Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: The Years of George Montgomery
The fourth book on my 2014 Summer Classic Film Book Reading List is an amazing autobiography/scrapbook/photo album, THE YEARS OF GEORGE MONTGOMERY.

Earlier this year I stumbled across a mention of this out-of-print book published by Sagebrush in 1981.

The book immediately caught my interest, as over the last couple of years Montgomery has become a real favorite of mine, thanks in large part to his '50s Westerns.

I was fortunate to find a relatively affordable copy of the book, and as soon as it arrived I knew it would be one of the treasures of my collection. It's a large, heavy book, weighing in at four pounds, with nearly 300 glossy pages. And it was even personally signed by George Montgomery!

Although I spent some time glancing through it when it arrived, it wasn't until this summer that I sat down and spent quality time reading it. This book is truly a gem, a very intimate look at Montgomery's life, career, and the people and things he loved.

The book is filled to the brim with photographs, while also having plenty of text. He describes his childhood among a large family of Russian immigrants on a Montana ranch ("My childhood could hardly have been better"). One of the wonderful early photographs shows George and his siblings getting a snack of milk straight from the cow on their way home from school!

That ranching childhood and his expert horsemanship laid the foundation for his eventual success in Hollywood as a stuntman, actor, and Western star. On George's second day in Hollywood, a Russian family friend -- a gardener who had a side job contracting Russian Cossack riders as extras for the movie studios -- offered George a job riding on the Garbo-Boyer film CONQUEST (1937).

George on being asked to work on a Garbo film: "I sat in a trance, not believing my ears...If I had been in a trance and mesmerized that night, I was far beyond both the next morning." In wonder at the filmmaking process with hundreds of extras, the young man who came of age in the Depression era was also amazed by the "lavish" box lunch provided to the extras. He was even more amazed when the assistant director noticed his riding ability and hired him for a couple additional days' work at $35 a day. "I couldn't believe it." And so a decades-long Hollywood career was born.

Especially as the book is out of print, perhaps I can best describe it by showing a few sample photos. (Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.) It's divided into sections including an illustrated filmography:

Color movie posters:

Reproductions of fan magazine articles:

Family photographs (many in color) and photos of his early furniture making:

His art collection:

And his own artwork, including many sculptures:

This book would be of interest to anyone who loves George Montgomery, Westerns, or the studio filmmaking era in general, and it would also be of interest to anyone who appreciates Western art and sculpting. It's not inexpensive, but it's worth every single penny, a real treasure of a book.

I've finished reading one more book on my summer reading list and hope to write about it soon. Fingers crossed that I can complete the sixth and final review by the challenge's September 1st deadline!


Blogger Jerry E said...

Wow - this looks an amazing book, Laura, and one I would certainly read and treasure.

I've liked George Montgomery the actor, and especially the western actor, for many moons and from all one sees, I believe I would have liked the man too.

Thanks for sharing this and the great presentation of the book's many facets.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I feel sure you'd enjoy it, Jerry! I think you're right -- George Montgomery is one of those people, like Joel McCrea, who seems to have been such a genuine and interesting person offscreen, with a whole other "life" beyond performing.

Best wishes,

6:13 PM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

This book looks excellent! What great variety of material - the fan magazine reproductions, photos, personal bio - etc. I would like to see more books like this for some other stars.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree, Robby, I wish books like this were available for more stars. I think George was such a creative guy that he came up with a rather unique and comprehensive style for his book. It would be great if others would emulate it!

Best wishes,

8:23 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

This book looks really interesting. Was it part of a series? I love the fact that it's signed by George Montgomery. That's very neat.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Raquel,

This is a one-of-a-kind book created by Montgomery, and I'm not aware of any similar books by the publisher. I certainly wish there were, it would be wonderful if more Golden Era actors had created such personal records of their lives and careers.

It's special to me knowing that this copy of the book was once in Montgomery's hands! :)

Best wishes,

12:25 AM  

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