Stars & Their Hobbies - Joan Crawford


Joan Crawford, Knitting
"I took my knitting along so I could keep my hands busy, because I was so nervous."  Joan Crawford
As any knitter will tell you, there is a lot of comfort to be found in the repetitive motions of a pair of knitting needles and some yarn as you knit and purl your way through a pattern. Joan Crawford would often be found on film sets knitting as she waited for her call. It calmed her nerves and kept her distracted during down times. Rumor has it, Crawford was temporarily kicked off the set of The Women (1939) by George Cukor for purposefully annoying Norma Shearer with the constant clicking of her knitting needles.

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Crawford teaching Ann Blyth how to knit on the set of Mildred Pierce
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My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries. 

Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed

Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed
by Frederic Brun
Hardcover - 192 pages
ISBN: 9780760342480
MotorBooks
October 2011

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound (Your local bookstore)
Powell's

"McQueen will be remembered as one of the finest exponents of speed to ever grace the big screen." - Brun

Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed is a coffee table book for McQueen fans and car enthusiasts alike. In its 192 pages you'll find beautiful black-and-white and color photographs depicting the actor's passion for racing cars and motorcycles and his enthusiasm for physical sport.

In text written by French journalist Frederic Brun and translated into English by Flo Brutton, we learn about how McQueen's passion for speed influenced all parts of his life including his career as a film actor. The book is divided into six sections with an introduction providing much of the background of McQueen's life, the history of racing and some key figures including John Newton Cooper and Peter Revson. It's followed by 5 chapters each with a different theme: Speed, Physique, Film, Life and Collection. Each chapter starts off with a few pages of text and then continues with single and (almost) double-page spread photographs. These include photos of McQueen in action, candids of him at home, advertisements, movie posters, publicity photos, magazine covers and behind-the-scenes shots. The fun part of reading the book is looking through all the photographs and wishing you could be as cool as Steve McQueen.



I particularly enjoyed the chapter devoted to McQueen's physique, which he kept in tip-top shape with regular exercise. It includes some photos of him exercising at home and some of them are quite revealing of McQueen's physique and unmentionables (oh my!).



Although McQueen was known for having abused his body with cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, I admire his dedication to fitness because it's something that is very important in my life as well. McQueen had a home gym and a personal trainer, in a time when it was very rare to train if you were not a professional athlete. McQueen loved swimming, boxing and martial arts and all of his fitness efforts were ultimately to make him stronger and better suited to his greatest passion: racing.

So if Steve McQueen loved racing so much why didn't he become a professional race car driver instead of an actor? Brun explores this in the book. McQueen was a talent on the race track and kept himself in good shape but even he knew that even that wasn't enough for him make it professionally. He needed to be more fine-tuned in his driving skills and lacked some of the finesse of other more talented drivers. Besides, McQueen's career as an actor allowed him time and money to devote to collecting high performance cars and motorcycles and to influence Hollywood to add more racing and luxury vehicles into their movies.

McQueen's passion for speed was one major aspect of his personality that made him so charismatic and cool. Author Brun says:
"speed has the taste of forbidden fruit; the effect of a powerful stimulant, an unstable force set to destroy whoever consumes it. It is this that makes Steve McQueen so dangerously irresistible."
Steve McQueen glamorized racing and luxury cars on screen. The films discussed at length in the book include The Great Escape (1963), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Bullitt (1968),  Le Mans (1971) and On Any Sunday (1971). And of course in this book you'll find photos of the famous green Ford Mustang he drives in Bullitt as well as the Porsche from Le Mans.



I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about cars because I don't. I relied on my car enthusiast husband Carlos to translate some of the language in this book for me. You can still enjoy the book even if you're not into cars but knowing the lingo helps, especially when it comes to makes and models.

This book was published by MotorBooks, a company that seems devoted to putting out coffee table books about Steve McQueen. They have five in total! The others include Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile... Revisited (written by his third wife Barbara McQueen),  Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films and McQueen's Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon.


A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940
Volume #1
by Victoria Wilson
Hardcover – 9780684831688
1,056 pages
Simon and Schuster
November 2013

Barnes and Noble
Powell's
IndieBound

Imagine you’re on a nature walk in a historic park. If you just want fresh air and exercise, you’d walk at a brisk pace or maybe even go for a jog. If you want to take in some of the scenery, you might slow down your pace and look around a bit. However, if you want the immerse yourself in the experience, you’d explore all of the side trails, read every sign along the way, stop for every bird or wild creature you see, take photos of the various wildflowers, etc. It would take much longer but you would get everything out of the experience you could.

And that’s the kind of experience you’ll get reading The Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson. It’s not the quick walk through the life of Barbara Stanwyck nor is it a leisurely stroll. This book is an immersive experience with sidelines and context galore.

Despite its size and page count, this book is not an overwhelming read. Even though the total page count is 1,056, you’ll only be reading 860 because the backmatter (Film, Radio TV and Stage Chronologies, Notes, Selected bibliography and Index) takes up almost 200 pages.

It’s not to say that those 860 pages are a small feat. There is a vast amount of information and the author not only includes the chronology of Stanwyck’s life from her birth in 1907 up until 1940 where the book stops (right at the point when she's about to make Meet John Doe with Frank Capra) but also starts with her family before her birth and also sidelines into details about key characters in Stanwyck’s life and in the movie industry. You’ll learn more about directors, producers, authors, screenwriters, actors, actresses, even hairdressers, costume designers and agents. Political figures like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt are discussed at length. You'd think all that extraneous information would weigh down the book but for me all of that context made the absorption of new information a lot easier. Those breaks slow down the pace of the narrative but I never felt lost or overwhelmed. Instead the book progresses nicely and before you know it you’ve already taken in a couple hundred pages and look forward to reading more.

Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck

Interspersed throughout the book are black and white photographs placed wherever relevant to the corresponding text. There are many wonderful photos of Barbara Stanwyck, publicity shots, candids and family photos as well as photos of people in and out of Hollywood who were involved in Stanwyck’s life in different ways. You’ll find photos of directors, authors, other actors, etc.

Franchot Tone, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor

Barbara Stanwyck started out life as Ruby Stevens and the author refers to her as Ruby for most of the beginning. It’s only when the actress adopts the stage name Barbara Stanwyck and begins to be identified with the new moniker (and not a moment before), does the author switch to using Stanwyck. This was a little confusing to me but it was clear what the author was doing and made sense in the narrative. It also serves to demonstrate Stanwyck’s progression into adulthood and her career as a full-fledged actress.

I didn’t know much about Stanwyck’s life and although the book only covers 33 years I got a good sense of who Stanwyck was as a person and as an actress. She had a rough childhood. Her mother died when she was four years old. Her three older sisters were adults and had already left home and started lives on their own, her father abandoned her and her older brother By (Byron) Stevens. By and Ruby/Barbara were left to fend for themselves and were transferred to various foster homes and sometimes stayed with their older sisters. Such an unstable and transient childhood had a profound effect on Stanwyck.

Frank Fay and Barbara Stanwyck

There is a lot to learn about Stanwyck in this book. As a woman she really valued relationships. However, some of those relationships turned out to be toxic ones. The author explores Stanwyck's doomed marriage with her first husband, actor Frank Fay. By the end of their relationship, Fay was a domineering brute and a drunkard. When you read about their relationship, which progressively gets worse and the narrative goes along, you can't help but root for Stanwyck to kick him to the curb. The book also explores Stanwyck's love affair and the beginning of her marriage to fellow actor Robert Taylor. Stanwyck had a complicated relationship with her adopted son Dion that got worse over the years. Dion was very generous to author Victoria Wilson and sat down for countless interviews and proved to be a great resource for the book! Stanwyck had a close friendship and working relationship with Marion and Zeppo Marx and was best buds with Joan Crawford. I admire her devotion to her brother By, even when some of his actions frustrated her.

Barbara Stanwyck and her son Dion

I was intrigued by Stanwyck's reluctant fashion sense (she had a simple hat, hated adornment) and her lack of materialism. This is something that the author brings up throughout the book and it provides an interesting glimpse into Stanwyck's personality.

Each and every film Stanwyck made before 1940 is explored. Certain films are given more attention; Stella Dallas (1937) gets its own chapter. Stanwyck was well-read, appreciated a good script, had a strong work ethic to the point of sometimes being a workaholic and she often a victim of a harsh studio system.

The author sometimes shows bias towards her favorite Stanwyck's films. For example, Remember the Night (1940), a film I don't particularly care for but has a cult following thanks to TCM, is given additional attention and praise in the book. I always appreciate some sort of positive bias in a biography because it demonstrates how passionate the author is about the subject they are writing about. This book is frank about much of Stanwyck's life but there is a clear affection for the subject.

Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Shirley in Stella Dallas

The book isn't without faults. There are some points where the author repeats herself. After so many pages devoted to the marriage of Stanwyck and Fay, later in the book she recaps Fay's background as though we hadn't heard of it before. I thought that was odd. Plot descriptions sometimes were broken up with asides and I found a couple instances where a plot point was repeated. There are a few errors in the book too (a couple I noticed but didn't jot down and one someone else pointed out to me). I think perhaps another pass is needed to fix any minor errors and weed out some repetition. Otherwise, I thought this was a well-written and very organized book and author Victoria Wilson's 15 years of research, interviews, writing and editing pays off handsomely.

Are you a Barbara Stanwyck fan? Then this book is required reading for you. It's long, and there is more coming, but it's well worth your time.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy.

Watch the video below to hear the author speak about the book and find out what "Steel-True" refers to!





This was my second review for my Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

God Speed Lauren Bacall



Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

When I heard the news about Lauren Bacall's death, I didn't want to believe it. One of the things I always admired about Bacall was her resiliency. Surely she could survive death rumors! Alas, it was then confirmed by the Bogart estate that Bacall passed away yesterday.

Lauren Bacall was absolutely stunning. She was a talented actress who was as effective at being sultry as she was being serious or silly. She had wonderful range and I admire her for embracing old age when many other actresses were terrified of it.

Her love affair and marriage to Humphrey Bogart is the greatest love story to come out of Hollywood. When you hear "Bogie and Bacall" you immediately think of a relationship of passion, devotion and mutual respect. I'm sure it wasn't a perfect marriage but they were perfect for each other.

I even honored Bogie and Bacall at my own wedding. Table number four was dedicated to them and featured a framed photo of them on their wedding day.





Check out this video clip from 1954. Edward R. Murrow gets a virtual tour of the Bogart home by Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Little Stephen and Leslie Bogart also make an appearance! It's a charming little tribute to their family.

If you want to pay your respects to the Bogart family, consider leaving a message on Twitter, include @BogartEstate in your tweet, or on Facebook on the estate's official page.

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