The sun is out and the temperature's rising. What better way to spend your time than with a good book? This month I have four film-themed books worth checking out!
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward
Best known as the author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, author Dashiell Hammett created detectives evoking the real world, a world both shadowy and connected to Hammett himself. Nathan Ward's The Lost Detective gives audiences a glimpse at Hammett through the prose he work. As a former operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Hammett's first novels saw him creating a character called the Op who borrowed many elements from Hammett's Pinkerton past. As the author gained more confidence and acclaim characters like the nouveau riche Nick Charles or The Glass Key's Ned Beaumont took on characteristics of Hammett himself, such as his newly minted status as part of the Hollywood hoi polloi and his battles with tuberculosis. Though not a biography proper, Ward gives audiences an incisive exploration of Hammett's world and how it influenced his writing and vice versa. There aren't many discussions of his relationships - ending about the time he met Lillian Hellman - but for fans of noir writing, or just literature in general, The Lost Detective finds common ground and gives us a new way at looking at Hammett and the characters who found life in the shadows.
Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story by Mollie Gregory
I can remember watching Gidget (1959) and immediately noticing that Sandra Dee's stunt double was a bulky man wearing a wig. Dressing down men as women for stuntwork is nothing new as discussed in Mollie Gregory's exploration of the subject. Stuntwomen looks at the unknown women have continually put themselves in harm's way to give audiences realistic action and adventure. Going all the way back to the silent era - when The Perils of Pauline more than lived up to its name - Gregory charts the uphill battle women have climbed, jumped, and blown up to be respected by male stuntmen, producers and directors. Distracted by male stuntmen accomplishments now and then - mostly in terms of showing how the industry was set up and changed throughout the ensuing decades - Gregory keeps the focus on individual women of all races, showing how the industry often ignored cries of racial and gender diversity, even allowing sexual harassment, drugs, and blackballing of dissenters to run rampant. A compelling look at a group still marginalized by Hollywood at large today, and threatened by the increasing reliance on CGI, Stuntwomen is a story of women kicking the shadows away and standing in the spotlight!
So As I Was Saying...My Somewhat Eventful Life by Frank Mankiewicz
Frank Mankiewicz has led quite an extraordinary life - not only was he the speechwriter for Robert F. Kennedy, he is also related to legendary director Joseph Mankiewicz and screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, writer of Citizen Kane. So As I Was Saying is both an informal memoir and, according to Mankiewicz himself, a bit of an obituary, charting his life with Kennedy, his family, and questions about the world around him. Compiled as a scrapbook of memories and thoughts, the diary-like nature of the book brings you directly into Mankiewicz's head as he discusses the beauty of language, his political issues with the rise of Vietnam, and more. There's something to be said about Mankiewicz being a modern-day Forrest Gump who's been at the forefront of so many transitions that have shaped our world. The slim volume packs a wallop in its beautiful prose and recounting of a time gone by.
Conversations With Classic Film Stars: Interviews From Hollywood's Golden Era by James Bawden and Ron Miller
A pair of Canadian film and television reporters, Bawden and Miller found themselves with a mass of interviews with classic film stars at their nadir. By the ’70s and ’80s many of the 34 stars interviewed were on their last legs or had found a second life in television and the litany of emotions they present is high. Many recall their golden age with fondness, while others bemoan how much Hollywood has changed and are cynical about their careers and the lack of respect for them, but there’s no denying how fantastically frank and candid everyone is. Each interview is presented with background on the actor or actress, as well as how our authors met them with the various sections focused on leading men and ladies, singing cowboys, Queen of the B-movies, and four interview subjects the authors felt merited inclusion. It’s utterly amazing how two men were able to sit down with so many legends, from Gloria Swanson to Cary Grant and Luise Rainier. Some actors, like Irene Dunne, didn’t necessarily plan on discussing “the good old days” but the authors balance the past with the present.