October 9, 2014

Review: Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema

Scandals of Classic Hollywood By Anne Helen Petersen
Available now from Plume (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I have been a huge fan of Anne Helen Petersen's column "Scandals of Classic Hollywood" for The Hairpin.  It was funny, juicy, and beautifully illustrated by images of the stars.  When I heard about her book deal, I was extremely excited.  Unlike many blog-to-books, SCANDALS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD is 100% new content (although it covers some of the same stars).

I have mixed feelings about the result.  I really miss seeing the pictures, which say so much about the star's image and presentation.  I felt that the humor was intact, but there was a bit too much reaching for contemporary connections.  The conclusions of each chapter are going to age pretty quickly.

The information, however, is still fascinating.  SCANDALS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD covers the rise and fall of the studio-managed star, the Hays Code, the MPAA, and more through the lens of several major stars.  The stars in question include Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Fatty Arbuckle, and more.  All are interesting people with eventful lives and careers, sometimes triumphant, sometimes tragic.

Now, not all of this is novel stuff.  There's certainly been plenty written about James Dean.  But it is a wonderful introduction, and a great reminder that so much of Hollywood is a carefully controlled image.  Even better, it is an introduction to how Hollywood got that way.

I miss the columns.  It was fun to wait for each of them, and to read the comments.  But I certainly enjoyed SCANDALS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD (the book) quite a bit, and recommend it to any fan of Petersen's writing or of old-time movie stars.  The truth is pretty wild and strange indeed, except for where it was exaggerated for entertainment.

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