that he was a really bad businessman and filmmaker (I should have known about the filmmaker stuff, I have seen The Conqueror, do not recommend). He tinkered with movies so long that they went over budget, or no longer made sense. RKO died under his leadership. The only reason he had money to blow in Hollywood was because he inherited an extremely prosperous manufacturing company from this father and then picked up lucrative defense contracts during World War II.

Hughes was not the only gross dude running around Hollywood between the 1920s and 1960s. There were a lot, trust me. For all the glitz and glamour, “classic” Hollywood had a lot of garbage hiding under rocks and Karina shines a very strong light on one particular corner. Now, if you have listened to some of the podcast episodes that were produced as part of the publicity for Seduction don’t worry that the same information is re-hashed in both places – the episodes and the book complement each other, so I highly recommend both.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

39939598Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougartown who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru” (The New Yorker).

Busy Philipps’s autobiographical book offers the same unfiltered and candid storytelling that her Instagram followers have come to know and love, from growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona and her painful and painfully funny teen years, to her life as a working actress, mother, and famous best friend.

Busy is the rare entertainer whose impressive arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small. From film to television to Instagram, Busy delightfully showcases her wry humor and her willingness to bare it all.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to write this book. I’m just so grateful someone asked. Otherwise, what was the point of any of it??”

This Will Only Hurt a Little is a “celebrity memoir” in the vein of Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr You. However, Busy names names when she needs to rather than give everyone pseudonyms and she’s basically done with a lot of the bullshit of Hollywood “stardom” or whatever. But what this book really turns into is the story of how Busy got to BE Busy, warts and all. How she was a kid who might have been a little messed up, choices that she made, how she bought into the misogyny of the acting business, how she learned to be a good friend when her besties went through terrible things, how to be a mom and partner in a relationship. (I did kind of want to kick her husband in the shins at times, because dude he doesn’t come off really well at times – this is addressed later, just an FYI, and they seem to be doing better.)

And here’s the thing: I hope Busy writes more. I want her to write more. Write some more scripts or does more directing or gets into producing if she doesn’t want to deal with casting anymore because she’s tired of getting burned. She has a good eye for a turn of phrase and clearly has comedy timing. The book could have used a bit tighter editing at times, but she tells a good story. She’s got her talk-show now (which looks excellent, but since I don’t have cable I haven’t been able to watch it) but I’d love to see her push forward outside of acting.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by Busy, and I really can’t conceive of it any other way now. The way she “does” her mom’s voice (it’s like the mom on That 70s Show), how you can hear her getting choked up at times. I got choked up. Definite recommend on the audio.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive system.

mini-review · movie star drool · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips

30555528Summary from Goodreads:
Julia Phillips became a Hollywood player in the freewheeling 1970s, the first woman to win the Best Picture Oscar as co-producer of The Sting. She went on to work with two of the hottest young directorial talents of the era: Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver) and Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Phillips blazed a trail as one of the very few females to break into the upper echelons of a notoriously chauvinistic industry.

But for all her success, Phillips remained an outsider in the all-male Hollywood club. She had a talent for deal-making, hard-balling and wise-cracking, and a considerable appetite for drink, drugs, and sex. But while these predilections were tolerated and even encouraged among ‘the boys’, Phillips found herself gradually ostracized. By the late 1980s, she was ready to burn bridges and name names, and the result was this coruscating memoir of her career.

Julia Phillips died on January 1, 2002, at the age of 57, but her book will stand as one of the classic exposes of La-La-Land in all its excesses and iniquities.

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again is an interesting look behind the Hollywood glamour by a woman (the first to win an Oscar for producing) booted from the ranks after producing three major movies of the 1970s for two sins: being addicted to freebase cocaine and being female (sometimes it’s hard to tell which is the greater sin). Not one person comes off looking good in this memoir, including the author who, despite getting clean, etc, is extremely fat-phobic and has some trouble avoiding problematic slurs in talking about gay men or non-whites. The other problem with this book is that it veers between third-person past-tense point-of-view for sections set (presumably) in 1989 and first-person present tense point-of-view for all parts set in the past. Which makes it very hard to follow at times – where was the editor? (The front third of the “set in the past” sections are about her childhood, her difficulties with her mother, and the rocky relationship with her husband which, while they provided context for later problems, also slowed the Hollywood narrative which is the main reason people pick up this book.)

I started reading this book as the #metoo movement was gaining momentum and holy cats do “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy of this book.