Sunday, January 24, 2021

Book Review: This Was Hollywood: Forgotten Stars and Stories

Carla Valderrama's THIS WAS HOLLYWOOD: FORGOTTEN STARS & STORIES, published a few weeks ago by Turner Classic Movies and Running Press, is an engaging and visually stunning book.

Running Press aptly describes the book as "a dazzling visual package modeled on the classic fan magazines of yesteryear."

Valderrama, known for her This Was Hollywood Instagram account, presents an eclectic assortment of well-researched chapters on a variety of topics, including the founding of Hollywood; child actress Cora Sue Collins; Margarita Cansino's transformation into Rita Hayworth; Olivia de Havilland's lawsuit against Warner Bros.; the Pickfair estate; the origins of the Academy Awards; and the history of A STAR IS BORN on film across the decades. 

I particularly appreciated a chapter on the tragic life of a favorite actress, Susan Peters, and those focusing on the great dancers Vera-Ellen, Eleanor Powell, and the Nicholas Brothers.

As a longtime film enthusiast, some of the information, such as Loretta Young and Clark Gable's secret child, was familiar to me, but I enjoyed reading about it in this new context.  I was pleased that I also learned quite a bit, such as from the chapters on Florence Lake and Lois Weber. I feel it's a book which can be enjoyed by any classic film fan, regardless of one's prior level of knowledge. 

The print is dense, with most of the stories told in considerable detail, and the chapters are backed up with comprehensive source notes.  In addition to archival and other research, the author interviewed a number of people for the book, including Loretta Young's daughter-in-law Linda Lewis, Eleanor Powell and Glenn Ford's son Peter, and William Wellman Jr., to name a few.

The visual layout is as impressive as the research, with photos on every glossy page.  In between some of the chapters are fun magazine-style photo spreads with themes such as Hollywood fashions, exercise fads, pets, and nightclub visits.

Some of the stories are sad or recount less savory aspects of Hollywood history, but Valderrama covers them matter-of-factly, in well-documented, non-salacious fashion.

Although a reader might choose to spend hours happily immersed in the book, it also lends itself well to fitting into a busy schedule, dipping into a chapter or two at a time.  It reminded me a bit of my enjoyment of back issues of Films in Review, with its biographical sketches and beautiful photos.  I found the book to be a needed dose of sunshine in these "stuck at home" COVID times.

The format would seem to lend itself to the possibility of a sequel, and I hope one will be coming in due course.

An author interview which I first shared here in November will be of interest to those looking for more background on the author and the book.

THIS WAS HOLLYWOOD is 234 pages, including index, bibliography, and source notes.  It's compact at 7.5 by 10.25 inches, but thanks to its heavy, glossy paper it weighs in at roughly 1.75 pounds.  Readers with aging eyes may need a magnifying glass to peruse the footnotes and end notes, which are in extremely small print.  Other than that challenge, this is a beautifully designed book in every way.

Thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a review copy of this book.


Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Onto my wishlist this goes! Looks fabulous.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll enjoy it! I found it one of the more enjoyable books I've read in the past year. A nice surprise!

Best wishes,

6:17 PM  

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