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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)

When Peter Bart was a young reporter in Los Angeles for the New York Times he met a young executive at Paramount Pictures called Robert Evans.  To his surprise, Evans chose Bart to help him turn the struggling studio around and swept him into the wild and decadent world of the Hollywood of the late sixties and early seventies. Infamous Players is the story of these crazy, but inspiring years.

Bart and Evans had a tough time getting their ideas past the manic boss, Charlie Bluhdorn.  Obsessed by old musicals, he wanted to make hopeless films like Paint Your Wagon.  Bart tells amusing anecdotes about the making of this movie which starred a drunken Lee Marvin and the young Clint Eastwood, who couldn’t sing.
Soon Bart became more successful and he tells the stories behind films, such as Love Story and The Godfather.  He reveals the tale of Evans and Ali McGraw’s marriage and how it was difficult to part Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie during a steamy scene during the filming of Don’t Look Now.

He also analyses the characters of stars like Robert Redford and Steve McQueen.  He relates details of some of their early movies and McGraw's romance with McQueen, as well as telling how the directors, Coppola and Roman Polanski began their careers.

Apparently the Hollywood of this time was filled with drugs and riotous parties with lots of women.  Bart, to his credit, came through all this unscathed.  However, investments by the Mafia in Hollywood seemed to be almost the least of its problems as the constant partying and the ravage of drugs led many to self-destruction.
This was an interesting book but I was disappointed with the quality of the writing.  The narrative was extremely disjointed and the actual writing was rather pedestrian.  It was difficult to read when I almost reached the end. I felt at times that Bart was bored with it and just wanted to finish the book.  This was surprising because he was a leading journalist.  However, I’d still be willing to try his other books to see if they’re any better.

Peter Bart discussing The Godfather

Pictures of Peter Bart 

Friday, May 25, 2012

This Scarlet Cord by Joan Wolf

This Scarlet Cord grabbed me from the beginning. The novel starts when beautiful and courageous Rahab manages to escape from slave-traders.  Handsome Sala helps her and finds her family.  Rahab is only 12 but when she returns to her home in the country she can’t forget Sala.

The excitement continues as Rahab overcomes many difficult situations.  One of these is being chosen as a priestess who must sleep with the king of Jericho so that the land will become fertile. The plot has many twists and turns as the bright girl manages to overcome several dangers.

Rahab meets Sala again when she is older.  The two share a star-crossed love because their beliefs conflict.  Rahab, a Canaanite girl, follows pagan rituals.  Sala is an Israelite who is forbidden to marry a Canaanite.
This is a well-written, enjoyable novel with a likeable and admirable heroine and hero.  Rahab and Sala are sympathetic characters and most readers will cheer them on as they attempt to resolve their differences.
This Scarlet Cord has interesting and vivid details about the rituals of the Canaanites and the Israelites.  I especially liked reading about Passover, because it’s a long time since I studied the Bible!

Lovers of historical novels, especially Christians, are sure to enjoy this story which makes the Biblical tale of Rahab come to life.  I look forward to reading more novels by Joan Wolf.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday Teaser

"I saw in her pained expression a lifetime of entrapment...And Saffy, whose softness made her weak, whose compassion made her kind, had been unable ever to wrest herself free".

(The Distant Hours by Kate Morton)

I identified strongly with these two extremely well-expressed sentences, unfortunately.  Saffy's situation is probably very common.  Hopefully, my 'entrapment' doesn't show in my face, however!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Forgotten Star of the 1940s, Dana Andrews.

Hollywood Enigma by Carl Rollyson

Anyone who is interested in Dana Andrews or the history of old Hollywood should read this enjoyable and comprehensive biography. This is a real American story of rags to riches, reinvention, fall, and redemption.  It is also a great love story, unusual even in the Hollywood of the 1940s.  It can be rather depressing at times because of Andrews’s sad descent into alcoholism, however.

Dana Andrews is the forgotten star of the 1940s, an actor who never achieved his true dues.  However, he was an “actor’s actor”, the master of film noir. He is remembered mainly for his mysterious role in Laura, a great classic which is recommended for all film-lovers. Someone once wrote that Vivien Leigh would have walked over broken glass in bare feet if she thought that this would make her a better actress.  Dana Andrews would have done that too.

When Dana Andrews met President Johnson, he remarked that they had both been “poor boys from Texas” once.  Andrews had a somewhat troubled upbringing.  His father was an Elmer Gantry-type character, a Baptist minister who couldn’t resist women.  He was strict and didn’t believe in movies or dancing.  His mother was clever and hard-working.  She once invited one of her husband’s girlfriends to stay the night and see the family.  That was the end of that affair!
The couple had several children.  Two siblings died when Andrews was young and he found it difficult to get over their deaths.

Although they were a close family, Andrews had a love/ hate relationship with his strict father and he left the family to stay in California, determined to make it as an actor.  He studied accountancy but after trying acting and singing and being told that he had talent he focused on getting ahead in Hollywood.  It was a long road to the top and he didn’t achieve major success until he was over 30.  Two businessmen, impressed with his determination, backed his career with money.  Andrews really put his heart into it.

His happy marriage with Mary Todd, who willingly gave up her bright career to be a wife and mother, gave Andrews a solid base from which to work.  He even refused the attentions of other actresses! He loved to be at home with his wife and children.

Unfortunately, Andrews’s troubled background, thwarted ambitions, and the rigors of the studio system inclined him to drink. This finally affected his career and his marriage but he was able to give it up in the end.

Hollywood Enigma is easy to read and simply written.  Rollyson had access to Andrews’s and Mary’s letters, extracts from Andrews’s diaries, and interviews with Andrews’s children, extended family, and friends.  These make the biography more intimate. The biography includes lots of interesting or amusing anecdotes.  It’s a worthy tribute to this elegant, charismatic, and apparently extremely nice man.

Hollywood Enigma does include lengthy analyses of all of Andrews’s films.  This is probably to be expected in a Hollywood biography.  However, I found it a bit wearisome.